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Intergenerational learning and care part 3: the Belong nursery

The North West now has its first care village with a fully integrated Nursery, in an inspiring new initiative in Chester. Delayed for over two years due to the pandemic, the Nursery in Belong opened its doors at the beginning of August, with intergenerational charity, Ready Generations, running the nursery. Its founder, Sue Egersdorff, is jubilant, she says, “We are all so excited about this ground-breaking project, and very busy!”

Ready Generations has been working with Belong Villages for over five years planning a nursery where both young and old live and work alongside each other. This is the first large intergenerational project for both organisations.


How it all began 

Sue Egersdorff describes how all this got started. “The seedling emerged when I met with Tracy Paine, then Deputy CEO of Belong, over five years ago. Tracy had just won a Winston Churchill research fellowship, enabling her to travel to visit innovative care settings in the USA, Australia and Japan and explore new concepts involving intergenerational living.

“We both knew this was something exciting that we wanted to pursue,” Sue continues, “Ever since we have been planning an integrated model with a bespoke curriculum that reflects the needs of both children and older people. Our specifically-designed  Mirrored Curriculum Framework meets all EYFS requirements and reflects the United Nations Principles for Older People.”

Sue outlines the main aims as:  

       Connecting people in sustainable ways

       Prioritising relationships

       Reducing social isolation and loneliness for both young families and older people

       Supporting self-awareness and emotional development

       Developing executive functioning skills in children and older people 

       Creating an environment that meets individual needs irrespective of age 

       Providing a research-into-practice centre for intergenerational pedagogy (linked with a number of UK universities)

       Working within the UNICEF Sustainable Development Goals to facilitate the voice of the community around issues that affect them


The care village

Located just a few minutes’ walk from Chester railway station, the state-of-the-art development offers a mix of independent living apartments and households. Round the clock support, including specialist dementia and nursing care, is provided. Belong’s home care service, Belong at Home, also operates from the site.

All customers, as well as members of the public, have access to a vibrant village centre. The facilities on offer include a bistro, specialist gym, hair salon, therapy room, library and an entertainment venue with licensed bar.

Belong Chief Executive, Martin Rix, summarises: “The beauty of the village model is that we offer a range of spaces and experiences, giving people the choice to join in as much or as little of village life as they choose. We are particularly excited that Belong Chester will have the integration of a nursery – this is a very special and new element for us.”




A snapshot of the Nursery

The care village has a number of outdoor spaces for both children and older people to use, as in any local village. The Nursery is situated on the ground floor, allowing free-flow access to the secure gardens. Exploring, playing and developing friendships in the context of the natural world is at the heart of all planning. Using an approach developed on Froebelian and High Scope principles, outdoor learning is integral to everyday life. 

Children are not divided by age – they are all together alongside the older people. All resources are carefully selected with children and older people in mind, with sensory stimulation being a priority. The colour schemes and furniture are chosen to appeal to both age groups. There is a peace room for anyone that wishes to use it.

“The main areas where experiences are planned for all ages are the library, the garden room and the outdoor areas. The children and their older friends have snacks, drinks and meals together in the bistro area,” explains Sue.  

Other shared activities include storytelling, music making, a choir, block play and problem-solving with technology sessions led by the children. These are planned sympathetically so that the older people can participate easily.

Sue explains, “We believe that older people are only different from children in size and experience. They need very similar things.”  

Sue considers these to be:

       personalised consideration and understanding

       respect for their effort and work

       opportunities to share and progress their ideas

       to be valued for what they bring and contribute


Getting a taste of the Nursery in Belong

Throughout July, the team have been welcoming the local community to a series of open days. Sue reports, “These have been very well attended with a spectrum of ages from 8 months to 93 years.” She continues, “Prospective residents have joyously welcomed the Nursery as part of their daily lives, many already signing up for various activities. We’ve also had people offering to volunteer and even been offered help from two amazing pianists. It seems there will be a lot of singing and music making!”

The carers of people living with dementia have visited several times to further their understanding of the approaches that will be used. “They are thrilled that the range of resources will allow their loved ones to enjoy opportunities that have been sensitively tailored to allow them full access and participation,” says Sue.

The Nursery parents are attracted by:

       the smallness of the nursery with free flow to the garden

       the family groupings

       the daily interactions with older people

       the sense of community and belonging

       the opportunity to be part of something different

       the focus on nurturing ,playful relationships




What the community say about the Nursery

 Prospective residents’ comments …

 As soon as I came into the Nursery, I got goosebumps. I will be here every day if I can be!

 The joy of seeing children again will change my life for the better!

 We’ll all be busy playing together – the days will rush by!

 These blocks are just beautiful!


And parents …  

This is exactly what I want for my child – the opportunity to spend time with older people.

 My child is going to be so nurtured here. We will be a real family and community.


And from a 3-year-old …

I like this old lady’s chair! I can fit on here too!


These voices say it all: a remarkable and hope-inducing model for all generations.


You can read part one of this series here.

Part two of the series is available here.

Caroline Vollans
Having taught in primary schools for fifteen years, Caroline Vollans trained as a psychoanalyst. She now works as an author and freelance writer.

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