GRAEME COUSINS visits a day centre in Bangor where primary school kids are giving a beam of sunshine to dementia patients
Although the age gap between the participants is at least three score years and 10, it’s hard to tell who is enjoying the crafting session more – the primary one pupils or the dementia patients they are interacting with.
The weekly get together is organised by Grange Park Primary School and Bayview Day Centre, two establishments just five minutes apart in the seaside town of Bangor.
Watching human beings at either end of the age spectrum taking part in a game of snap is enough to melt the hardest of hearts.
The idea behind the link-up between the school and the day centre is to benefit both the children and the older people with dementia by finding common ground as well as exploring the differences between the youth of today and yesteryear.
Grange Park Principal Mandy White said: “We’re just into our second year of the programme. We had a pre-existing link with Bayview where our choir would come and sing at Christmas.
“Through the programme we’re looking at widening the horizons of our children and looking at pastoral care, empathy, intergenerational work.
“Dementia patients are at times at the level of younger children because they have regressed.
“The children have no inhibitions – they’re at the perfect age to do this. They don’t care whether the people they’re talking to can speak properly or speak at all.”
In December Grange Park PS, which has 410 pupils, invited service users from Bayview to the school for the nativity.
Mandy said: “They had tea, biscuits and the children performed the nativity. There were hugs all round.
“It’s just a great relationship they’ve formed. This is about children caring, empathising and engaging with the older generation.
“Our children jump off the bus when they get here, they just love it. They talk about the people here as their older friends. Our parents have been really supportive of the benefits of it.
“The two P1 teachers who are involved do a fabulous job, they have worked really well with the Bayview staff. It’s a really strong partnership with mutual benefits.”
As well as benefitting pupils and service users, the programme also ties in with the school curriculum.
Mandy said: “Our two P1 classes are timetabled to come here once a week on Thursday for an hour. We normally bring around seven or eight children. It won’t be the same pupils every week.
“This fits in very well with the school’s family ethos.”
Primary One teacher Moyra Edge talked about some of the activities the children have done along with the dementia patients at Bayview: “We have done planting, baking, we play traditional games like dominos, snap, happy families – the sort of games that children don’t play anymore. We’ve done boccia bowls and some ordinary bowling, and a shuffleboard game where you aim beanbags into a target.
“With the like of the dominos, the older people are able to teach them how to play, then they get quite competitive, it’s great fun.
“We also do a session on the past. The older folk will talk about the old telephones, televisions, radios, typewriters. We’ll bring our mobile phones and our Alexa, our iPads. We show them how they work.
“The first time they were petrified of the iPads then the children showed them how they worked and they started playing on them.
“It’s a partnership, they’re talking and interacting together.
“Our quiet children really come out of themselves with a one-to-one older person to talk to. It’s a very settled atmosphere for the children when they come here.
“The relationship is great. A lot of the children don’t have an older relative in their lives. Lots of their grandparents would be in their early fifties.
“There could be three generations between the children and the older people here.”
She added: “There are other link-ups between schools and older people but as far as I’m aware we’re the only ones who do this kind of link-up with dementia patients and primary one pupils.
“I’m not sure who gets the most out of it. It’s a mutual thing. The children come back to the school full of chat afterwards, they go home to tell their parents about their older friends.”
Moyra displayed a selection of photographs on her iPad taken when the Bayview users and Grange Park pupils met up for a day out at the Bangor Castle Walled Garden.
Given the level of affection between the young children and the older people anybody looking at a snaps would assume these were children out with their grandparents or great grandparents.
She said: “When went for the day out at the walled garden I remember one of the ladies couldn’t get over the fact she was sitting on the grass having a picnic.
“We played this game with a parachute and a lot of the older folk got up and joined in.
“They encourage the children to be a little bit mischievous, I think they go back to their own childhood. When we’re here (in the Butterfly Room of the day centre) they’d egg them on to play the piano and they kids would go and do it and they’d be over laughing. There’s that spark that comes back again.”
Bayview Day Centre Manager Lynn McQuillan explained the importance of the children’s visits: “It’s more about the interaction and the chat, than the activities. The children are at a really good age for that.
“The service users come on Tuesdays and Thursday, from 10.20am to 3.15pm. When they go home they’re maintained in their homes by care calls. Some live with family, some live on their on. This day care twice a week enables them to live at home.
“Some might talk about the visit from the children that same afternoon, about the children being here, some may not be able to remember. With dementia you live in the moment.
“We have a head mistress here and a teacher, they particularly enjoy it. There’s an ex-Second World War pilot here as well. He’s great with the children.
“There was a man called Raymond who was non-verbal when we first started coming. One of the boys introduced themselves and he replied, ‘Pleased to meet you, my name is Raymond’. The staff nearly fell onto the floor. It just brought something out of him, having the children around.
“You can see by their faces just how much they’re getting from the children.”