Huntingdon teenagers have begun befriending elderly people living with dementia at a care home in the Cambridgeshire town.
The 12 16-17 year-olds from Cambridge Regional College’s Huntingdon campus and Hinchingbrooke School have met residents at Hunters Down care home, Hartford Road, for the first of what is planned to be many visits over the coming months.
YOPEY believes this YOPEY Befriender scheme is the first “intergenerational” befriending scheme between young and old in Cambridgeshire since the pandemic.
Hunters Down is owned by Excelcare, whose Chief Operating Office Sam Manning said: “The support and joy that YOPEY Befrienders provide is extremely special. Each incredible young person this charity recruits and trains not only boosts wellbeing for the people who live at Hunters Down, but also become beloved intergenerational connections, bringing happiness and meaning to each person – connections that bloom into wonderful friendships.
“We are forever grateful to this delightful group of people for the ongoing, unwavering support they provide to our team and the people who live at Hunters Down.”
Excelcare owns 31 care homes with 11 of them in Cambridgeshire.
Femi Solano, head of year 12 at Hinchingbrooke School, said: “It is wonderful to see our sixth-form students taking part in YOPEY Befriender. Our sixth formers have shown great empathy, interest, patience and kindness when interacting with the older generation and it is great to see them care for the community and build bonds with their elderly friends so quickly whilst discussing their ambitions so far and experiences in life.
“I would highly recommend the YOPEY befriender scheme to other sixth forms to enrich their students also.”
For CRC, its Professional Practice Assessor Donna Grant said: “Our students at Cambridge Regional College have embraced being part of YOPEY.
The students are able to gain and improve on so many interpersonal skills and are aware of the positive impact their visits have on the residents of the care home.
“We are looking forward to further collaboration with the charity to engage more of our students and support this great cause.”
Pearl Ewing, a YOPEY trustee and a retired care home executive, attended one of the first visits and was particularly impressed how a YOPEY Befriender “was paired with a lady who cannot speak but she chatted away to her constantly doing a word search”.
Following DBS checks, the students are now able to visit the residents in their free time and take part in the home’s activities to build up their YOPEY record of volunteering achievement that can be added to their job and university applications. Versions of these reports can also be shown by the home, the school and the college to their inspection bodies. YOPEY Befriender schemes have contributed to care homes being upgraded by the Care Quality Commission although Hunters Down is already rated Good.
The young people were trained to relate to people living with dementia by Tony Gearing MBE, the founder YOPEY, which runs befriending schemes between schools and care homes throughout East Anglia.
The scheme between these young people and Hunters Down is the first in Cambridgeshire since the start of the pandemic when the charity’s then YOPEY Befrienders were stopped from visiting care homes. Throughout the pandemic the charity got young people to continue to support the elderly ‘virtually’. It helped them to write letters, compile activities such as word searches, share artworks and make videos. YOPEY continues to offer this service to thousands of care homes for which it cannot provide in-home befriending.
Tony said: “I believe our Befrienders are unique and give more benefit to elderly people living in care homes because they are young. Most other befriending schemes use the middle-aged to visit the old-aged. While you would think the two older generations would have more in common, the elderly love to hear about the young’s lives and they love to give advice to people embarking on their adult lives.”
Tony added: “There is also dementia. A lot of residents in care homes have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. We train YOPEY Befrienders to not be judgemental and to ‘live in the moment’. We have evidence from care professionals that our young volunteers relax residents and reduce their anxiety.”