Oct 18

Going inside an 'old people's home for 4 year olds'

Posted: 12 October 2018
Sharon Allen

Our CEO Sharon Allen reflects on the new Channel 4 series ‘Old People’s Home for 4 year olds’ that matches up older people with a bunch of ten lively children.

I wonder how many of us, if we reached 102, would volunteer to take part in a three-month long television project that partners ten older people with a group of four-year olds.

Sylvia had her first child during the Blitz and here she is volunteering to join in the new series of Channel 4’s 'Old People’s Home for 4 year olds'.

She's joined by nine other people who live at Lark Hill Retirement village in Nottingham following on from an earlier series filmed at St Monica’s Trust in Bristol.

The first series looked at the impact on the project on the older people’s cognitive and physical responses which improved greatly. This time, the researchers are also looking at the children’s intellectual and emotional development.

Early signs are very encouraging as both parties ease into this new world making friends as they rediscover old skills and learn new ones.

Dunkirk veteran, Victor, is 97 and his main social interaction before joining the experiment was watching the village’s CCTV feed piped into his flat. There's a really moving moment when both generations join a dance class and Victor decides to dance on his own because it was something he did with his late wife, the love of his life, then the dance instructor asked him for a dance.

There was something joyous watching Victor, who survived a week as an eighteen-year old dodging bullets and bombs on the beaches of Dunkirk, expertly leading his partner round the room.

Equally inspiring was the determination of Lavinia who is living with Parkinson’s and determined not to let it beat her. Lavinia was so keen to be part of an outdoor activity she abandoned her mobility scooter taking to her walker to cross an uneven grass surface as she didn’t want to miss out on the fun.

The most heartbreaking sequence was when the nursery teacher asked the group to prepare an invitation to a party they were holding. She asked four-year old Scarlett and her partner, 85-year old Beryl, if they wanted to write one for mum and dad. Scarlett piped up matter of factly in the way young children do that her mum had died, and you could see Beryl with all her lived experience thinking how she could support her young friend with that process.

Every time I go somewhere to meet older people I am struck by the rich life experiences, sense of fun and determination to keep active that is in the room, which comes across loud and clear onscreen in this programme.

All too often we bemoan the fact that all we get is a negative image of our sector, but this programme is an attempt to show that older people have so much to give. no matter their age. There's no doubt that initiatives like Care Home Open Day are helping to break down barriers and watching this programme I thought there's so much more we can do.

There are lots of care providers who are already inviting younger people in, and I think this series will help inspire others to think about how to do that too. It might be a bunch of boisterous four-year olds, or maybe a group of teenagers working on a school project who can hear about the subject they're researching from people who actually lived through it.

I will watch the rest of the series with great interest. I can only hope that if I make it to my own century I am as full of adventure and desire to try something new like Sylvia.


Series 2 of 'Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds' started on 8 October 2018 on Channel 4. You can catch up online at https://www.channel4.com/programmes/old-peoples-home-for-4-year-olds