The new project aims to break down age barriers, with future hopes to launch nationwide
A young Brownie gleefully giggles alongside a senior helper as she pretends to toast marshmallows on electric candles. Though the pair have more than 50 years between them, both are laughing and enjoying the pretend play. It’s a heart-warming scene, and one that Girlguiding Manchester hopes to encourage across the city with the introduction of its ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ challenge.
Based on the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the challenge features a series of tasks designed to bring together two generations in a bid to tackle loneliness amongst old people. Girl guides as young as 5-years-old will visit senior citizens – playing games, putting on shows and making crafts - to break down age barriers and earn the specially-designed badge. As well socialising with elderly relatives through events and activities, the challenge also encourages children to learn skills from their elders and find out about support groups and services for senior citizens.
The pilot badge started out as a trial run back in December by two Brownie units in Wythenshawe and Gorton, but has been so successful it will now be rolled out across the whole of Manchester and has the potential to go nationwide.
According to Age UK, 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely in the UK and over 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with friends or family for an entire month. 3.9 million older people claim that their television is their main form of company.*
Loneliness is a particular urban health concern in Manchester: in 2003, the council launched a ten-year strategy to tackle the issue, supporting the nationwide ‘Campaign to end Loneliness’ and awarding grants to 200 community groups to improve care and housing services. Despite the city having a lower than the national average of residents aged 65+, research indicates that older Manchester residents are more likely than the national average to be at risk of suffering from isolation and loneliness.
But thanks to the specially-designed badge, around 4,000 Manchester Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and members of The Senior Section from Wythenshawe to Glossop can have the chance to be part of reciprocal projects to improve health and wellbeing amongst old people.
Young people are often portrayed poorly in the media so it is fantastic to have this opportunity to showcase all the good work that they do
“Young people are often portrayed poorly in the media so it is fantastic to have this opportunity to showcase all the good work that they do,” explains Helen Salvini, Assistant County Commissioner for Girlguiding Manchester.
“As well as making links in their communities the badge will help our members become safer, more independent citizens by teaching them skills like personal safety, first aid and how to take care of themselves and others.”
“Community action is a key part of the guiding programme for all age groups and we were delighted to have the opportunity to work with Manchester Health and Care Commissioning to develop this badge.”
The new badge concept was the idea of Manchester Health and Care Commissioning (MHCC) – the new commissioning partnership agreement between Manchester City Council and Manchester Clinical Commissioning Group.
“We know that loneliness can be devastating in both its physical and psychological effects, especially for older people,” explains Ian Williamson, Chief Accountable Officer for Manchester Health and Care Commissioning. “There’s so much evidence to show how it contributes to lowering the immune system and making people more prone to illness as well as a major impact on wellbeing. If youngsters know this, they can lead by example and raise awareness of an issue that we can all help to solve.”
After completing a series of challenges designed to highlight the importance of creating a healthier city, girl guides will be awarded the newly-launched badge, as well as a reference from Council Leader Richard Leese and MHCC Chief Ian Williamson to help with prospective school, college or job applications.
Former Brownie Veronica Armstrong, 67 from Northenden, also helped to set up the new badge after recognising the benefits it could bring. “Me and my age-group have the time to spend with children and we can give them a different view on life. We also have skills we can show them like sewing, learning to knit and doing gardening,” Armstrong explains, “plus, a lot of my friends miss their families because they don’t live near their own children or grandkids – and they would really like to have that ongoing involvement with children’s projects.”
But it’s not just the elderly that benefit from the new unison. After recently visiting a sheltered housing court, young members from two Northenden Brownie groups asked if they could go "back every week”, whilst another added “I made a new friend, [Margaret 72], when can we come again?” and a third said “I like doing our activities together.”
“This award is a badge of success in many ways," commented Councillor Bev Craig, Executive Member for Adults Health and Wellbeing at Manchester City Council and deputy chair of Manchester Health and Care Commissioning. “Intergenerational work engenders respect and a better understanding of the different ages – and stages – that make up our vibrant city.”
For more information on the Little Red Riding Hood challenge, visit girlguidingmanchester.org.uk