The Cares Family on the power of intergenerational friendships

Written by Zenya Smith16/12/21

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Care at homeInterviewsLiving well

From friendships that flourish through a shared love of music, to talking politics and putting the world to rights,  at Elder we are regularly blown away by the connections that form between the live-in carers we work with, and the older people they support.

However, forming connections with someone from a different generation can raise some big questions too, especially if you’re trying to help an older loved one to expand their support network. Will there be enough common ground? What will they talk about? And will they really understand each other?

We asked The Cares Family – a network of charities working to bridge the age gap, about the benefits and impact of forming friendships with people from different generations.

 

Could you tell us a little bit about how The Cares Family was started, and your mission? 

The Cares Family helps people find connection and community in a disconnected age.

We opened in North London in 2011 after our founder, Alex, was canvassing for votes as a council candidate in the local elections. As he was doing his rounds and knocking on doors, he met Fred, a neighbour in his 80s who hadn’t been out of his house for three months. Alex wheeled Fred in his wheelchair to vote, and the next day returned to help him get a haircut.

As the pair became friends, it became clear that this was a truly mutual relationship: Fred was reducing his isolation through his interactions with Alex; and Alex was feeling more connected to his community than ever before, hearing about Fred’s amazing stories and discovering what they had in common. At that moment, the idea for The Cares Family was born.

Over three years it developed four programmes to bring older and younger neighbours together – through social clubs, a one-to-one Love Your Neighbour friendship programme, outreach that invited older and younger neighbours to share time and new experiences, and community fundraising. South London Cares followed in 2014, and Manchester Cares arrived in 2017, followed by Liverpool Cares in 2018, and East London Cares in 2019.

The Cares Family is now active in five great, rapidly-changing city locations with heritage and heart at their core. Across the group, some 18,000 older and younger people have now found confidence, community and connection through new relationships with their neighbours, and with the changing landscapes around them.

 

Older and younger people have so much to gain from one another by sharing time and friendship – and the generational gap is itself the biggest benefit.

Do you think there’s a stigma around intergenerational friendships? Particularly for people who may only have experienced close friendships with others their own age? 

A good friendship between two people, whoever those two people may be, is one that is mutually beneficial. It’s one where both friends learn from and support each other – and that belief is at the heart of our work.

Our younger neighbours aren’t part of our programmes to help and support older people. They are part of our programmes because they want to connect with their community and lay down roots in their area, and our older neighbours support them to do that. Equally, older neighbours come to our programmes to hang out with younger people, to get to know a different generation and to create new connections in their neighbourhoods.

 

Are people surprised about the connections they make, or how much they have in common with someone from a different generation?

The story you hear most when talking to younger and older neighbours after they’ve been to one of our social clubs, or started visiting a new pal is that the age difference seems to melt away. Take Frances, 100, who told us about her friendship with James, 33, “What do I enjoy most about it? The laughter. We gel through our sense of humour. Oddly enough, age doesn’t come into it. I wouldn’t have believed it.”

What do you believe are the biggest benefits of forming a friendship or connection with someone from a different generation?

Older and younger people have so much to gain from one another by sharing time and friendship – and the generational gap is itself the biggest benefit. Take Roy, 74. On asking what Roy likes about hanging out with younger people, he says, “I like speaking to younger people to see what’s going on with them – it’s very different to when I was young, especially with things like the job market. She’s somebody that I look forward to seeing. If it weren’t for South London Cares, I probably wouldn’t be talking to any youngsters.”

After they’ve started visiting a new pal the age difference seems to melt away.

While we hear a lot about elderly loneliness, in your experience, is loneliness a growing issue among all age groups, and does geography play a significant part?

The enforced isolation brought on by the pandemic has shown us all what it feels like to be lonely. But in fact, loneliness is prevalent in all age groups long before the pandemic. A survey conducted in 2019 showed 24% of Britons aged from 18 to 24 reported experiencing loneliness often compared with just 7% of those aged over 55 reporting feeling lonely often.

For people that live in cities, feelings of loneliness can often be compounded further. As trends such as gentrification and digitisation change neighbourhoods, people living in those areas can often feel left out, or left behind by the rapid pace of change. That’s why it’s so important for people to come together to help one another feel part of their community.

What are the signs of loneliness to look out for, and what steps can we all take, especially in the winter months, to support an older person?

Loneliness doesn’t just affect older people – we can all take steps to look out for one another over the winter months. Get your five a day, every day: five meaningful interactions with a neighbour, co-worker, bus driver, barber, or stranger. Or pick up the phone, and call a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while.

With New Year’s resolutions on the horizon, why not resolve to do something you wouldn’t normally do, with someone you wouldn’t normally meet? That might be through a local charity, or even by stopping in your local café to chat with someone you see often but never talk to.

The Cares Family brings people together across generations, backgrounds and experiences to build community and connection. With branches across London, Liverpool and Manchester, the organisation runs regfular social clubs, and connects individuals via their Love Your Neighbour programme. 

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