An innovative project at a Swindon care home connecting different generations of people is bringing benefits to old and young alike.

Creativity lies at the heart of a collaboration between Abbey House care home in Richardson Road and Abbey Meads Primary School.

Their first joint venture centred on story-telling, and plans are under way to follow up with a singing project. Teacher Julie Hewitt, from Abbey Meads, was keen to set up a link with a local care home and contacted Abbey House, which is in walking distance.

“I’d seem examples of secondary schools working together with elderly people, and of links between nursery schools and the care homes, and I thought that our children could bring a lot to the residents, some of whom might not have a lot of people visit them,” she said. “For our children, it would be good for them to do something nice for someone else and for themselves, it helps with social skills and communication.”

Last autumn Julie began talking with Abbey House customer relations coordinator Kinga Dabrowska.

“She said it would be fantastic,” Julie said. “She was very keen for the children to come up with ideas. I had a writing club in school, and we came up with some ideas.”

Kinga said: “First the pupils sent us letters explaining why they wanted to link with the care home. They said they wanted to set a good example and make the residents feel appreciated and valued.”

In December, pupils and teachers first visited Abbey House, which has a focus on dementia care, for a formal meeting to plan the project for National Story-telling Week. Kinga said the young people took the meeting very seriously, bringing clip boards for note-taking. Having discussed ideas and agreed a way forward, pupils went away to work on their stories. The whole class was involved.

“We all decided to write a story and we all shared them, and after the visit, the pupils shared back how it went. They were all very excited to see it in the news – really we could not have asked for anything more,” Julie said.

The collaboration with the primary school culminated in a visit by eight pupils from year 6, during National Story-telling week, when they shared the stories they had carefully crafted with the Abbey House residents. The stories were all based on the theme of a snowman. The youngsters spoke with residents in Abbey House’s Brunel community, and with the Coate Water community – whose members have dementia.

“Eight children came from the school,” Kinga described. “They worked in two groups, and one went with their teacher to Brunel, and the other to Coate.”

Kinga said: “Before the children went in to see the residents of Coate Water, I explained what could happen, and that they shouldn’t feel discouraged if the residents suddenly laughed or asked questions.

“The children were so considerate and adjusted to the needs of the residents. The response was absolutely amazing. The most emotional moment was with one lady, who does not communicate very well and sleeps a lot. She does not usually initiate conversation and is not very verbal. I asked one of the children if they would like to read to this lady, and they said yes. When she saw the child, the lady started smiling – and she looked at the picture, she said it was a snowman with a carrot for its nose.”

One of the pupils joined a teacher to visit a resident with more advanced dementia, in the care home’s Lydiard community.

“This woman paces a lot,” Kinga said. “But she sat down. For that moment, when the girl read her book, she sat down and listened to the whole story and was asking questions. For that magical moment she stopped.

“I said to the pupil, you achieved something amazing.”

Kinga described how the children asked many questions about dementia and were interested in understanding the symptoms. As well as reading their own stories, the children asked residents to share their own stories and memories of making snowmen.

As well as the benefits for the residents, she said the event was positive for the pupils.

“They will be going to secondary school soon, and this gave them a new social experience which will help them in the future. They were so confident reading and asking questions.

“The pupils seemed to enjoy the event and were keen to do more. They had new ideas and came up with a plan for singing with the residents.”

Kinga said the visit had a real impact on the Abbey House community.

“It was noticeable how much they smiled and talked about it,” she said. “I think it made them think of when they were responsible for their own children. Perhaps they remembered this, and became very protective, became teachers or mentors. They didn’t feel so dependent or vulnerable.

“Having children do something just for them made them feel special and a valuable part of the community. For the children, it showed them that old age is part of the life journey.”

Resident Bryan Andrews, 87, a former head teacher of a secondary school, said: “I thought it was good for the children. They were invited to read out their work, and it gives them confidence. They were well behaved and I think they enjoyed the experience, and wanted to come back again. The stories were well prepared and had some good vocabulary.”

Kinga added: “Dementia can make some people withdrawn, awkward or even challenging in social interactions. But in the presence of children, it all seems to subside, mood uplifts and alertness resurfaces. As for the children - they simply do not see limitations in people in the way adults do, and remain their usual playful selves, engaging, laughing, and bouncing around. National Storytelling Week seemed like a wonderful opportunity to bridge the age gap once again.”

Julie said: “Initially it seemed daunting for them, but when they read their stories, the children did so well. They talked and showed confidence, and even the less confident children found their feet and interacted with the residents. They said they would do it again.”

On the walk back to the school, the youngsters were positive about the experience.

“They were full of enthusiasm and buzzing, saying ‘can you believe this happened’ and using the names of the residents, and repeating what they had said,” Julie explained.

This is just the beginning of the collaboration between the school and the care home. More projects are in the pipeline, giving old and young a chance to appreciate and learn from each other.

“Lots of good things could come of it – it helps the children grow as good citizens.”