The Netherlands, it seems, are leading by example and bringing the older and younger generations together through a new ‘intergenerational’ project which allows students to live rent free in spare retirement home rooms. Dani Cox reports.

Six students from the universities of Saxion and Windesheim have taken up the opportunity and are now living side by side with 160 pensioners in the Humanitas Retirement Home in Deventer.

In exchange for their rent free accommodation, the students are asked to spend at least 30 hours a month with the care home residents in the hope that having some younger people around will not only help the staff, but also lift the spirits of some of the residents.

Head of the Humanitas retirement home, Gea Sijpkes told the Journal.ie in December:

“It’s important not to isolate the elderly from the outside world.”

Previous ‘intergenerational’ projects have been started throughout Europe but not usually in retirement homes due to a lack of space.

However Dutch government budget cuts have made it difficult for the elderly to get much financial help meaning many can’t afford the retirement home fees, which leaves the homes with a number of empty rooms they’re unable to fill.

The student housing scheme at Humanitas is a way to solve that problem and many more. Student accommodation isn’t for everyone. Sure, the majority enjoy the party life style that comes with being a student, particularly in halls. However there are those who would prefer a bit more of a relaxed atmosphere.

Young people who don’t drink for example or who find it difficult mixing with large groups of people or even those who just want to save a bit of money could benefit from this relaxed homely atmosphere while providing an excellent public service to the elderly, simply caring that they’re there.

One of the main reasons for starting this project was to get away from this idea that care homes should be hidden away and forgotten about.

Former care minister Peter Burstow told the Journal.ie:

“The old model saw care homes as isolated institutions where things were done to you rather than for you and were islands of misery…..Care homes that are cut off from their communities aren’t real homes.”

In an interview with PBS Sijpkes told of the affect the students we’re having on the residents:

“Young people in the house are giving them a new spirit. It’s a lot of things they offer each other, and little things of everyday life.”

The students offer residents workshops in things like computers and graffiti or they can simply just ‘hang out’ with them, giving them someone to talk to, something too many of the elderly lack.

One of the students living in the home is 22 year old Denise who told Journalism.ie in December:

“Given that student rooms are too small, too dirty and too expensive, this is a fantastic alternative.”

Other than spending time with the residents, the students are asked only to be respectful. There is no curfew, they can have friends round for drinks and are even occasionally allowed partners to spend the night.

Most students only spend one year in halls before going into a house with friends during their second and third years. But if you could spend that one year of you’re life making a difference in someone else’s whilst saving money, wouldn’t you do it?

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