A 21-year-old has been trying to bridge the age divide and break stereotypes that can exist around care homes and older people building friendships with younger generations.

Gemma Haddow from Chippenham works as an administrator at the doctor’s surgery just around the corner from the care home, Middlefields House.

The home recently opened a coffee shop to the public, is designed to build an intergenerational community, while ensuring the continued safety and mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of residents.

Pilgrims’ Friend Society are encouraging communities to reach out more to form friendships across different generations, like Gemma and Molly, to help combat loneliness.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week (9th – 15th May) in 2022 is loneliness, reflecting the challenges of the pandemic and the importance of fostering connection for physical and mental wellbeing.

This year, an Age UK report has projected that the number of people lonely in England is projected to likely rise to around 2 million from 1.4 million by 2026.

Gemma said: “One thing my colleagues and I have really been enjoying is The Harvest Coffee Shop at Middlefields.

“It’s a real treat for us to pop over on our break. I’m really excited about the potential the coffee shop has as a place for the community to connect with those the care home.

“I think this could really help break down the barriers around what a care home is and what it’s like to be older.”

Gemma noted that it didn’t come naturally at first, but it was worth sticking with experience the positive impact it has made.

She said: “At first, I felt very out of my comfort zone as I don’t always find social things easy.

“It’s helped that I was able to shadow the Activities & Community Engagement (ACE) Facilitator at the home.

“I get so much out of being around the older people. They have so much wisdom and give you a different perspective. One thing I’ve come to appreciate is that life is short. Older people can sometimes feel forgotten and I really feel for them.

Friederike Hamilton, Projects Manager Operations for Pilgrims’ Friend Society said: “Gemma’s volunteering with us at Middlefields House is making a real difference to our family members.

"Her cheerful presence and insightful connection with family members supports them in their mental wellbeing and facilitates intergenerational interaction which is so important to all of us as we grow older.”