Following the Bristol-set television show Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds, we meet a few of those involved to get their take on the impact of Channel Four’s moving social experiment
If you saw the heart-warming, tear-jerking TV gold that was Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds, which led to the Christmas special at the end of last year, you’ll know all about the valuable study undertaken with Bristol and North Somerset’s St Monica Trust and Bedminster nursery The Southville Centre, to socialise select pensioners with a group of pre-school children in a Bristol retirement home.
Social isolation is one of the biggest problems for the elderly, with reports suggesting loneliness can be as damaging to our health as smoking. The Channel Four experiment was inspired by a revolutionary American scheme which brought together a group of older people and a group of four year olds for a six-week period to attempt to prove scientifically that the younger generation can transform the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of its elders for the better. We talked to a few of the latter lucky enough to take part in the Bristol study, to get their take on the show.
TBM: What difference did being part of the experiment make to you?
Pat Ison: Before it started I had been a bit down, ill and slightly depressed but being around the children made an amazing difference. It really lifted our spirits and gave us something to look forward to. It definitely helped us to become more mobile, and got us moving around. It was something I really felt privileged to be a part of.
Michael Hardwick: Well I was used to being around children before the show so I knew before the experiment it would be beneficial. But it was a jolly good time and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It is a great experience being around younger children who haven’t been limited by the world yet – it definitely enlivened some of the others in the group and helped to cheer them up. St Monica Trust is a vibrant community but it can still be lonely for some people – and it was invigorating, there is no doubt about that.
Zina Wilson: It has been transforming. When it started, I was quite down in the dumps – tired and very gloomy. So I thought this might drag me out of my doom and gloom. It was also good to be interviewed throughout the process as it really made you think about the difference and impact that the experiment was having. The children were also so loving and delightful. They were always full of life and so spontaneous. It brought back memories of my own children and old times. The parents were also very fond of us and have still kept in contact which is simply amazing. They are all wonderful and heart-warming people.
Did you expect it to have such an impact?
Pat: It all happened very quickly so we didn’t particularly have any expectations going into it at the beginning. We all sort of just wondered what it was all about!
Zina: No – I thought it would just be something to cheer us up. I wasn’t expecting a long lasting effect. But it was like having a big family around me – I have a family in Holland but not here and it made a huge difference. It made me rediscover there is more to life and that I want to be here a bit longer.
How important is it that different generations socialise together?
Pat: I think it is very important for different generations to socialise. I used to work for many years in the NHS with geriatric patients and I was always surprised by how many older people had been neglected by their family. At St Monica Trust we also took computer lessons with UWE. We all toddled up to the university and it was amazing just to be integrated with younger people with no pressure to talk. I think we all know that isolating people in care homes is a disaster. But it has taken us a long time to learn that the hard way.
Michael: I think it is beneficial. It is also important to get the ages right – some of the older and more frail residents here are visited by slightly older children who can help them and show them useful skills, for example on the computer, and the children take charge of looking after them. It was a great success and well worth doing, even the doubters at the start were very pleased by the end that they had the chance to take part.
Zina: It is very, very important, and beneficial to both generations. The children easily accept your disabilities and learn to be so helpful. You can see them becoming more helpful, offering to push you around! I am hoping for them to build a nursery here – it is great to have children around and see them frolicking, it is so uplifting.