Telebuddies: what happened next ...

Published on: 31 Aug 2017

It’s a minor brush with fame, but taking part in Channel 4’s Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds - broadcast at the start of August - has led to some of the elderly participants who captured the hearts of the nation being greeted warmly by strangers and staff in Waitrose.

More than 2.2 million viewers tuned in to watch eleven St Monica Trust residents and ten children from Bristol preschools share daily activities designed by three experts – a gerontologist, a geriatrician and a physiotherapist. 

Filming took place over six weeks at the Trust’s Cote Lane retirement community on Durdham Downs when the older group's physical and mental progress was measured and analysed throughout to see whether bringing the two groups together would transform the lives of the older volunteers for the better.

Mary Evans, aged 86, who spent many years working with children who were unable to hear or speak, said: “I went shopping in Waitrose and was greeted with ‘Hello Mary’ by the staff. It was a bit embarrassing but also heartening.

“We became very fond of the children. They arrived hand-in-hand, singing and would all jump in and climb all over us. They were dear little children and were ever so excited.

“I could cope with them because of my teaching experience plus I’m a great aunt with a lot of nieces and nephews.

“As an experiment we sat round on a ring of children’s balloons. I enjoyed that a lot. Some of them would find a book and ask me to read it to them. 

“Nelson was very lively and bright. He organised the other boys and built a really good garage out of Lego.”

Retired professor of geology at Bristol University, David Dineley, worked all over the world, including the Arctic, before moving to St Monica’s when his wife was in the final stages of Parkinson’s disease, five years ago. David said: “The whole thing was unexpectedly pleasant. I got to know Hamish and Michael well and became good friends with little Eva, who came to visit yesterday with her grandma.

“We all found the children were keen to talk to us. The TV team were understanding and sympathetic to our needs and I was impressed with the treatment that we received.

“They tended to think that older people would be depressed and some were slow to respond at the beginning.”

The programme saw a number of improvements in the residents’ mental and physical health, including 80-year-old, Linda whose mobility is affected by osteoporosis.

Described as “very down” when she first joined the experiment, Linda’s friendship with four-year-old Amiya saw the two of them running across the croquet lawn hand-in-hand during a sports day. Meanwhile, viewers saw 77-year Zina, whose tests revealed a high depression score, laughing with delight as she hit a Pinata and the children swooped to collect the sweets that fall out of the papier-mache donkey.

David added: “The experiment was conducted well and I think if we did this once a year it would be grand. 

“I think something has been reawakened in us. The young folks have so much to learn and explore and it’s great to see the mystery through their eyes. I’d like to think that the kids got as much out of it as we did.”

Chief executive of the St Monica Trust, David Williams,  confirmed that they will continue to nurture the wonderful relationships established between residents and the children of the preschools. 

He said: “The St Monica Trust will create a lasting legacy to the ground-breaking social experiment by establishing a nursery at one of its sites.

“We will also be installing children’s playgrounds at all of our sites, including an indoor play area at our newest development in Keynsham, the Chocolate Quarter.

“Seeing the benefits of this ground breaking project has only strengthened the Trust’s desire to create open communities that actively encourage contact across different generations.”

Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds can still seen on catch up TV, All 4.


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