Apples and Honey Nightingale is the first Intergenerational Nursery in the UK. Transforming the lives of many, this initiative is well worth knowing about. It is in the grounds of Nightingale House, a care home for older people. Opened in 2017 for children from three months to five-years-old, it is flourishing, as are all those involved.
Judith Ish-Horowicz MBE, co-founder and Director of Apples and Honey Nightingale, spoke to me about how it all began. “A motivating factor was to address the challenges of living in a fractured society. Many of us live in age segregated communities and the effects of loneliness, isolation and depression are all around us.”
When young children visited the care home Judith was struck by the relationships she saw developing between the residents and children. This prompted her to approach Nightingale Hammerson, the care home provider, to ask if they would agree to having a nursery in their garden. It took off from there.
The vision of this enterprise is to bring the generations together for purposeful and mutually beneficial activities. The care home residents and the young children participate in a daily programme of activities. These include cooking, caring for animals, singing, growing vegetables. There is always a choice of things to do both indoors and out.
The advantages of Intergenerational care at Apples and Honey
Many of the residents say that having children on site has transformed their lives.
Judith told me, “The average age of residents entering Nightingale Hammerson is 92 years. Many of them have never had children and have either no family or a very small extended one. Watching them bottle feed a baby for the first time and being ‘adopted’ by a nursery family is amazing. The lives of the residents have been enhanced beyond measure.”
Judith highlights the main benefits for the older generation:
· it gives them purpose and motivates them to get up in the morning
· it helps them to feel valued and useful as they get involved doing purposeful things
· it raises their spirits, helping them not to feel depressed
· it makes them feel they still have a place in society
· seeing movement all around them is energising
· they are involved in interesting activities, not just things ‘to keep them busy’ for the sake of it
· they are being occupied beyond attending to their basic daily needs
· they have things to talk about to their visitors and each other
Equally, the younger generation have a lot to gain. Judith points out, “The generational mix enables them to see themselves as part of the chain of life. This helps give them a sense of security and place in the world. The children develop special friendships with a generation that they might otherwise not meet”.
Judith outlines the main benefits for the younger generation:
· many of them don’t have extended family living nearby or even in the same country, so they can have ‘adopted great-grandparents’
· they are learning from living history daily
· they experience aging as a natural process
· their development in all areas of learning is well supported
· parents and staff notice their communication and language skills improve exponentially
· they develop spatial awareness and body control through having to be careful when with the residents
· all engagements have a specific learning objective from the EYFS
· they learn to wait and cope with a different pace of doing things
It is not only these two generations that benefit, but those in between too. Judith explains, “The inclusion of young children on site has been beneficial to the families of the residents. They speak with me about how it can help relieve some of the guilt they feel at not being able to look after their loved ones at home. Seeing how rich and varied their lives are has made the world of difference to their families. The families can also join in the programme and share in the activities. This helps them feel more connected to each other.”
The volunteers, too, find the work satisfying and the relationships fulfilling. Their help in supporting the care staff to take the residents to the sessions is crucial.
It is also a great opportunity for the local families to become part of a big extended family. This develops social cohesion and enables Apples and Honey to be a community hub for all ages. As well as this, it helps break down barriers around age, culture, social background and faith.
The main challenges
As with any community-based work, none of it happens without a great deal of work, especially in certain areas.
Judith considers communication to be at the top of her list of challenges. “It can be so hard to keep everyone in the loop. Liaising between two organisations, each with different shift patterns, can prove difficult. As well as this, care homes are large organisations and can have a high staff turnover, so dealing with change can be tricky.”
An interesting, though satisfying, challenge is changing people’s perceptions. Judith comments, “If you don’t understand, and haven’t experienced a programme like this, it can feel intimidating and strange. Once people get used to it and realise how welcoming it is things becomes less threatening.”
However, Judith is convinced that the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. “Challenges can be overcome – the benefits are just amazing!”
I asked Judith if she would name just one moment that has stayed with her during her time at Apples and Honey. Probably her greatest challenge of the year!
“One grandfriend who never had children and is now 94 was adopted by a family at our weekly baby and toddler group. She has been part of his growing up ever since. He joined the nursery and then went off to primary school. The family kept in touch via phone and zoom throughout lockdown and he and his parents still visit her. He was the first baby she ever bottle-fed!”
Judith couldn’t resist mentioning one more, “Just a couple of weeks ago we were glass painting together when one of our grandfriends exclaimed ‘It’s so messy! I haven’t had so much fun for 40 years!’ "
It is important that we get to know about such incredibly heart-warming and inspiring work. It seems that this is the way to go.