Sixth-formers from three Ipswich schools have begun befriending elderly people living with dementia at a care home in the town.
The Suffolk charity running the scheme believes it is the first “intergenerational” befriending scheme between old and young in the county since the pandemic.
The 14 16-18 year-olds from one state school and two independent schools have met residents at Prince of Wales House, Prince of Wales Drive, for the first of what is planned to be many visits over the coming months.
The young people come from St Alban’s Catholic High School in Digby Road, Ipswich School in Henley Road and St Joseph’s College in Belstead Road and aim to visit weekly.
Prince of Wales House is owned by The Partnership In Care (TPIC), whose Clinical Director Rachel Ditton said: ““We are delighted to be working on this intergenerational project with YOPEY which brings many benefits for all involved. We are excited to be forming new experiences with the aim of these continuing well into the future.
“There is such a wealth of skills amongst those living in our homes and the volunteers from the YOPEY scheme that can be shared, resulting in symbiosis and subsequently a positive effect on wellbeing.”
TPIC owns six care homes in Suffolk.
The Head of Sixth Form at St Alban’s, Laura Lawrence, said: “I am delighted for our students to be taking part in this scheme. It gives them the opportunity to not only support their local community and build a bond with the older generation, but also the chance to develop themselves. The students taking part have already shown enhanced qualities of resilience, empathy and patience. A number of them have ambitions to pursue careers in the caring professions.”
Laura added that the YOPEY Befriender scheme is “utterly compatible with our Catholic ethos. The charity is really well organised to facilitate this important work. I would highly recommend YOPEY Befriender to any school looking to offer such enrichment to its students.”
The Headmaster of Ipswich School, Nicholas Weaver, said: “We are delighted that some of our sixth-formers are now YOPEY Befrienders. Care is a core value of Ipswich School and we encourage all our students to value their role in our local community. It is great to see our students putting this into practice and gaining so much from the experience. Many thanks to YOPEY who provided them with excellent training.”
Jonathan Orbell, the teacher who accompanies the Ipswich School students on regular visits, added: “For pupils to opt to socialise and play games with the residents speaks volumes about the group’s selfless nature and giving spirit. I have been fortunate to witness first hand the difference their interactions are making to the lives of the residents at Prince of Wales House.”
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 and the schools to their inspection bodies. YOPEY Befriender schemes have contributed to care homes being upgraded by the Care Quality Commission although Prince of Wales House is already rated Outstanding.
The young people were trained to relate to people living with dementia by Tony Gearing MBE, the founder of the Newmarket charity YOPEY, which runs befriending schemes between schools and care homes throughout East Anglia.
The scheme between these schools and Prince of Wales House is the first in Suffolk 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 got 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 the issue of dementia. A lot of residents in care homes have Alzheimer’s or other dementia diseases. We train YOPEY Befrienders not to be judgemental and to ‘live in the moment’. We have evidence from care professionals that our young volunteers relax residents and reduce their anxiety.”