Tim Baker, Headteacher at Charlton Manor Primary School in Greenwich, tells us about the school’s initiatives to connect different generations in the local community and how both young and old have benefitted.
At Charlton Manor, we feel that the school should be the heart of the community. As a primary school, it is important that children learn from an early age that they have a place and responsibility in their locality. A while ago, we realised that there were many elderly adults living locally that were vulnerable because they lived alone, and I felt we could help. I contacted the local housing association, The Greenwich Pensioners Forum and Age UK to identify elderly and vulnerable residents who would be interested in coming to the school once a week to eat lunch with the children. The housing association pledged to provide transport for them and the special lunch club began.
The visitors are collected and brought to the school, they are met by the children who fulfil the role of waiters; welcoming them and escorting them to their seats. The ‘waiters’ provide them with water, read the menu out loud, then bring the food and sit down with them. The children really enjoy finding out about the World War, schools in the past, the local area and family life. Our elderly guests find it interesting to learn about the children and what they are doing in school, encouraging the children in their work.
When the scheme had been running for only two weeks one of the guests told me that she had left her house one Saturday to go to the shops. It was quite cold so she wrapped her coat around her, and was looking down to the ground, as she didn’t expect to see anyone she knew. Suddenly a cheerful voice greeted her with ‘Hello’. She looked up and recognised a child who had been on her table at lunch the day before. She was delighted and they spoke for a while.
On another occasion, a guest was in hospital. We organised flowers and the children wrote ‘get well’ cards. She phoned the school from her hospital bed absolutely thrilled about receiving the flowers and cards. She told the children she couldn’t wait to get back to the school. It is at such times you realise that people often need a reason to get better. Without the school, she could have been left isolated and feeling lonely.
The initiative has been running for nearly three years and is now a central part of school life. We have seen so many benefits from encouraging intergenerational connections within the community, both for our pupils and for the local residents, and we are always planning the next project. Alongside the lunch club, we also open the staffroom to the Greenwich Pensioners Forum to hold their meetings each month, the school’s Saturday café is frequented by many of the elderly residents, and some help in the school garden supporting the younger pupils.
We are also planning a card playing club which will help improve our pupils’ mental maths skills, as well as provide another opportunity for the elderly to work alongside young children, and no doubt there will be more ideas to come!