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Why it's so important to connect with people of different generations

Global Intergenerational Week is just around the corner (24 - 30 April 2024)! Encouraging activities and relationships between young and older people can build meaningful intergenerational connections that have long-term mutual benefits and help us feel less lonely.

Let's look at why it’s so important to connect with people of different generations…

Lessons from littles 

During a workshop at a local school, we explored the theme of loneliness—a feeling familiar to all, regardless of age. We expected a few hands when asked if they had ever felt lonely. In fact, every child's hand shot up. 

Their honesty in sharing experiences was heartwarming and eye-opening, “I felt lonely when my best friend Max was off sick”, and “When there was no space for me on the swings, I felt lonely”. Unlike adults, who might hesitate to discuss loneliness due to societal stigma, children understand it as a natural signal of needing more connection. Our workshop reminded us that feeling ashamed or embarrassed to talk about loneliness is a learnt behaviour, something that children don’t have.

Loneliness is completely normal – we are human beings who need social connections to survive! There is nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about. Whatever our experience of loneliness is, there are always things we can do or support available to help us feel more connected.

In our preparations for Loneliness Awareness Week 2024 and our recent Christmas Cheer campaign, we asked school children to make drawings of times they felt connected, which were made into cards to give to our Marmalade members. Our members (prominently older people), tell us how the children's drawings brighten their day. 87-year-old Bill told us “I will cherish the drawings, they were my favourite gift in the hamper this Christmas.” 

Friends across the ages

When Sammy signed up to volunteer with us in 2019, she was apprehensive about connecting with an older person. Sammy told us "It turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me". We matched Sammy with member Irene, who was experiencing long-term loneliness, and was finding living alone during the pandemic especially difficult. Right from their first phone call, Sammy and Irene clicked instantly. 

Over five years, they have formed a wonderful friendship. They celebrate birthdays with special meals, including Irene's first-ever birthday cake which Sammy made her, and enjoy pub lunches together. Meeting twice a month and with a weekly phone call every Wednesday, their connection has become a vital source of support.

While Irene expresses immense gratitude for being matched with Sammy, Sammy acknowledges that Irene has also been a lifeline during times of difficulty:

"Irene tells me every week she’s so grateful she got matched with me and it’s the best thing that’s happened to her, but the reality is, she has helped me through loneliness and a hard time when I was struggling with my mental health. She’s the also been the best thing that’s happened to me."

Through Marmalade Trust, Sammy and Irene have found solace, friendship, and a profound sense of connection. Their story is a testament to the power of intergenerational connection!

The value of different perspectives

The pandemic brought challenges but also opened doors to unexpected connections. One of our volunteers cherished weekly conversations with Sheila, a 92-year-old Marmalade member: “Sheila has lived in my local area her whole life. She told me fascinating stories about Bristol in the war, about planes that had landed in the very park where I now play with my son. I learnt about how she raised her kids without the Internet, how she sent letters to her sister in France and how she has known loneliness at different times in her life. It was the highlight of my week to speak with her and I learnt so much.”

These exchanges not only enriched the volunteer's understanding of the past but also offered Sheila a cherished opportunity to revisit memories long tucked away. Sheila told us: “She was lovely to talk to, she reminded me of things I hadn’t thought about for years and years. It was nice to take a trip down memory lane.” 

Fostering intergenerational connections 

The stories we've shared are just a glimpse of the potential for intergenerational connections to enrich lives. Organisations with a focus on fostering these relationships, such as the British Association for Local History, Men's Sheds, Ramblers, The National Trust, and The Women’s Institute, provide platforms for people of all ages to come together, share experiences, and learn from one another.

A call to connect

As we navigate through our own moments of loneliness, let's remember the lessons from both the young and the old. Connection, the wisdom shared across generations, and simple acts of kindness can bring joy, understanding, and companionship.

Together, let's celebrate the power of connection during Global Intergenerational Week and beyond. #GIW24


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