This term as part of Clifton in the Community, pupils from Clifton College have been working with older people at the Methodist Church in St Werburghs, each Monday afternoon. LinkAge Bristol set us up with this opportunity and the purpose of the exercise was for both the younger and the older to learn from each other, to enjoy each other’s’ company and to gain new skills in communication and leadership. It has been a very fruitful experience and the pupils have been challenged to produce age-appropriate activities and to lead sessions, which they have very much enjoyed doing. In the paragraphs below, five pupils write of their experiences and their reflections about this community project.
‘We know that loneliness and social isolation can affect everyone but older people are particularly vulnerable after the loss of friends and family, reduced mobility or limited income. Loneliness must not be viewed as an inevitable part of ageing. However, we can see that living alone, a lack of close family ties, and infrequent contact with children greatly contributes to a sense of isolation and loneliness. We know that loneliness is a serious health issue for older people and us all; it is associated with poor mental and physical health. It is good to see that the Government and local authorities have made a commitment for loneliness to be mapped in each area.’
‘Human beings of every age need to belong. This is a need so basic that we rarely think about it unless loneliness brings it to our attention. A way of dealing with this problem is by singing group songs, as it makes people feel a certain belonging to the group which is very important. It is scientifically proven that happiness is directly correlated to the length of a person's life so we the children of Clifton, are helping to increase the life expectancy of the elderly people through enjoying talking with them and discussing both our and their life experiences.’
The group is led by David who brings together a hugely diverse range of people with his unique humour and his ideas. Every Monday David offered us the opportunity to read two poems from the newspaper. Most of us were a bit scared of reading them out loud to all of the younger and the older. So teachers or older people normally read them. I would say that David found a great selection of moral, cognitive and funny poems which we listened to with attention and pleasure. In spite of being a short part of this session at Methodist Church, this time was very important. Some learned a lesson from it, others had a laugh. I couldn’t imagine the session there without a time devoted to reading poems.
We also had a lot of fun doing armchair aerobics – chair-based exercises. This is a perfect physical activity for people who due to their age or restricted mobility cannot take part in intensive workouts such as running or normal aerobics. However, all the students enjoyed it as well. Armchair aerobics comprises various exercises involving all the muscles e.g. leg heel digs, arm lifting, hip marching or upper body twist. After a quarter of an hour exercising everybody (young and older!) felt tired but full of positive endorphins and ready for the other exciting activities.
During one of the sessions, the seniors and the students were taught some Mandarin Chinese by student Yi Zhang and Mrs.Cordwell, teacher of Mandarin at Clifton College. At the start of the lesson , the audience was introduced to the Chinese number system, which was quite perplexing for people who had never seen it before. It took a few explanations before everyone could figure out what was going on, but overall it went quite successfully. After this, some of the most common Mandarin phrases were taught to the learners. This was a less daunting task since there were only a few phrases to memorize, and some people were already familiar with them. At the end of the lesson, special calligraphy paper was given out to everyone in order to practise the spelling of Chinese symbols, which are quite intricate and hard to remember. The good thing about this exercise was that it got the seniors and the youth working together. Overall the lesson went very successfully: the students learned quite a lot of new material and most importantly enjoyed the session.
We quickly found out that another of the group’s favourite activities was bingo. The pupils accordingly arranged several enjoyable sessions to generate some healthy competitive spirit! These were enjoyed by all and there have been requests for further sessions in the future!’
Below, some of the pupils talk of their highlights from the experience:
‘It was particularly exciting to hear about teenager’s life and school in the first half of the Twentieth Century and see how it differs from the current situation. In my opinion, making such a comparison is beneficial to both sides, as in spite of the age gap, we still have a lot in common.’
‘I was particularly fascinated hearing about the elderly men and women's lives especially during the years of the war and how it affected them.’
‘Every new week we had different groups we chatted in. And I was impressed that all the older people there are united: they enjoy talking to everyone, they don’t argue with each other and are ready to help each other.There was a warm atmosphere which I enjoyed the most.’
This final reflection from a pupil sums up our experience:
‘In all honesty, I didn’t know what to expect. It was hard to imagine the difference we could make in their lives, since we were just a bunch of strangers giving them a visit. But now I know not to underestimate a stranger’s capacity to impact another’s life, because the effects can be tenfold.’
Many thanks to both LinkAge and all those at St Werbugh’s Methodist Church for giving us this opportunity and for making us feel so welcome.
Pupils of Clifton College.