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A dementia pen pal group is helping care home residents ‘relive childhoods’

A pen pal group between primary school students and residents with dementia at a care home has helped the latter to “relive [their] childhoods”.

A group of eight to 11-year-olds at Holgate Primary and Nursery School and residents at Runwood Homes in Nabbs Lane, Hucknall – both in Nottingham – have formed close bonds through letter writing and one-hour sessions, which incorporate activities including arts and crafts, playing cards and reading.

Deborah Mills, the wellbeing lead at Runwood Homes, told the PA news agency: “When I took on this role, I wrote a letter to the school requesting they write to us and we got a really good response.

Group sitting together
Roman, Willow, Mrs Smith – a teacher at the school – with care home residents (Joanne Bardgett/PA)

“Since then, such strong bonds have been formed and there was one day when the residents were painting stones and we never said anything to the children, but they came with painted stones and planted them in our residents’ garden.

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“The children are constantly learning from the residents too.”

Students come to the home once a term, which equates to around three times a year, but the bonds formed between the different generations makes it seem as though they have known each other for longer.

Boy and man sitting together
Roman and Melvyn (Joanne Bardgett/PA)

“We have a gentleman here whose name is Melvyn Clough, 82, and he writes to one of the boys at the school – and the connection of the two of them is overwhelming,” Ms Mills said.

“It’s the sort where you can sit and get emotional – they’ve got the same personality, they’re two characters together.

“Even if he’s not around, Melvyn will always ask, ‘how’s my boy doing?'”

She said that being involved with the project “means the world to me”.

“When I see people like Melvyn – he’s so happy,” she said.

Man playing darts and girls looking at him
The pen pal group helps to bring smiles to people’s faces (Joanne Bardgett/PA)

“It’s like he’s reliving his childhood because he’s taking himself down to this little boy’s level.

“So if this little boy touches his nose for example, he’ll go ‘oi, oi’ and he’ll let the children play with his watch.

“If you look at his past, Melvyn used to drive a minibus for disabled children and so I can see where that part of Melvyn is coming out.

“It’s just lovely to see the two generations mixing and those two bonding like he’s Melvin’s own flesh and blood.”

Melvyn also appears to be a favourite with others at the school, with Ms Mills adding that he is almost like a “magnet” because he entertains them with jokes.

Joanne Bardgett, a year three teacher at Holgate Primary and Nursery Group and the pen pal leader, told PA that the smiles on the children’s faces when they partake in the sessions are “priceless”.

Two women sitting together
Mrs Joanne Bardgett with a care home resident (Joanne Bardgett/PA)

“The delight on their faces when we go to visit and when they receive letters makes it all worthwhile,” the 52-year-old said.

“We’ve played bingo together, we’ve played cards together.

“The children lose their inhibitions and make themselves at home.

“I think the noise and laughter and the smiles that fill the room are priceless.”

Residents at the home have also visited the school on several occasions, which has been made easier since they got a minibus.

“We invite them to our events as well – we had a Christmas concert at the church and they’ve come to see us on sports day,” Mrs Bardgett said.

She said the sessions have been a “learning curve” for the children.

Group sitting together
Willow and Rose with a care home resident (Joanne Bardgett/PA)

“It was quite scary at first with some of them shouting out,” she said.

“The more that we go, the more we enlighten our children about the ageing process.

“I think the other thing that’s really, really nice is that a few of our ex-pupils parents either work at the care home or have family at the care home, so we’ve had a few emails and letters from parents whose elderly parents are in the care home.”

Two people playing cards together
Freya with a resident at the care home (Joanne Bardgett/PA)

Holgate students have said that “talking non-stop” and “playing games” with the care home residents are some of the reasons why they enjoy the pen pal group.

Roman said: “I love going to see my pen pal because he tells me about his past life and we talk non-stop,” while Freya said: “I like going to visit the residence because they are funny when we play games together.”

Olivia added: “It gives the older people some young company to talk to when we visit.”