‘Silver Stories’ – Dame Esther Rantzen in The Telegraph
We live in a divided nation. For once I am not lambasting politicians for this. Because I can’t blame them for the divide which I believe causes damaging pain, the gulf between generations. The fact is even the oldest and the youngest need each other. Documentaries by Channel 4 celebrating the success of nursery schools located in old people’s care homes underscore the point. The old need the young to keep us fit, strong and happy. The young need the old to tell them our stories and stop them stumbling into the same old landmines. And yet everything about our current society, where we live, how we shop, how we entertain ourselves, sets up barriers that keep us apart.
Looking back to my own childhood, I see all of us grandchildren circling around my grandmother’s home. I visited her every weekend. When as an appalling teenager I ran away from home, it was to stay overnight with granny. But then we lived within a couple of miles of her. This Christmas I will be speaking, as I have for the past six years, to Silver Line callers, older people who are living alone, isolated from children, whose memories of happier years deepen their loneliness, but for whom Christmas is now, as one told me last year, “Just another day to get through.”
Three years ago I helped to launch a project created in Torpoint by Elisabeth and David Carney-Haworth, she a head teacher, he an ex-policeman. It’s called ‘Silver Stories’ and like most brilliant ideas it’s so simple. Elisabeth asks six and seven year olds, year 2 of her primary school, (the “Silver Readers”), to telephone older people, (“Silver Listeners”), once a week in their lunch-time from their school, and read to them. Two of the Silver Readers, Holly aged 6 and Robert aged 7 rang me this week and read to me a poem about a rain forest. Holly told me she likes to read to older people “Because it’s a time when they can relax and have a cup of tea and a biscuit.” Robert added, “And because we can talk to them and make their day.” They agreed they both like talking to older people, as Robert explained, “Because I like reading, and it’s a nice way to say thank you to them.” When I revealed my age they responded with a satisfying “Wow”. I shocked them by revealing that when I was young there was no television, and I didn’t eat a banana until I was six. I explained it was due to the second world war, and they sang me the song they’ve been practising for their Remembrance service, “We’ll Meet Again.” The whole conversation was a delight.
Doris, one of the Silver Listeners the children read to each Thursday, told me she used to be a teaching assistant in the school. Now aged 86 Doris lives in a care home near Middleton. She has osteo-arthritis which means she cannot stand or walk, and as almost everyone else in the home has dementia, she spends all her time sitting in her room, crocheting, doing puzzles and reading a great deal. Her husband died 14 years ago, “I miss him so much”. Her son lives in New Zealand, her daughter lives 150 miles away, she occasionally sees a child when a carer brings a toddler in, “I love it when they plonk them on my lap.” She misses the company of children, “I was with them for 24 years”, so for her Silver Stories are “A joy, I’m very grateful.” And she wrote her Silver Readers a poem to express her appreciation, “Dear children as you happily speak, I look forward to hearing you every week. Keep up the good work and all you do. Best wishes and a huge thank you.”
I would like to call upon every primary school to contact care homes in their area and ask for Silver Listeners. To be read to once a week is a pleasure. When you are deprived of children’s company, to be read to by 6 year olds is a special joy.
Dame Esther Rantzen
Children from Torpoint Infant School reading to Dame Esther Rantzen.
Photo Credit: ITV West Country