Bridging the gap
retirement home residents Hamish and Zina reveal how their lives were changed by a group of pre-schoolers
Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds
Tues, wed / C4 / 9.00Pm
Endless naps, watching TV and boredom are what we often associate with living in a retirement home. But C4’s new documentary, Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, aims to change that.
Based on a scheme running in America, the two-part series turns St Monica’s retirement village in Bristol into a pre-school nursery – with 10 four-year-olds sharing their lives with 11 elderly residents.
With many older people suffering from depression and loneliness, the aim is to see if the children’s presence bring a little joy back into their lives. Two of the show’s stars, Hamish Hall, 89, and Zina Wilson, 77, tell us more…
What’s your experience of an old people’s home? Zina: It’s been a huge change for me. My husband, Bernard, has dementia, so after we’d moved in, I just thought, ‘Now what?’ The entertainment wasn’t really for me – I’m not one for bingo or croquet – and I felt quite depressed for a while. Also, being in a home feels like waiting to die! Hamish: I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that, while I have a decent brain, my skeleton is rebelling. It means I spend a lot of time reading the newspaper!
So, what did you think of the idea of 10 active four-year-olds disrupting your lives?
Zina: I thought it sounded fantastic. I didn’t want to turn into one of these self-centred oldies, who think the whole world revolves around their ailments, griefs and disappointments. I hoped that having the children here would cheer me up – and it did! Hamish: Actually, I thought it was going to be a disaster. I’ve had an artificial leg for 75 years, after I was run over when I was 14, so I didn’t think I would be able to get down on my hands and knees and play.
You both struggled to join in at first. Why was that?
Zina: Children are very observant. Somebody who looks depressed isn’t the sort of person you’d want to jump in the arms of. But you can’t help but get swept along with their joy and enthusiasm. Hamish: As a bachelor, I haven’t had much to do with four-year-olds, other than years ago when my nieces and nephews were small. I suppose I was a bit reluctant to enter into the spirit of it at first. But before long you were both joining in with the games and activities, like sleeping lions… Hamish: Well, with sleeping lions, the children wanted to play and I felt I could get down onto the floor without any great difficulty! I also formed a bond with Millie and Eva, who were delightful. These days, I never see anything new, so the whole thing was fascinating!
Zina: I agree! Being around the children also sparked memories of when my own children were young, which was a very happy time for me. I’d forgotten how finding a child’s hand in yours is one of the most moving things that can happen to you as an adult.
Has the experience changed you? Hamish: Certainly! I think we all missed the children after they left – there was a gap in our lives. It’s nice to know there can be new experiences in life, even at my age! Zina: It did me a lot of good, too. I realised I had to stop sitting around moaning. I’ve since joined a choir, organised an art class and I’m going to be collecting a friend’s children from school. I’ve got my life back!
I thought it was going to be a disaster Hamish, 89
Take a break: Hamish has tea with Eva and Millie
Story time: Zina reads to Millie and Eva