South London. The Stephen Laurence Centre. A seminar on intergenerational practice organized by our neighbours Age Exchange. I had been asked to run two breakout workshops sharing something of my American experience. Each of the sessions lasted forty minutes. Felt like I needed forty days.
Way back in the 1980’s the older women from our neighborhood had stories about the street ice cream sellers. As children they could only afford ‘tasters’. These were thin strips of greaseproof paper smeared with a thin layer of ice cream. Feels that is what my sessions turn out to be. I have pulled out snippets from my conversation last week with Elders Share the Arts theatre artist Marsha Gildin. Phrases like:
“The elders were very concerned that the children knew they were safe and appreciated there.”
“How do you get through difficult times?”
Little glimpses of this Flushing, Queens based practice. In small groups participants peel back meaning from the textual fragments discussing value and context.
In the plenary session Susan Langford, director of one of the UK’s leading Intergenerational Companies Magic Me talks about a new initiative they have started north of the river Thames in Tower Hamlets. Cocktails in Care Homes is just what it says on tin. Once a month, young adult volunteers in their 20s and 30s , many of whom work or live nearby, host drinks parties for residents of a care home. Relatives and friends of the residents and care staff are invited to join in. There is mood lighting, decorations, music and a range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. It’s a beautifully simple idea and another way of making those walls porous as Anne Basting would say.
Marsha from Elders Share the Arts had given me another brilliant example of imaginative ways of connecting generations. The Isabella Geriatric Centre in northern Manhattan has a day care centre for the children of their staff. The young children share the spaces and places around the building with the seniors. So children become a part of the natural rhythm of daily life. As they say: “Their laughter and singing can be heard in the halls, in the elevators and in our outdoor garden as they interact with people of all ages.”