Community Circles are working with care homes throughout Wigan and Leigh, supporting people to stay connected to what really matters to them. The purpose of the Circle could be anything that is important to the person; staying connected at church or keeping involved with sport.

For Irene, her favourite thing to do is to reminisce and share stories about her time in the Land Army, so her Circle is finding ways and opportunities to make this happen for her. Once a month Irene and her family get together with Julie, the volunteer, to have conversations and share ideas about what they can do that makes a difference.

One of the first things we did was to look on the internet to see if there was anything available about Wigan and the Land Army.  This led us to the fabulous resources that Beta Net Café had put together, objects, photocopies and a book, collating stories about Wigan during the second world war. These resources were great for supporting conversations and reminiscing with Irene and other people she lives with who had also been in the Land Army.

Julie, the Circles volunteer, suggested getting in touch with the local school to see if the children would be interested in coming to meet Irene and listen to her stories, so earlier this month we were delighted to welcome children who are part of the school council at St Cuthbert’s to join us for the afternoon.

The children had already done some research about the Land Army and enjoyed reading this to Irene, while she shared stories of her own experiences. Lillian, who lives with Irene and was also in the Land Army, also joined in to chat with the children.  It was a lovely afternoon of conversation, listening and learning and everyone enjoyed each other’s company.

The fun didn’t stop there and often the spark of an idea from one Circle meeting has ripples that can touch many others. After the children had chatted with Irene and Lillian, they asked if they could sing some songs from their nativity.  We then moved from the small lounge to the large lounge so that everyone could hear the children.

The lounge came to life as the children sang and shared performances from their nativity, staff and people who live in the care home joined in, finishing with a conga through the lounge.

Some of you may have seen the recent programme on Channel 4 “Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds” about the pre-school children who spent 6 weeks in a care home.  The programme was a delight to watch and not surprising that people’s moods increased as a result of the children’s company.  What surprised me was the positive effects that the children’s company and doing activities together had on people’s mobility and their physical health; it’s not just mental health that improves; moods, mobility and memory were all shown to improve.

We had some great feedback from the children and their teachers. Joanne Wadeson, Deputy Headteacher at St Cuthbert’s Catholic Primary School said:

“We thoroughly enjoy our visits to Norley Hall Care Home. It is amazing to see the young children from our school interacting with the elderly residents. The children gain so much from the visits. On a recent visit the children loved listening to Irene and Lillian sharing stories from the war and the children loved reading and singing to the residents.

“Today we live in a society where care of young and old is increasingly segregated with very limited opportunity for the two age groups to interact. Our visits to Norley Hall Care Home have not just been about helping elders: the children have enjoyed the increased attention too, and had more opportunities to develop their social and emotional skills. We are looking forward to continuing our visits with Norley Hall Care Home and the children already have lots of ideas planned for the future from becoming pen pals to gardening together and also baking. The possibilities and benefits are endless…

Holly, aged 7, said: “I had fun at Norley Hall Care Home. Irene told me what it was like in World War 2. Irene was a gardener and she used to pick peas. I liked sitting with her listening to what life was like a long time ago.”

Amber, also 7, said: “I loved visiting Norley Hall Care Home. Irene and Lillian showed us all some old coins and they looked different to the coins that we use now. I liked singing to all the residents and I really liked it when Joyce stood up and started dancing with us. We all had lots of fun!

Nine-year-old Annaliece said: “I liked sitting with Irene and Lillian and listening to the stories that they told us about World War 2. The stories were amazing and I couldn’t believe that they actually lived through the war. They told us about all the different jobs that women did during the war and how the nurses looked after all the soldiers. They told us what it was like meeting all the soldiers returning from the war and that this made them happy but also sad as some friends never came home. I also liked looking at all the posters from the war and the ration books.

Ten-year-old Kia summed up the impact of her experience, saying: “I liked looking at everyone’s smiling faces as it made me feel good about myself as I had made everyone happy.”

From their first visit to Norley Hall, the children from St Cuthbert’s are now regular visitors and have been involved with lots of things including gardening projects, doing Lego therapy together, baking, making crafts, planning celebration events and of course many games of pass the parcel.

The first conversation with Irene led to a spark of an idea; that idea led to a wonderful afternoon and in turn a flourishing relationship between the school and care home that everyone now benefits from.   Some of the care homes in Wigan already had connections with their local primary school or nursery and following Irene’s story we have been able to further grow our intergenerational connections and support regular, reciprocal relationships with schools, nurseries and Start Well teams across the borough.