Storytelling school

Residents of the retirement village share stories with students as part of a digital storytelling project

Neville Brown grew up in a time when children were seen and not heard.

So when the call went out to residents of Westhaven Retirement Village to take part in a digital storytelling project with students at Faith Lutheran College in Plainland, the 88-year-old thought it was an idea wonderful.

“I understood that gap between old and young, so I said yes, I would really like to be in there – whatever it takes,” Mr Brown said.

The project, led by the Bolton Clarke Research Institute, stems from an intergenerational care project similar to that made famous by the ABC television show Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds.

The premise works by pairing residents of the care facility with students who share similar interests and passions.

Mr Brown said his conversations with his five new ‘buddies’ had had a profound impact on him.

“I was blown away by their maturity at 13, their self-esteem and self-motivation too.”

Meanwhile, his Year 7 students were both horrified and confused when it came to stories of his own school life – after he was ‘slapped’ on his fingers with a piece of bamboo for misbehavior and how he learned to write.

“They do their schoolwork on a computer, so when I told them I did mine on a slate and a blackboard, they didn’t quite get it.”

The Bolton Clark Research Institute program aims to bridge the gap between young and old.(Provided: Liam Hensel)

However, it wasn’t long before Mr Brown managed to impress his new audience when he began sharing the spoils of skills he had learned at an age when many others were starting to slow down.

“I was 47 when I learned ice skating, I had a skating partner, and after four years there were 10 dances we could do on ice.”

Not limited to sophisticated footwork, Mr. Brown has also achieved high marks with students with his artistic abilities.

“I mostly do acrylic [paintings] but also a bit of watercolor,” he explained.

Bridging the gap

The success of the project was evidenced by the impact Mr. Brown’s stories had on his young audience.

Year 7 student Jacob Sippell said spending time with Mr Brown had provided him with insightful advice on how to live his life.

“You take your time and do what you love, and you don’t rush here because you don’t know what’s going to happen and there’s always a surprise around the corner.”

For Darcy Keys, Mr. Brown’s memories of the changing decades revealed the importance of having resilience.

“Somehow he still managed to pull through. He went through a lot of tough times, but he didn’t give up and he encouraged me not to give up.”

Her classmate Claire Hopper said what she took away from the experience was learning there was real value in earning a living.


“I think it would have been rewarding because it wasn’t all handed to you on a silver platter, and he had to work hard to achieve what he has become today.”

But perhaps most importantly, the whole point of the project can be summed up by 11-year-old Alice De May, who, despite a huge age gap with her mentor, now knows there is no barrier of age when it comes to doing the things you love.

“I learned that no matter how old you are, you have to try. Neville was 40 when he started ice skating and around 50 when he started horseback riding.”

Lady looking at camera smiling
Xanthe Golenko, a researcher at the Bolton Clarke Research Institute, hopes to implement the project in other aged care facilities in their network.(Provided: Liam Hensel)

Match the ages

The value of bringing young and old together to share stories was cemented midway through the first meeting between 25 Westhaven residents and 160 students from Faith Lutheran College.

Xanthe Golenko, a researcher at the Bolton Clarke Research Institute, said the project had never been done on this scale before and project leaders feared there would be too many people for it to work.

“But they came together. It was truly magical,” Ms Golenko recalled.

Ms. Golenko said that while cross-generational projects have been on her mind for a long time, she was still amazed at the magic that happens when you bring different generations together.

“I think the power of storytelling is so amazing. It’s not just about dates and events. You’re face to face with someone telling you what it was like living through that time. It gives life to this story,” she said. .

The project produced 29 digital stories on a plethora of different topics.

Some of them focus primarily on the older person with one or two student reflection and reaction, while others compare aspects of life now to how they were in the older person’s youth. .

Although the process was designed to benefit both younger and older people, it also had unexpected benefits for those who see and hear the stories.

“When we started this project, some of the older people said that even looking at other people’s stories helped them deal with things in their own lives that had weighed them down for years,” Ms Golenko said.

Elderly lady and student looking at school work together
A Westhaven Retirement Village resident spends quality time with students at Faith Lutheran College. (Provided: Liam Hensel)

Look forward

Its vision now is for Bolton Clarke to form partnerships between other aged care homes and retirement villages across its network and schools in their respective areas.

“It’s something I would like to see incorporated into school curricula and part of how care is delivered,” she said.

For Neville Brown, the end of the project taught him to realize that how young people are portrayed in the media is not the whole story, and that their voices have as much right to be heard as anyone else. else.

“With a school like this raising these children, they are kind, they are humble and they have creativity and courage. If there are more schools and children like this, our little Australia is in good hands,” she added. said.