The lonely pensioners stuck inside for a year now making friends with toddlers

Without human contact, the elderly community have suffered hugely over the pandemic.

But today, at an assisted living scheme in North London, a few heroes endeavoured to change that – and none of them are out of nappies yet.

Songs and Smiles is a UK-wide organisation set up by London mum-of-two Louise Goulden, 41.

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Janice said “I didn’t do much during lockdown with the virus going around”

Their sessions, ‘Songs and Smiles’ bring two generations together by matching up toddlers with the elderly – and the results are incredible.

It’s easy to see where Songs and Smiles gets its name, as the joy is palpable in the room.

Toddlers crawl from one end to another, sing songs, play with toys, grab at a wheelchair and climb right into the lap of the elderly guests.

One older resident, Janice, had greatly missed social interaction during the pandemic.

She said: “I didn’t do much in lockdown with the virus going around.”

Janice had been looking forward to meeting the children at the session, and showing off her Irish dancing.

She developed a special bond during the session with a seven-month old.

“He loves me,” she beamed, after their rendition of The Wheels On The Bus.

“They enjoyed my dancing,” she added. “The kids are lovely, beautiful, and the parents are too.”

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The Together Project connects the elderly with children aged 0-4 all over the UK

For another resident, Michael, the session was one of the first times he had even used the communal area since the pandemic hit.

He was happy to leave behind the days of lockdown, where he “basically had to sit up in my room the whole time”.

But the sessions aren’t just to combat the loneliness epidemic in older people.

I asked mum Harriet why she chose the session for her nine month old Finlay. She said: “In lockdown I saw it come up, they were doing Zoom classes.

“I don’t know how he’s so sociable. He hasn’t met anyone. Though we do have a big family.”

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Many of the elderly residents have mobility issues and don’t get to go out as much as they’d like

Harriet’s nan sadly passed away during lockdown after suffering a stroke. She had suffered from dementia for some time.

“We don’t have a grandparent on his other side either,” she said – the sessions give her baby a chance to connect with the older generation.

Alexa, who runs the classes, noted that the sessions can also help new parents connect with the community and not feel isolated.

“One woman said it helped her with post-natal depression,” she said.

Today was the first Songs and Smiles session in 18 months. Louise founded The Together Project in 2017 after giving birth to her second child.

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Both the elderly and little ones can have trouble communicating, which helps them form a special bond

She said: “I started the first group locally in Walthamstow. I just knocked on the door of a local care home with my baby strapped back to my back and said, ‘Hi, I’ve got this idea’.”

Since then, the organisation has grown to 27 locations across England.

“And then Covid hit,” she said. The Together Project’s sessions were forced to grind to an abrupt halt in March 2020.

She noted: “It was just devastating. Professionally and personally.”

When asked why toddlers and the elderly get on so well, Louise said: “I think the carefree nature and the fun of little ones touches a nerve for all of us.

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“A little toddlers smile when they’re excitedly chasing some bubbles around does wonders for the soul”, says founder Louise

“But particularly for older people, who may have been parents themselves or had younger family members.

“We work with a lot of people who have had dementia, and the opportunity for someone living with dementia who might struggle to communicate… it’s so freeing for them to be around little people who struggle with all of those same challenges as well.”

Louise worries that we might forget about our elderly community once again as we emerge out of lockdown.

She said: “It’s really important for me to remember that as many of us are coming back out into the world and restrictions are lifted, for a lot of older people, they’re still living really isolated lives.”

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Louise wants to make sure the elderly aren’t forgotten about as we rush to get back to ‘normal’

She continued: “There’s a real risk that the spotlight that was shone on isolation during the pandemic, when we all realised how much we need to nurture and take care of our older generations, might be forgotten a bit as we get out into the real world.

“And actually, we leave a generation of people still feeling as disconnected from society as they were before.”

But she hopes that the sessions can combat the loneliness epidemic, affecting 1 in 3 older people, as well as be a space for community for new parents.

“Just to be in an atmosphere that’s about fun and self expression and freedom to be who you want to be,” she said, “I think that’s really liberating.

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“A little toddlers smile when they’re excitedly chasing some bubbles around, just does wonders for the soul.

“And I think for older people who may have been separated from that for many years, that can be a real tonic to have it back.”

The funding for The Together Project’s weekly sessions in Roseberry Mansions and nearby Esther Randall Court are funded by the HS2 Community & Environment Fund .

Click here to find out more, donate and get involved.

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