Skip to main content

The Young, The Old and The Lonely: Setting up a Playgroup in a Care Home, Part 1

When I first became a mum, the biggest surprise was how lonely the day-to-day could be. Sanity was usually saved by elderly folk, who were also out getting fresh air in the middle of the day. They had time to chat and stories to share. The baby in my arms was proof enough that I was harmless.  His tiny presence made opening lines easy enough; conversation flowed freely between strangers, bridging generations, differences and histories. A park bench or check out queue became therapeutic moments in the day, cooing over little one's eyelashes, or sharing ad hoc games of peekaboo. They were brief chance encounters but spread so much joy.

It seemed obvious that these meetings need not be left to chance. For all the new lonely mums out there, there's double the number of lonely older adults.  If only I could adopt a granny, or visit someone housebound, or volunteer for a befriend the elderly coffee morning.  A hot cuppa: that'd be a dream. Adult conversation? Yes please.  Bringing a baby along would be perfect, I thought.  Break the ice.  Share the love.  Everyone's a winner.
Not.  So.  Easy.
Inter-generational Joy.
I contacted the main charities for the elderly, both nationally and locally.  I called two local care homes: "I'd have my baby with me."  The response was always the same: "No, that's not allowed."  I understood their concern.  I'd not be able to give 100% attention to an older adult if my baby needed me to feed/change/comfort.  I wouldn't be 100% reliable as a volunteer.  But was there no way that I could help? I went to the shops every day, usually just for a walk, and sometimes (if it had been one of those days and we'd missed all the morning baby groups) just for a chat with someone.  Could I really not just pick up a few items for a housebound neighbour?

I gave up.  My little one grew up and I went back to work.

It was a couple of years later that I tried again.  We were in a new town and I had a new baby.  I now had two little ones and bags more confidence in myself as a mum, but also myself as a valuable member of the community.  I made the same calls to the big charities who again said no.  I asked the neighbours if they knew of anyone but they all said no.  I called the local church to ask about the befriending the elderly scheme.
"I'd like to meet some older people.  I'd have my two young children with me.  Is there anyone who'd enjoy spending time with us?"  I even added that my own grandparents had all passed away and our families lived quite far away.  I found her answer surprising.
"Well dear, we have some groups for mothers and children where you can meet people."
"But I'd like to mix with other generations and share the joy of having little children around."
"No, dear, we all have our grandchildren."
Her short sighted response silenced me; I sighed and gave up again.

My final effort was to post on the local Facebook group, a hive of activity where dog poo, poorly parked cars and pot-hole swerving cyclists are regularly criticised and humiliated.  My post was a short summary of my objective and rejection thus far.  The huge response was warm, welcoming and full of compassion.  Strangers encouraged me and well-wishers tried to help me.  And then, there was a promising lead at last: Charley Allen contacted me, Activities Coordinator of St. Joseph's, Tring, a local care home, specialising in dementia.  Together, we made plans for a playgroup to be held in the care home.

I gathered some local parents together and we organised a 45 minute programme to suit all attendees: babies, toddlers, parents, carers and older adults, some of who are suffering with dementia.
We would start with a classic children's story; introduce names and share a fact about ourselves; singing traditional nursery rhymes while wafting a parachute and end with lots of bubbles.
I was excited for our first session.  We were all aware of the possible risks and realised the unpredictable nature of tiny children and older adults living with dementia.  It was going to be great.  What could possibly go wrong?


  1. I had the same idea back on
    2014 with my first child as I noticed how much joy he brought to my great aunt and other older people who were in the mental health hospital she was in at the time. When I saw the tv prog I got all keen again but life with (now 2) kids! Interested to here your experiences though as I'd still love to get it going x

    1. Hi Jenny, thank you for your message. It's kind of obvious, isn't it? Everyone gets to benefit. In short, I found that I had to contact a private care home which has a certain level of autonomy to be able to make something like this possible. Go for it! I'll be writing about how the first few groups went and how we're getting on now, a few months on. It's definitely worth it. :)

  2. Hi Rebecca, I am a researcher who is currently working on a project about intergenerationality and would very much appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about this subject and hear your experience in bringing this wonderful idea to life and setting up the Babble and Bubbles care home playgroup at St.Joe's. Could you please contact me on Thank you :-)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Early Motherhood Clouded by Thick Fog, Just Like This Year's Supermoon.

Our youngest has the box room at the back corner of the house, its window to the side.  Looking out, there's a disappointing view: a thousand bricks, rising high into the blue.  Yet, there is one slither of visible sky.  Every evening, after bath time, we snuggle on his low bed, reading stories and settling for a milk feed.  The curtains are closed and the lights are dimmed to a low warm light.

We must have been a bit rushed one evening, a later bedtime with an overtired baby.  We collapsed onto the mattress, comfortable and settled at last.  It was only then that I looked up and realised that the blinds were up and I'd forgotten to turn the night light on.  But the room had a glow more lovely and soft than usual; the moon was steadily rising up through the narrow visible triangle of sky.  We both stared up in awe at the bright crescent moon and our little 17month old pointed and muttered "moo".

We've now spent a few evenings pointing at the moon and have observe…

The young, the old and the lonely, part 2: 'Babble and Bubbles' at St. Joe's.

After two years of trying and failing to set up a regular intergenerational social, I was delighted when Charley Allen, Activities Coordinator of St. Joseph's Care Home, Tring, commented on my post in the local Facebook group: a desperate last chance to team up stay at home parents, their little ones and isolated older adults.  The idea came from my often lonely and anxious experience of early motherhood. The major trial of leaving the house with a tiny baby was always rewarded by a natter in the shops or on a park bench, cooing into the pram, telling me "he's gorgeous".  His lovely little face brought so much joy.  Surely we could make this a regular thing?
Charley works with older adults in a local care home, specialising in dementia care.  She was excited by the possibility of opening the care home doors to babies, toddlers and their parents.  We chatted about what might appeal to both under 5s and over 75s, deciding on traditional nursery rhymes, a story, bubble…