In this blog, Ryan McKay (Citadel) and Anne Munro (PDP) discuss adapting their practice to deliver digital intergenerational work and share their key tips for connecting young and older people online.  This week marks National Intergenerational Week and what better way to celebrate than sharing how we have adapted to delivering digital intergenerational practice.

Citadel Youth Centre and Pilmeny Development Project (PDP) have delivered quality intergenerational practice, through our New Spin Intergenerational Project, in Leith Edinburgh since 2009.

Making the Digital Switch

Prior to Covid-19, a typical New Spin session would see 30 young and older people meet, alongside staff and volunteers, physically for an afternoon of games, team activities, conversation, food and fun.  However the current health crisis has ensured the transformation at New Spin, like all areas of our lives, to be monumental. 

Digital poverty and exclusion – ‘the Digital Divide’ can impact people of all ages and now more than ever there is a need for digital skills.  Adapting our intergenerational practice within New Spin to an online space to address this need has been challenging.  We faced the reality of digital exclusion and of how to address the digital divide being experienced by local young and socially isolated, older people in Leith. We wanted to enable them to stay connected during the Coronavirus pandemic and continue to build positive, meaningful relationships across the generations.

Through perseverance, some trial and error and a passion to continue supporting our participants of all ages, intergenerational digital innovation has been achieved.

From initial sessions over Facebook video with only one young and older person taking part – things looked bleak.  But in the words of Henry Ford:

“Failure is the opportunity to begin more intelligently”

Supporting our older participants to get online – through the provision of IT equipment for those who were digitally excluded and switching to Zoom, enabled us to attract more participants, particularly young people.  The breakout room functionality of Zoom has also provided us with greater flexibility in how we deliver our weekly sessions, where 10 young and older participants now meaningfully engage online.  Feedback on what they are enjoying

best about ‘digital’ New Spin included:

‘Getting to mix with the older generation’

‘Getting to have a laugh with everyone’

‘That it is possible to stay in touch during lock down’

‘Generations can work together!’

Here are our top 3 tips for adapting to deliver digital intergenerational work:

  1. Build positive relationships

Relationships form the core of what we do.  In a physical setting, creating safe spaces to foster meaningful relationships between young and older people is a relatively straight forward task.  Moving into online spaces we can over complicate the work we are trying to achieve. It is easy to become preoccupied with technology, adding the latest application into your session plan, only to forget the reason why you are delivering your work in the first place. 

TIP: Digital technologies have their place, but without relationships, you won’t have a successful digital intergenerational project.  Place building positive relationships at the forefront and you will have a solid foundation in which both generations can digitally innovate together.

  • Include the five senses  

Whether meeting with family and friends or taking part in an engaging webinar, connecting online has the potential to be a fantastic experience.  However, online connections also have the potential to be energy sapping and detached.  In order to make our digital New Spin sessions as connective as possible, we create weekly activity packs that draw on the 5 senses.  Different smells, materials, textures and tastes have all been explored to make our sessions as sensory as possible. Example activities include: chop stick challenges, celebrating Chinese New Year to build motor skills, healthy snacks to stimulate taste buds and the smell of daffodils during St David’s Day festivities. 

TIP: Build better digital connections by ensuring you capture the 5 senses in each session. 

  • Time makes all the difference

Lockdown for all of us has often led to a distortion of time. Whether you feel time has gone slowly or quickly, it’s important to reflect on the amount of time you need, to deliver your digital intergenerational activities. 

Although our digital New Spin sessions only run for 45 minutes, the creativity and time needed to deliver weekly activity packs can quickly eat into your working week. Moreover, communicating with your participants each week to ensure they are confident accessing digital activities, is an essential yet additional time restraint that must be considered.   

TIP: Don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take you to plan and organise successful digital intergenerational activities.  This is particularly the case if you are organising the home delivery of activity packs, IT support and resources.

For further information contact:

Ryan Mckay Citadel Youth Centre: ryan@citadelyouthcentre.org.uk

Anne Munro Pilmeny Development Project:  annemunro@btconnect.com