I, too, congratulate my friend and colleague Jackie Dunbar on introducing the debate in recognition of global intergenerational week. I commend the contributions so far, which have reflected just how much we can all relate to intergenerational week. It certainly resonated with me.
Inspiring individuals, groups and organisations to connect younger and older generations makes complete sense, especially given that tackling loneliness and isolation is an increasing policy concern for Government. As was articulated during the launch of this year’s campaign, it offers the chance to change the narrative from connection being just a nice thing to do to being essential practice.
Why? The improvements in older adults’ mental and physical wellbeing and the impact on conditions such as depression, dementia and, of course, loneliness are well documented. It also improves strength, leads to eating and sleeping better and to sharing stories, and tackles stigma, which are all significant health and wellbeing benefits for older people.
Although it is easy to assume that loneliness and isolation impact only older people, as Lee Knifton from the Mental Health Foundation Scotland reminded us, the
“elephant in the room is the ... number of young people ... who struggle to form relationships at a young age”.
Intergenerational practice has many benefits for children and young people, including shared thinking, stronger social skills, the development of empathy and kindness, and learning about local history.
Like many of my peers in the sandwich generation, I care for my parents and my own family at the same time. That is sometimes demanding, but it is an opportunity to build a strong intergenerational dynamic between my son and his grandpa. It was organic and natural for my son to visit his grandpa—my father—when he was in residential care and to take him for a walk to the nearby beach, help to set up the annual summer care home barbecue or just talk with residents in the common room about his school trip to the battlefields in France and Belgium. That was a wonderful opportunity for the residents to reminisce about their own lives and experiences. Importantly, it enabled them to acknowledge their own past, rather than have it be just a photograph on their bedside table or a memory kept but never really shared.
My constituency of Aberdeen South and North Kincardine is home to some fantastic groups and organisations that support intergenerational connections. My friends at Portlethen and District Men’s Shed never fail to amaze me with their sense of brotherhood towards not only each other, but those in their village and beyond. Recently, they prototyped and delivered a tinkering board, or busy board, for the local primary school to support younger pupils to tinker, learn and explore while developing their sensory practice.
I invite the minister to visit the Portlethen men’s shed after she has been to my colleague Emma Harper’s constituency. If she wants to drop in at the Old Torry Community Centre just along from my office any Thursday morning, she will find a fabulous group of physiotherapy students from Robert Gordon University who are running a community physio drop-in, offering older folks in particular the chance to chat about their aches and pains, do some exercises or just have a cup of tea and a blether. At the same time, the students are developing their clinical skills in a real-world environment—a living example of intergenerational practice.
At this point, I acknowledge Generations Working Together in Scotland and its Welsh partner, the Bridging the Generations initiative; Linking Generations Northern Ireland; and the Beth Johnson Foundation in England. I also acknowledge the work of the many charities and third sector and voluntary groups and organisations that are all working to support intergenerational practice. Many of them are supported by the £10 million commitment that the Scottish Government announced last year to support a five-year social isolation and loneliness plan. That will be a pivotal part of our national response as we face the challenges arising from the awfulness of the pandemic.
I wish everyone who is supporting and participating in intergenerational week well, and I look forward to hearing more about the work that they will be taking forward, both in Scotland and beyond.