Linking Generations Northern Ireland: An Intergenerational Case Study
Linking Generations Northern Ireland has been supporting communities to bring different generations together since 2009. The only Northern Irish organisation solely focusing on the development and promotion of intergenerational approaches in Northern Ireland, they have picked up many lessons along the way. Here manager Vicki Titterington shares some of those lessons.
How do you define intergenerational activity?
Linking Generations Northern Ireland (LGNI) use the Beth Johnson Foundation definition of intergenerational practice, aiming to bring people together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities which promote greater understanding and respect between generations and contributes to building more cohesive communities
The elevator pitch: How do you describe your organisation to someone completely new to your work?
We have led the way in connecting generations in communities across Northern Ireland since 2009 and are the only Northern Irish organisation solely focusing on the development and promotion of intergenerational approaches to address societal issues in Northern Ireland. Our vision is that Northern Ireland will be a place where all generations are respected, understood, connected and engaged together in their communities. To achieve this LGNI offer opportunities to bring generations together in lots of different places for lots of different reasons.
LGNI has developed a Northern Ireland wide infrastructure to enable them to provide their services on a regional basis via the coordination of local intergenerational networks. Our networks bring together local people, communities, organisations and policy makers interested in bringing generations together. LGNI coordinate network meetings enabling members to find out about intergenerational opportunities, share ideas/learning, access training, support and resources.
The hurdles: What are some of the main challenges you face around offering your services?
As the only organisation in NI focusing solely on the development and promotion of intergenerational approaches to social issues we see our service as vital and unique. We see intergenerational practice as an approach as opposed to an activity and we operate as a catalyst to support others to add value to their work using intergenerational work. This brings with it many challenges including:
- Difficulty in funding our service. If age-specific organisations exist, people may question why LGNI is needed. It also usually spans funder priority areas, not being just for one age group or providing one set of outcomes. LGNI see this as an opportunity!
- Difficulty in placing intergenerational work within a particular sector/policy agenda. Who do we lobby? What government department does it fall under? E.g. older people, education, health, justice.
- Difficultly in a one size fits all approach to training as we use different tools when supporting specific groups. E.g. early years, teenagers, dementia patients, older mentors, etc.
- Sometimes taking an intergenerational approach can be seen as taking on extra work although if planned and developed from community need it can add value, use resources better and save money.
The rewards: What are some stand-out benefits of intergenerational activity for those you work with?
- Benefits for participants involved – health & well-being, confidence, safety, new skills. E.g. arts, digital and much more.
- Benefits for practitioners/organisations – adds value to existing work, better use of resources, achieves multiple outcomes, forges new partnerships/connections.
- Benefits at a policy level – Evidenced based intergenerational approaches contribute to and are recognised in central and local government priorities, plans and strategies. In Northern Ireland at a local level intergenerational benefits are reported back via council community plans, policing and community safety plans, age friendly plans. Intergenerational activity is also reported back in school development plans and care inspections. At the higher level intergenerational work features in the NI Health Strategy, Community Safety strategy, Good Relations Strategy, Active Ageing Strategy and has links to the curriculum etc.
The people: Give one real-world example of a group that have benefited from your intergenerational work in the past 12 months and the changes you have seen for them since taking part.
LGNI runs a small grants programme every year called All Ages April. All Ages April 2019 supported 51 intergenerational activities/connections involving 2300+ participants and 107 groups (community groups, sports clubs, care homes, schools and nurseries). We see the benefits across the board for those involved and it’s great to see how one small idea and a connection with another group/organisation/setting can provide positive outcomes for the participants, learning for the organisations/leaders and in most cases sustained links between people and organisations who go on to work intergenerationally as a result.
Top tips: What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in an existing intergenerational project or looking to start their own?
Start by asking, 'why am I doing this?' Intergenerational practice is an approach that should have clearly defined outcomes and be grounded in community need and should be developed in partnership with the people in the communities that it is for. We suggest the following:
- Follow the Principles of Intergenerational Practice
- Planning is key
- Always prepare age groups for meeting up
- Support yourself by undertaking intergenerational training
- Think evaluation, social impact and sustainability
How can we find out more about your work and how to support you?
We are always looking for funding to support our staff to continue to support communities and organisations to develop their own intergenerational work.
Linking Generations Northern Ireland is a part of the Beth Johnson Foundation, a national charity dedicated to making the UK age-friendly. Working with a network of volunteers, researchers, intergenerational practitioners, and age-specialist partner organisations, we speak up for the rights of older people, and push for change, at a strategic and practical level, to give everyone the opportunity to enjoy a great later life.