The Together Project – An Interview With Founder Louise Goulden
Ex-marketing strategist Louise Goulden founded the Together Project in 2016 out of a desire to channel her professional expertise into a venture that brings about positive social change for local communities. Discover more about the Project’s journey in this interview with the lady herself.
Can you tell us a bit about the Together Project, and where the idea came from?
The Together Project unites young and older people through joyful, creative activities. We aim to tackle loneliness, positively improve perceptions of age and unite local communities. The first activity we’ve launched is Songs & Smiles, a singing and social group for babies and toddlers, their grown-ups and care home residents. We sing songs, play instruments, make friends and have fun!
The idea came when I was on maternity leave and saw the effect that my young son had on the residents of his great great aunty’s care home – he lit up the place! I started to think about the impact that a group of children, coming regularly, could have. As I researched the idea, I discovered just how divided by age our society has become and how that contributes to feelings of isolation amongst older people and deprives youngsters of their life experience and wisdom. And so I set up The Together Project to try and bring about positive change.
Why do you think children and young people have such a positive impact on the older generation?
Young children live absolutely in the moment. They’re not worrying about the future or reflecting on what happened in the past, they’re just completely absorbed in – and fascinated by – the world around them, and that can be a breath of fresh air. At the care homes, the little tiny babies provide the ‘ahhh’ factor, whilst the toddlers provide endless entertainment! They have no social barriers – they’ll quite happily go up to one of the residents and start playing peekaboo or do the actions to Twinkle Twinkle, and the residents get a lot of joy out of those interactions.
Based upon the success of your first venture with the Together Project, Songs and Smiles, what new plans do you have for the future?
Right now I’m expanding Songs & Smiles to care homes across London and then the rest of the UK. The long-term vision is to have a range of intergenerational activities that team up different age groups – pre-schoolers and retired people, for example, or young teens and elderly people living alone.
Many of the older people that the Together Project works with are living with dementia. What changes have you seen in them since starting the project?
Around half of the people who come to Songs & Smiles are living with dementia and they get a huge amount from the sessions. One lady sat through the first few without seeming to engage, and then after a few weeks, began joining in with some of the actions to The Wheels on the Bus. As the weeks continued she got more and more involved and seemed to really start enjoying herself. It was lovely to watch.
Some of the residents’ family members visit the home whilst Songs & Smiles is on because they enjoy seeing how much pleasure they get from the music and the buzz of the children. There’s a wonderful lady who often simply laughs the whole time we’re there, and her husband thanked me for how much joy he says the sessions bring her.
The Ally Bally Bee Project focuses on storytelling to help children form a greater understanding of dementia. How important do you think it is that children have an understanding of what their loved one is going though?
Our society is very segregated amongst age lines, which means that many children don’t have any concept of conditions such as dementia until perhaps a family member is diagnosed, which can be an upsetting time. By giving children the opportunity to mix with different generations from very early on, it helps to normalise the ageing process and conditions such as dementia, so that hopefully, later down the line they will be better equipped to understand what their loved one is experiencing and that they can still play with them, laugh with them or interact in other meaningful ways.
Do you think you would ever consider introducing storytelling sessions as the Together Project develops?
Absolutely, I have ideas for creative writing and storytelling sessions further down the line. Watch this space!
For more information about The Together Project, including volunteer opportunities, visit www.thetogetherproject.co.uk.
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