Steph Stanhope is founder of Creating Caring Connections – and runs intergenerational groups alongside care homes and primary schools. In advance of an exhibition at Felixstowe Tourist Information Beach Hut, she explains why connection is a crucial component of our wellbeing
I’m Steph, the founder of Creating Caring Connections. I created the space online initially in November last year following the various lockdowns and the subsequent impact on my wellbeing. I write about the value of connection with the aim of supporting people to maintain connections with themselves, loved ones and the wider community – promoting wellbeing through connection.
I read a book once where life and work were described as a series of lily pads, which I really loved. I’ve occupied a cluster of lily pads starting with growing up in a close family, spending a few years working for my dad in shipping, before moving into social care. During my 10-year career in social care I went to university and became a social worker. Creating Caring Connections draws on my personal and professional experiences.
My passion for intergenerational work comes from the close relationships I’ve been lucky enough to have with my grandparents. It’s also come from the older adults that I’ve worked with through my roles as a carer and a social worker. I see the value in bringing older and younger people together and feel that these relationships can benefit everyone involved – everyone has something to give.
I’d seen the Channel 4 programme, Old People’s Homes For 4 Year Olds and loved it so I started doing some research into intergenerational practice. I read about all the different projects that have happened in various areas of the UK and abroad and thought about how I could create something similar that would provide benefit to the older adults and the children taking part. I reached out to the care home where my Nan lived and put forward my idea for the groups at the beginning of this year.
During my most recent group, we’ve been doing beach-themed activities as the school and care home are located in a coastal town. The brief was for the sessions to be creative, so we’ve done things like make origami friendship boats and played beach bingo. We’re collecting the items created during the six sessions and displaying them in the Felixstowe Tourist Information Beach Hut for a week in July.
The value of the project runs much deeper than the games we’ve played and the things that we’ve made. There is a lot of care and kindness between the children and older adults. Exhibiting their work is part of celebrating those involved and their creativity, boosting self-esteem and sense of pride.
The pandemic has shown us all how valuable connections and community are. I think it’s brought to the surface and developed a greater understanding of loneliness and how it can feel. I think it’s a great time to reach out and (re)connect with those around us: family members, friends, and those in our wider communities. Friendships can be built on many different things, shared values and interests or sometimes completely different ones! They develop through spending time together, learning about each other and learning from each other. Intergenerational connections value everyone, regardless of age or ability.
I think we learn different things from the different people we cross paths with throughout our lives. I think the biggest aspect of bringing older and younger generations together is the zest for life that it evokes. The children can bring older adults out of their rooms, they bring a certain energy into a room, they help us to connect with our inner child, there is no judgement just curiosity – it’s refreshing. Being in the company of the older adults helps the children and young people to develop their social skills, patience, care and kindness. Working together on projects helps show the older adults that they can still contribute in a meaningful way to the lives of others.
The exhibition is a representation of the fun and creativity that can happen within intergenerational connections. It’s a collection of the work created during the beach-themed sessions accompanied by quotes and information about the project. The aim of the exhibition is to celebrate the connections created and the people involved in the project. I also hope that it helps to raise awareness of the benefits of intergenerational practice and inspires other organisations to consider ways that they could create caring connections between generations.
Feeling connected is a crucial element of maintaining wellbeing, and I believe that there are three parts to this; connection with self, loved ones and the community. It can be surprising just how much feeling disconnected in one of these areas can impact on other aspects of our lives and our wellbeing. We’re learning a lot about the impact of loneliness and social isolation and the impact this can have on our physical and mental health. I want to contribute towards a happier and healthier society where we can enjoy living longer lives.
I’ve really enjoyed the creativity of planning the intergenerational groups so I’m exploring putting together some resource packs to provide other care homes and schools with ideas and session plans.
I’m also working on writing a book about the value of connection and its links with wellbeing. Writing is something that I’ve always enjoyed, and the book will dive into what is known about the importance of connection throughout our lifetime including some ways to support us all to stay connected to ourselves, loved ones and the wider community.
One of my groups has been virtual so far, so I really hope that the older and younger members can meet face to face at some point with the restrictions relaxing even further. I would love to continue to raise awareness of the value of connection as well as continuing to work collaboratively with local schools and care homes to create more intergenerational connections.
If you would like to find out more about Creating Caring Connections, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit Facebook, Instagram and www.creatingcaringconnections.co.uk. The Intergenerational Connections Beach Hut Exhibition will run from Monday July 19 to Sunday July 25, from 11am – 3pm in the Tourist Information Beach Hut, The Promenade (opposite the Town Hall), Felixstowe, IP11 2AG