Sharing forgotten skills narrows the generation gap

Sharing forgotten skills narrows the generation gap

The Intergenerational Café, a new programme that sees older adults passing on traditional skills to young people, is gaining momentum following a successful pilot.

Intergenerational Cafe

Diane Boyd, a senior lecturer in Education Studies and Early Years at LJMU, came up with the idea for the Intergenerational Café when she realised that young children had no concept of the word ‘mend’. But it wasn’t just her interactions with three and four-year-olds that got her thinking about our throw-away society, Diane also met the same lack of awareness about traditional skills such as darning, sewing and knitting among her first year students. Living in a world where clothes are cheap, food is convenient and most things are disposable – she was keen to explore ways to educate young people in the forgotten skills of the ‘make do and mend’ ethos of yesteryear.

Successfully trialled with Everton Nursery School and Family Centre, the Intergenerational Café was born. A very simple concept, the project brings together a community’s older population, who are often at risk of social isolation, with local parents and children to learn how to cook, bake, fix bicycles, sew and knit.

Catherine McNeill, an intern working on the project, was brought in to help deliver the Café pilot which ran monthly sessions over six months. During that time the Café received 109 visitors – bringing together 15 older people, 48 parents, 36 children and 10 LJMU students.

This model has attracted a huge level of interest with many UK cities and towns, and also some European cities, looking to set up Intergenerational Cafés in their own communities. Within Liverpool, Catherine is working to secure additional funding to deliver the Café in five key priority areas across the city for a 12 month period starting this September.

Part of its appeal, no doubt, are the mutual benefits that develop as a result of the interactions between the young and old. As society struggles to tackle loneliness and isolation in older adults and with financial and emotional stresses put on families in times of austerity – this project seems to tick many boxes for community engagement.

“Young people are having the opportunity to talk with older people that they may never have spoken to before – breaking down additional barriers of them and us.”
– Diane Boyd, project lead for the Intergenerational Café

Not only is the programme a great way of bringing members of a community together, improving their wellbeing and giving them a practical platform to develop feelings of self-worth and confidence – the Café also instils fundamental values and behaviours towards the environment and sustainability as Diane explains:

“It covers all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, for example, using local produce, recycling clothes, setting up a uniform swap shop or bin for deposits to save landfills; economic: recycling clothes and understanding the importance of mending, and social/cultural: keeping traditions alive, sewing, baking traditional recipes, sharing memories and narratives.”

A few thoughts from some of those who took part:

“It’s wonderful for us to come and repair uniforms for children in need, it gives us a real purpose, it’s what we did years ago, repaired everything. People are too quick to throw things away nowadays.” – Ann, 70

“You can fix things and you don’t have to throw things away.” – Jamie, 3

“I used to look after my granddaughters but they are grown up now and I felt not needed, no use anymore. Coming to the Café gives me purpose. I like helping people to learn new skills.” – Joan, 72

“Knitting passes the time, it takes my mind off worrying about things. I hand knit and it doesn’t look much but when you’ve finished you think 'wow I’ve done all that!'” – Aaron, 26

Following the success of the trial, the team are developing a franchise model so that LJMU can provide training, resources and support for projects to be set up elsewhere – with each Café becoming sustainable within its own community. If you’d like to find out more about the programme, please contact Catherine McNeill

Are you interested in projects that make a difference to the education of children? Have you considered teaching young people as a career? Why not find out what courses you could study within the School of Education?


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