The Cares Family: An Intergenerational Case Study
Since opening its first branch in North London in 2011, The Cares Family has grown in communities in 5 areas across the UK. CEO and Obama Foundation Fellow Alex Smith shares how the charity brings together young professionals with their older neighbours and why.
How do you define intergenerational activity?
There are so many types of intergenerational activity – in families, in neighbourhoods and in work. The Cares Family model is to bring older people with deep roots in their cities, but often few connections in a rapidly changing world, together with young people with hundreds of connections in the social media age, but often no roots in their communities. We do this because while our big cities are amazing – full of culture, opportunity and people from all over the world – they can also be anonymous, isolating and lonely, not just for older people but for younger people too. We bring generations who share the same space but seldom interact together to share dance parties, new tech workshops, Desert Island Disc nights, business visits, cultural festivals, music, sport, theatre and more – and to build friendships one-to-one.
The elevator pitch: How do you describe your organisation to someone completely new to your work?
The Cares Family is a group of community networks of younger and older neighbours, hanging out and helping one another in our rapidly changing cities. Our objectives are to reduce loneliness amongst older and younger neighbours alike; to improve the confidence, connection, belonging, purpose and power of all participants; and to reduce the gaps across social, generational, digital, cultural and attitudinal divides.
The hurdles: What are some of the main challenges you face around offering your services?
We don't call our activities 'services' because they are mutually beneficial for the older and younger people; they're based on shared time and laughter; and they're proudly of the community rather than of the state. But there are multiple challenges. As we've grown, in particular, we've had to figure out operational best practice for bringing so many divergent pieces together; for mass communication; for data protection and management; for team development. And locally, the same challenges persist: public spaces are just not being designed with intergenerational connection in mind.
The rewards: What are some stand-out benefits of intergenerational activity for those you work with?
Three evaluations have shown us that older and younger people sharing time, stories and experiences reduces loneliness amongst both the generations. It improves well-being and happiness. Neighbours feel better connected to one another, and more able to appreciate the changing people and places around them. Older and younger people alike also feel closer to another generation, an increased connection to self, and that they belong – they feel 'part of something bigger' than their own lives.
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.
Over the past 12 months The Cares Family has brought together over 5,000 older and younger people. Seeing the joy, the experience, the happiness – and hearing that people feel more a part of their city – is what makes this work so worthwhile. Our world is changing fast, people are withdrawing to their filter bubbles and spending too much time with others who are like them, and not enough time with people from different life experiences. That's pulling people apart – so we're proud to help so many people feel togetherness again.
Top tips: What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in an existing intergenerational project or looking to start their own?
While there are an increasing number of intergenerational projects, our interaction with another generation doesn't have to be organised. It can be informal in your neighbourhood, in the local shops, with friends' grandparents or parents – relationships that are close and really matter. But if people are looking for support in that first step – and the reassurance of being part of a group – we recommend diving in, putting work considerations aside for a while, and re-raising the things that make us human in the first place: humour, kindness, play, empathy.
How can we find out more about your work and how to support you?
As a rapidly grown organisation tackling one of the great challenges of our time, we need as much help as we can get – so we're grateful for any donations via www.thecaresfamily.org.uk.