“Help the Aged, one time they were just like you”

Following on from my last blog about “Adopting and Older Person’s Home” I am reproducing here my own daughter’s blog – she went to an intergenerational circle time project, joined in and took photographs. Later she was inspired to write her own blog. Do read here what Meg says:

“Help the aged, one time they were just like you.”
“Help the aged,
one time they were just like you,
drinking, smoking cigs and sniffing glue.

Help the aged, don’t just put them in a home,
can’t have much fun in there all on their own.”
(Pulp Lyrics “Help The Aged”)

Well ok…ok… I don’t think most elderly residents in our care homes used to sniff glue back in the day!…as the lovely Jarvis Coker sings in his enigmatic indie classic “Help The Aged.” BUT I do think there’s something to be said for remembering older people were once younger people too! I think you’d be surprised how similar we all still are no matter what age we are…we all still want some fun and we all still need to be needed.

But it’s a fact that many of us will one day move into older people’s accommodation and homes for the elderly can be dreary places. Many residents have lost loved ones and lost confidence and any sense of being part of a meaningful community.

The homes I have visited as part of the project ‘Adopt an Elderly Care Home’ were wonderful – the staff there were involved and caring and the facilities were great. However, frankly, I was overwhelmed- many residents slumped asleep, unfamiliar smells and a feeling of the loss that many of the residents had experienced.

As an artist who takes inspiration from my Glamorous Granny, my intergenerational work is particularly poignant for me as I remember as a child my Granny converted her Beauty School into a residential home which she ran in Surrey. She cared for older people in the way she requires help herself today. She always made everything she did magically lovely and glamorous for her residents. I mean, her care home like everything she has ever done was rather jazzy and posh but the interesting thing is despite that extra care and glamour she brought to the home, it was me and my siblings that made the residents really light up. It seems the young and old have a great affinity for one another. I was only 12 years old but I made friends with the residents. 90 year old Ruby was wonderful and had the most amazing life but had outlived her son and her husband so was very sad …she showed me all her old photos in a trunk and taught me knitting. Another favourite was Brian, an ex colonel in the war, we became pen pals and I still have one of his war medals he gave me. They had the best stories to tell. I was fascinated – I still love a good story! A keen artist even then I was fascinated by their faces and I used to ask draw them! As a child I was always very sensitive to the passing of time, I used to keep EVERYTHING and carefully date and archive things! I later cunningly developed this habit into my practice as a documentary artist. You can see in my sketch of Brian I have not only signed and dated it, but then written my own date of birth underneath and to further clarify the the portal of time to which I sketched Brian I have also added my date of birth!

If you are interested in my approach to art with younger and older people, please read on for my blog about the brilliant intergenerational project work I am involved with today!

My 21st Century Intergenerational Explorations

Let me tell you about my current intergenerational project: Adopt an Elderly Care Home scheme was started by my mother, Jenny Mosley, and one of her senior consultants, Sarah Bentley has been piloting the project locally between a Wiltshire residential home and a local Primary school.

In these times of cost-cutting and austerity, what can we do to bring a little sunshine and vibrancy into such gloomy surroundings? This is my diary of a project that is designed to achieve exactly that.

There are a number of key points that make this project particularly interesting.

  • It is interactive. Mum puts it like this, ‘It’s about learning from each other, activities shared, not just going into the care homes and singing at them.’
  • It is intergenerational. The care home is paired with a local school and pupils visit regularly to enjoy structured time with the residents.
  • It is respectful and empowering. The residents and pupils choose topics that interest them both and share thoughts, recollections and opinions etc.
  • Each meeting is structured and time-constrained. This ensures both generations feel secure because their time together passes in a foreseeable way.
  • The structure used is Jenny’s Circle Time model which has five distinct sections – meeting up, warming up, opening up, cheering up and calming down.

The project had been running for five weeks when I visited and this is my diary of what I witnessed.

First Impressions

The home I visited was wonderful – the staff were involved and caring and the facilities were great. However, frankly, I was overwhelmed – many residents slumped asleep, unfamiliar smells and a feeling of the loss that many of the residents had experienced.

Having come directly from the office I felt out of place and my usual attempts at banter fell a little flat. I was being given some sympathetic looks from other residents as I had chosen a rather renowned character to break the ice with. One resident told me … “don’t mind her…she’s a shouter” I found out why later! But, I tell you what, the moment the children came into the room it all changed. It was as if they put everything in context and were so sweet, funny and up for a laugh. It was amazing to watch. The key was eye-contact. When the older people looked into the eyes of the youngsters, their faces would light up with a contact that was open and honest, vulnerable but powerfully in the moment. This made me open up too and it felt wonderful.

The Circle Meeting

Our first activity was ‘Meeting Up’ – an ice-breaker which can be a game or a bit of fun. This group all sang a song together and it went like this:

“Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun; oll out the barrel, we’ve got the blues on the run.
Zing boom barrel, ring out a song of good cheer; Now’s the time to roll the barrel, for the gang’s all here.”

Next we did a round and each person was able to share news about their lives. The chosen topic for the meeting was food and during the next stage (called ‘Opening Up’) this was explored through smells, shared memories of wartime rationing, discussion of skills and practices that are no longer used like butter making which meant that we were tapping into the memories, songs, games and ideas of the older people themselves. When it was time for the ‘Cheer Up’ stage, we chose to play a balloon and parachute game and then on to ‘Calm Down’ where we thanked each other for being there and sang ‘Roll out the barrel’ again before bursting into ‘We’ll meet again’ and some other songs they’d learned together.


It was amazing how residents were invigorated by a parachute game and a balloon…I suppose sometimes it really is true, actions speak louder than words! My earlier chats had done nothing to lighten one resident’s grumpy mood but when a brightly coloured balloon hurtles toward you its impossible to resist whatever your age! Even “the shouter” got involved!

Yes, there were sad moments too and touching ones. Residents who were sleeping, not involved, would suddenly sit up from their chairs and start singing when we put the music on and slump back over again later.

But the older people just said the most wonderful things “We look forward to seeing you children every week – when are you coming back?” After the Circle Time the whole atmosphere had changed. I felt really at home and we started to have a giggle. They asked me about my work and they got out of me that I was just as pleased to get out of the office as the children were out of school! Then we discussed boozing and sneaking out to the pub and how they met their partners. They were lively and communicative – woken up, you could say.

As it was the final session Sarah had the lovely idea to give everyone a glow stick bracelet …at one point I thought we looked like the most unlikely rave group! The children helped put them on the residents and we all wore one and cards and gifts were given out from residents to children and children to residents. As I got home I felt all of a sudden very sad about it all, my bracelet in the daylight wasn’t looking as bright as the light wore off…so I took it off and placed on bedside cabinet but when I woke in the middle of the night, I wondered what this orb of light was glowing in the darkness. A little reminder to keep the light alive in our senior citizens!

This blog was written by my daughter, Meg Mosley, and reproduced with her kind permission. Meg’s own blog site can be found at: http://www.megmosley.co.uk/blog/

To find out more about Jenny Mosley’s Adopt An Elderly Care Home visit www.circle-time.co.uk or call 01225 767157

“Adopting an old people’s home could soon be a top priority for schools in the UK. Jenny Mosley has started a new and inspirational movement to help bring the generations together to share, educate, empathise and reminisce. Intergenerational work is not a new venture for Jenny, having in the past taken theatre groups of young people into older people’s homes and day care centres, brought older people into the playgrounds to teach traditional games and worked with women from the W.I. and secondary pupils.” Centre for intergenerational practice: (http://www.centreforip.org.uk/news/adopt-an-old-peoples-home)”