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Intergenerational storytelling project brings together residents and students

A digital storytelling project between a Queensland retirement village and a local school is bringing together residents and students to build connections and improve wellbeing among older people.

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John, a resident of Bolton Clarke's Westhaven Retirement Village, with students from Faith Lutheran College in Queensland. [Source: iStock]

The project, by the Bolton Clarke Research Institute, is part of a program utilising storytelling and reminiscence to reduce loneliness and bring happiness to older people who live in residential aged care and retirement communities.

Through the project, fast friendships have been developed between residents of Bolton Clarke's Westhaven Retirement Village in Toowoomba and students from Faith Lutheran College in Plainland.

Research Fellow from Bolton Clarke Research Institute, Xanthe Golenko, says that digital storytelling is a powerful way of giving people a voice and capturing their life experiences through combining speech, still and moving images and music or other sounds in a short digital form.

"Adding an intergenerational component to digital storytelling provides the opportunity for old and young to work together on a meaningful activity, which helps to develop relationships across the generations that are mutually beneficial and create a sense of community," says Ms Golenko.

"It encourages residents to engage with the community and enables them to remain productive and feel valued as contributing members of society. This helps to strengthen their sense of identity, purpose and belonging."

Dancers were grouped together to chat about their experiences, easily bridging the 60-year age gap between resident and student.

Meanwhile, Westhaven resident John was able to share his love of the outdoors with a group of 12-year-old students who had similar interests.

Over the course of the digital storytelling project, Year 7 students have been working with retirement village residents in groups, with each group deciding on a story topic to explore together in detail.

“It’s wonderful to see the joy that residents experience as they share details about their lives with the students," says Ms Golenko.

John says he initially wasn't sure what to expect when agreeing to be involved in the project, but has been pleasantly surprised by his group and their willingness to engage and listen to his stories.

"What amazed me with the five boys in my group was their liking for the outdoors and outdoor activities," says John.

"I’ve been telling them what life was like back in 1937 with the [Great] Depression, the lack of money and work and lots of things not available - they find it very hard to believe."

Marlene, another resident of Westhaven, has loved talking to her group of student dancers about her history with ballroom dancers.

"The best thing about the intergenerational program is knowing [that] the benefits that I am giving out to the students I am [also] getting back. It’s so important to learn from one another,” says Marlene.

"It’s really valuable to both sides to hear each other’s perspective. It’s been a buzz to meet these girls who have a real interest in what I have to teach them.

"Even though we’re in different age groups, we are still getting the same thing out of dance and it really makes me happy to know that these girls are learning those benefits and applying them in different ways, in their own lives."

Principal of Faith Lutheran College, Doug Braiden, says the students have been looking forward to seeing their buddies every Tuesday and are very proud of the stories they have created together with their new friends.

"Their level of engagement in history and english has increased because the students are learning authentically through living history," explains Mr Braiden.

"It is our hope that after this trial project, the Intergenerational Digital Stories project becomes a part of our Year 7 curriculum so that students tangibly continue to learn about their world and our society from the older generation."

Another generation is also being added to the mix of the project with university students from Griffith Film School following the same process. However, the university students are instead creating and filming a short documentary to showcase the importance of intergenerational relationships in Australia.

The project will be finalised on July 30 with the students providing presentations to the Westhaven residents, friends, family and community members.

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