Bridg­ing the gen­er­a­tion gap with shared spa­ces for young and old can help to end ‘age apartheid’

Brian Sloan says pi­o­neer­ing projects abroad can be set up here

The Scotsman - - Friends Of The Scotsman -

Nurs­ery rhymes, sto­ries, and gig­gling aren’t what you might ex­pect to hear when you step into a care home. But that’s the sce­nario at a grow­ing num­ber around the world.

The idea of com­bin­ing res­i­den­tial homes with nurs­eries has al­ready been em­braced in Ja­pan, the Nether­lands and Canada, as well as Eng­land. Now, the first one of its kind in Scot­land has been given plan­ning per­mis­sion. Fife Coun­cil hopes that the £10.6 mil­lion de­vel­op­ment will bring young and old to­gether through a shared cafe and ac­tiv­ity rooms.

Chil­dren and older res­i­dents can en­joy daily ac­tiv­i­ties to­gether such as ex­er­cis­ing, read­ing, cook­ing and eat­ing. Re­searchers have found that both groups ben­e­fit: older peo­ple have im­proved moods and memo- ry, while it helps chil­dren’s self-con­fi­dence and lan­guage de­vel­op­ment.

It’s not the only in­no­va­tive project bring­ing gen­er­a­tions to­gether. In Stran­raer, work re­cently started on a de­men­tia-friendly de­vel­op­ment which will also in­clude ac­com­mo­da­tion for young peo­ple at risk of home­less­ness. Lore­burn Hous­ing As­so­ci­a­tion de­vel­oped the plans to help re­duce so­cial iso­la­tion and in­crease civic par­tic­i­pa­tion.

We often hear about the gen­er­a­tional di­vide, with baby boomers blamed for pric­ing younger peo­ple out of the hous­ing mar­ket, while sad­dling them with the grow­ing costs of pen­sions.

Ear­lier this month, the Res­o­lu­tion Foun­da­tion put for­ward pro­pos­als for tax changes to pro­mote “in­ter­gen­er­a­tional fair­ness”. These in­clude older work­ers pay­ing Na­tional In­sur­ance con­tri­bu­tions, changes to in­her- itance tax, and giv­ing ev­ery young per­son £10,000 when they turn 25.

At the same time, many older peo­ple speak about feel­ing in­tim­i­dated by the young or iso­lated as their com­mu­ni­ties change.

‘Age apartheid’ is ar­guably be­com­ing more com­mon as we in­creas­ingly live, work and so­cialise with peo­ple of a sim­i­lar age. We see more and more blocks of stu­dent hous­ing go­ing up in our cities, as well as sub­ur­ban es­tates of three to four bed­room fam­ily homes. Older peo­ple who wish to down­size feel pushed into re­tire­ment vil­lages or shel­tered hous­ing.

With in­creased labour mar­ket mo­bil­ity, young peo­ple in­creas­ingly find them­selves liv­ing long dis­tances from their fam­i­lies. New par­ents, who once re­lied on the ad­vice of older rel­a­tives, now strug­gle through on their own. We often think of lone- li­ness and iso­la­tion af­fect­ing older peo­ple, but it can im­pact all ages. Re­search in the Euro­pean Jour­nal of Age­ing found that lone­li­ness was high­est among the 15 to 24 and over-80s age groups. This can have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact, mak­ing us more vul­ner­a­ble to a host of phys­i­cal and men­tal health prob­lems.

A study from Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity found that build­ing re­la­tion­ships be­tween young and old brings nu­mer­ous ben­e­fits. When older adults con­trib­ute to the well-be­ing of younger ones, they de­velop a sense of pur­pose and boost their own health. They help younger peo­ple de­velop emo­tional skills, crit­i­cal think­ing, and so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, which are key to suc­cess.

While par­ents are ob­vi­ously an im­por­tant in­flu­ence on their chil­dren, the re­searchers found that

there are con­sid­er­able ben­e­fits to hav­ing other older adults in their lives.

The Scot­tish projects are great ex­am­ples of ef­forts to bridge this di­vide and pro­mote in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the gen­er­a­tions. Although they are still at an early stage, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment says that it is look­ing into more cross-gen­er­a­tional ac­tiv­i­ties as part of its so­cial iso­la­tion strat­egy.

Age Scot­land is call­ing for more in­vest­ment in these types of ini­tia­tive. They can be a way to tackle sev­eral is­sues at once: a lack of af­ford­able homes and stu­dent debt, so­cial iso­la­tion, and the need for more nurs­eries to meet the in­creased child­care com­mit­ment of 1140 free hours for three-to four-year-olds by 2020. The up­com­ing Plan­ning Bill is the ideal op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore these ideas and pro­mote more in­ter­gen­er­a­tional de­vel­op­ments.

One pro­posal that is worth con­sid­er­ing is a na­tional scheme to en­able older peo­ple with spare rooms to rent them to younger peo­ple. Tenants can help with odd jobs and pro­vide com­pan­ion­ship in re­turn for low rent. This has won the sup­port of the Scot­tish Lib­eral Democrats, who are back­ing a “na­tional care ac­com­mo­da­tion ex­change pro­gramme”.

A scheme in Amer­ica, Nesterly, is al­ready suc­cess­fully match­ing “hosts” and “guests” for longer term stays. As well as help­ing young peo­ple pay off debts and find an af­ford­able place to live, this builds last­ing friend ships be­tween the house mates.

In the Nether­lands, many re­tire­ment homes al­low stu­dents to live in rent-free apart­ments in re­turn for vol­un­teer­ing and act­ing as “good neighbours” to the older res­i­dents. One fa­cil­ity in Deven­ter in­cludes a vi­brant ground floor with restau­rants, cafes and a mu­seum open to the pub­lic.

Of course, we can’t turn back the clock to an era when peo­ple knew all their neighbours and lived close to their extended fam­i­lies. But these ex­cit­ing new de­vel­op­ments show the ben­e­fits of build­ing bridges be­tween gen­er­a­tions.

We hope that Scot­land will learn from the best ex­am­ples around the world and help build a more co­he­sive so­ci­ety. Brian Sloan, chief ex­ec­u­tive, Age Scot­land.

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