I don’t know what they put in the water over at Fair Furlong Primary School, but I want to bottle it up and share it everywhere!
This experience of working with Wyldwood Arts on the intergenerational Chat Back project ‘Proud to be Me’ in Bristol has been my first proper experience of working with children. I was quite nervous at first in a way. I’ve worked on some sizable theatre and arts projects but the idea of working with a new age group seemed like a daunting challenge. What if they didn’t like me? Or listen to me? Or misbehaved? I had no idea what I would do. Well, my fears could not have been more mislaid. The intelligence, kindness and maturity displayed by the Year 5’s I’ve been working with has blown me away.
The Chatback project in Hartcliffe, Bristol aims to facilitate intergenerational conversations between young children and older adults whilst they collaborate on a community arts project, namely making a large rag rug to be hung in the local library. That’s where I come in; the facilitator. Every Friday since January of this year I’ve been travelling to the furthest southern edge of Bristol to collect a group of Year 5 students from Fair Furlong and escort them to a nearby nursing home. I then take a couple of kids from this group into the rooms of the residents and encourage both parties to share stories, get to know each other and see what they can learn from the experience. We’re fortunate enough to have some superb older adults in this nursing home who are welcoming to these strangers in their house. From a former RAF pilot and professional budgerigar breeder, to an avid musical theatre lover, the residents are never short of fascinating stories and boundless charisma. But for me it’s the children who make this project magic.
I’ve now had the pleasure of meeting and working with almost the entire year group. Occasionally, they are shy and cautious as any child (or adult!) going into an unknown situation might be, but all have been engaged, polite and just downright interesting, to a staggering degree; they shake hands, ask thoughtful questions and sit patiently whilst they hear stories. When one resident told us about a son she had tragically lost, one of the girls in the school group gave her heartfelt condolence, whilst another tactfully changed subject to something more upbeat. It was enchanting to watch, almost rehearsed in its ease as if they’d had some sort of training in this field. But of course, they hadn’t, they’re just children following their instincts.
The walks to and from the care home are always a highlight because of the brilliantly captivating (and often amusing) conversations we all have. One which particularly struck me, began with one of the boys, completely out of the blue, asking “Niall, I’ve got a question; if God made the universe who made God?” shortly followed by “What is the meaning of life, in your view?” I was astounded! Occasionally intelligence can lead to arrogance, true of those of any age, but they haven’t a drop of it! Instead they are outstandingly kind and amicable, and their company and joy they find in even the simplest of things, is infectious.
As the groups have changed throughout the project, to ensure as many have been involved as possible, I have been delighted to hear positive reviews of the project from their peers when the new gang arrive. Overall, I have been witness to the wonderful nature of the students of Fair Furlong school, and the huge benefits of the intergenerational work Wyldwood provides, bringing the best out of everyone involved. The intention may be to have older adults and young children learn from one another, which has certainly been a result, but the thing that will remain with me is how much I have learnt from them.
Written by Niall Potter – a Wyldwood Arts Emerging Artist