Bridging Ages in Forest Row builds relationships between younger and older people in the local and wider community. This new group received a £2,000 grant – £1,000 each from our Field Family Fund and our Surviving Winter Fund – in 2015 to support a biography project, recording the personal histories of the elderly in the local community. This pilot project focused primarily on the period of the older people’s youth (roughly 1925-1950) and the historical events, technological change, and personal life experiences that occurred during that time.
The group worked with Year 12 students from the local Steiner school who received four training sessions on the special needs of the elderly, civic responsibility, along with interview, listening and writing techniques. Local community organisations helped organisers identify elderly members of our community who are isolated or otherwise suited to the project. Six students made a series of eight home visits to the older people over three months, using a workbook of questions to write up a mini biography of their older partner. The biographies were then edited, designed and will be presented to the older participants at a celebration party, planned for June.
“In our fractured society, the elderly and young people are generally isolated from each other. Most families no longer live near grandparents or extended family members and there are few opportunities for an elderly person to tell a young person about their lives and for a young person to hear this ‘living history’,” says Co-Director Julie Rezac. “These stories are important in their own right as an affirmation of the value of each single life. We honour by listening. Additionally, the stories provide a young person with a link to the historical narrative of our country which can strengthen a young person’s sense of citizenship and commitment to future civic engagement.”
One older/younger person partnership was between 16-year old Kira Shopley and 90-year-old Bob Notrott. Originally from Holland, Bob has lived in the UK for almost 60 years, raising four children with his late wife, and teaching adults with learning difficulties in a number of farming and horticultural settings, including Nutley Hall. “Older people have a lot of wisdom and it can be interesting to listen to them,” says Bob. “The most important thing in life is that you learn harmony.” When Bob was asked what kind of young person he’d like to take part in the project with, he said ‘someone with a warm heart’. “She was a very good pupil!” he said of Kira. Asked what the project has done for her, “It’s been amazing,” says Kira, “Bob has taught me a lot and I am so grateful to him for letting me hear his stories. There are students at school in the years below me who are already keen to take part next time!”