A three-month televised experiment is about to start at one of the largest retirement villages in the UK – Lark Hill, on the outskirts of Nottingham – in a specially built nursery where the classmates ages range from just three to 102.
Inspired by last year’s experiment at St Monica Trust in Bristol, the pensioners this time are much older and the nursery will run for twice as long, stretching the older group’s stamina with excursions, dancing and a daily timetable of nursery activities. Broadcast over five one-hour episodes, the programme will ask if an experiment of this length is sustainable and can inspire long-term solutions in older care.
Bringing together old and young
Led by a team of geriatric specialists, including Bath’s own Professor Malcolm Johnson from the University’s Centre for Death & Society, and a child-development specialist, the experiment will measure the impact of pre-schoolers on the mood, memory and mobility of the older group. For the first time in the UK, the children will also be assessed to see what happens to their emotional and social development, as well as language skills, if their classmates are almost a century older.
Among the many heart-warming stories, in the first episode on Monday we meet 102-year-old Sylvia, born during World War One and who gave birth to her first child during the blitz in World War Two, and we meet 97-year-old Victor who at 18 found himself on the beach at Dunkirk. We witness a blossoming relationship when four-year-old Scarlett, who lost her mum to cancer when she was only three, meets shy 84-year-old Beryl.
The 2017 experiment which informed Series 1, drew on a revolutionary American scheme that brought together the very young and the very old for a six week period to attempt to prove scientifically that these two generations can transform the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of the older volunteers for the better. The team of geriatric specialists medically tested the impact the children had on the older group and the results demonstrated significant improvements in mood, movement and mobility of the older group.
The overwhelming success of Series 1 has had considerable impact that St Monica Trust in Bristol who announced they would be establishing a permanent nursery at one of their sites. It’s also had a big impact on Bath gerontologist Professor Malcolm Johnson since it first broadcast last summer who has been inundated with calls and requests.
“I’ve been writing about intergenerational issues on and off for about 25 years. The academic community would cite papers and chapters, but in truth nobody beyond a small circle was really listening. In contrast what’s happened since Series 1 aired has been really quite remarkable. Literally every day since the programme aired I’ve been contacted by people getting in touch to say ‘this is brilliant, can you help us and where can I find out more?’”
“My hope for this series is that yet more people will see that intergenerational engagement – very old people and very young people – can bring something important to both of them. Intergenerational relationships are reciprocal and when they work, they work a magic which is wonderful to watch.”
The team behind the series
The team of returning experts includes Consultant Geriatrician, Dr Zoe Wyrko, and Physiotherapist, Dr Melrose Stewart. Also joining this year will be Biogerontologist, Dr James Brown, and Early Years specialist, Alistair Bryce-Clegg.
‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’ is made once again by CPL Productions, a Red Arrow Studios company, with executive producers Murray Boland, Danielle Lux and Trish Powell. It was commissioned by Channel 4 Acting Head of Factual Entertainment Lucy Leveugle.
She said: “We are absolutely delighted to be supersizing Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds by taking it to the UK’s largest retirement community for a longer period of time. The continuing legacy of this series is testament to the universality of the issue of social isolation and loneliness. Both the older residents and the children’s stories are compelling and heart-warming and we are so grateful to them for sharing them with us.”
Find out more
- What happened when we introduced four-year-olds to an old people’s home - read Malcolm and Zoe's piece for The Conversation.