Family Matters: Bridging the generation gap

EXCLUDED from society, misunderstood and living in supported housing - can you guess which generation we’re talking about?

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 15th September 2011, 9:42 am

If you listen to the stereotypes you might think that today’s teenagers have absolutely nothing in common with our oldest residents, and every aspect of their lives have always been world’s apart.

But surprise, surprise, it turns out they have a lot in common and given the chance, can really enjoy each others’ company.

Strangely enough old people were once young too and shared the same emotions, experiences, fears and joys as today’s youngsters.

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Some have fallen in love at first sight, done things they shouldn’t have and live with a few regrets - it really doesn’t matter whether they are now 80 or 18.

Now two of these groups find themselves at opposite ends of the age spectrum yet both living in supported accommodation.

In Sharrow the young people are at Roundabout homeless hostel and their older neighbours are across the road in St Barnabas House.

When the pensioners used to pass groups of young people outside the hostel they were scared and the younger generation thought the elderly were always complaining for no real reason.

Things first looked up during last year’s snow when the youngsters went over and cleared the snow outside St Barnabas House without being asked.

Then staff at Roundabout and St Barnabas teamed up to bring them together, fighting back against the stereotypes and prejudices that are held on both sides. Organisers tried to combine things that the different generations like, and they came up with concepts as unusual as knitted graffiti.

The modern trend for cupcakes was also given a twist by women who have been baking for more than 60 years.

One of the most successful events was the ‘speed dating’ where they asked each other questions using prompt cards covering a huge range of topics.

There were triumphs on both sides - it turns out hoodies are just items of clothing and pensioners know a trick or two about attracting the opposite sex.

Roundabout’s director Ben Keegan said: “In today’s society young people get so much bad publicity we wanted to show our community that young people today are not that different to the young people of previous generations.

“Fundamentally we all have the same needs, aspirations and fears.

“It’s been great to build relationships with our neighbours that will continue long after this project has finished.”

The ‘speed dating’ conversations were recorded and then turned into a soundtrack by one of the young people from the hostel.

They also used their love of, and ease with, today’s technology to the delight of those who still used blackboards and chalk when they were at school.

They filmed a two-hour session working in teams of old and young to create content for a music video to accompany the soundtrack.

The content was then pulled together by social enterprise Silent Cities and edited with the help of one young person from the hostel who had a particular talent in this area.

Kath Blanchard, scheme supervisor at St Barnabas House said, “There was a fantastic buzz in the room, it was amazing.

“It was really interesting to hear some of the conversations and it really helped them understand each other.

“Now my residents want to invite the young people to their coffee mornings and the young people want to help us out by doing some gardening in the communal areas.

“I’m really pleased that everyone wants to get so involved.”

Shauna Acaster, participation worker at Roundabout said: “I felt nothing but pride - they were selfless, funny and kind and I believe this project is just the start of much more positive community spirit to come.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Margaret, one of the older people based at St Barnabas, who says it has changed how the two groups see each other.

She said: “It’s nice now because you feel like you can go and speak to them. I saw one of them the other day and they said, ‘Hullo Margaret, are you alright! And it was lovely. It makes you feel much safer.’”

The project was designed and facilitated by Roundabout with Silent Cities and funded by Lottery Awards for All Grant.

Justine Gaubert, founder of Silent Cities said: “Communities are happiest where mutual trust is highest.

“We wanted to facilitate a creative project which brought together the young people at Roundabout, with the older people across the road, to initially talk to each other, and then create something together.

“We felt it was interesting that the two groups were both living in supported accommodation and yet were at opposite ends of the age spectrum.”

You can see the video on the Roundabout website at