Global Intergenerational Week 2022

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 28th April 2022.

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Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

I thank Jackie Dunbar for bringing the debate to the chamber. As someone who can still smell his Irish granny’s soda bread, I associate myself with Jackie Dunbar’s comments. I think that I am making everyone in the chamber hungry for their lunch.

I am extremely pleased to stand in support of global intergenerational week 2022, a campaign that, as we have heard, stresses the value of all of our generations in society, and a campaign that highlights the benefits of learning from and supporting one another—a measure that is integral to strengthening our communities and tackling social isolation.

Since the start of the pandemic, public health messaging has emphasised the importance of social distancing, but for hundreds of thousands of Scots who live alone and rely on community social support, a secondary, quieter public health crisis has surfaced, and that is loneliness.

We know that loneliness is a public health crisis, as it significantly increases the risk of stress, anxiety and depression, and it doubles the risk of dementia. In fact, as we have heard from colleagues already, long-term loneliness is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Although loneliness can occur at any and all stages of life, most triggers tend to congregate in later life due to factors such as retiring from work, being bereaved, experiencing illness and children moving away from home.

During the pandemic, the effects of social isolation were often felt most acutely by our older generation, many of whom fell into high-risk brackets and, as such, were forced to not only isolate but shield completely. For the rest, as a result of Covid regulations more generally, most mechanisms of social support, such as in-person community groups, were closed.

In common with colleagues across the chamber, during the lockdown period, I saw generations coming together in a way that perhaps I had not in the past. That could have been something as simple as young neighbours looking in on their older neighbours, to make sure that they had their shopping in or had their prescription picked up. There was a real willingness to go across the garden gate and have a conversation with someone, perhaps in a way that had not happened before.

There were also formal examples of that in my West Scotland region, in Renfrewshire. The intergenerational project and creative writing programme poetic pathways worked with older adults living independently in sheltered housing and young people from schools to provide an outlet for both generations to exchange their feelings and experiences during the lockdown. Pupils at local schools periodically wrote letters and cards, facilitating connections between the generations at a time when many were shielding and had experienced little or no social interactions. That had the effect of breaking down the stigmas that are often attached to both older and younger people, and it created instead a sense of partnership between generations through which life experiences could be exchanged and commonalities shared.

That project has moved on further, and poetic pathways has now created an interactive poetic walk down national cycle network route 7 in Renfrewshire, which runs from Paisley through Johnstone. Two schools that were involved in that, Glencoats primary school in Paisley and Fordbank primary school in Johnstone, are very proud of the work that they have done along with sheltered housing residents to put poetry onto that path for everyone to read. They won an award from Generations Working Together for their use of place and space, which absolutely has to be celebrated.

The third sector and voluntary organisations continue to work tirelessly to combat loneliness. In the Parliament, we all know that we need to do more to provide sustainable funding and support for those organisations. Undoubtedly, age-based discrimination and loneliness will often result from wider pressures in our society, not least within our health service.

Global intergenerational week is about having important conversations about recognising the value of every generation in Scotland and taking a next step towards continuing to reconnect our generations post Covid-19.