Last week, Jo, Morwenna and Becky along with Fiona Campbell from the University of Sheffield were in Falmouth for the ‘Only Connect!’ symposium. ‘Only Connect!’ – an international community symposium organised by The Photobook Project, Ellie Robinson Carter and Peter Daniels sought to bring together people with an interest in the benefits of creative, intergenerational, and inclusive practice and research.

The three days of the symposium were crammed full of fascinating speakers sharing their experiences of intergenerational and inclusive connection through key notes, talks and workshops.   Amongst the many contributors were Alison Clyde CEO of Generations Working Together, Ellie Baker, Head of Psychological Health and Wellbeing at Wave Multi Academy Trust, Haize Trueba, co-founder of Kuvu an intergenerational home sharing platform, Rich Bell, Head of Campaigns and Strategy at The Cares Family, a charity that aims to find connection and community in a disconnected age, Jazz Browne from the Nubian Life Resource Centre, a specialist provider of culturally specific activity-based care in the adult social care sector based in Hammersmith and Fulham and Susan Langford from Magic Me, an arts charity that brings the generations together to build a stronger, safer community.

We also learned about the largest intergenerational research project in the UK, Friends and Neighbours, funded by The Dunhill Medical Trust and the National Lottery Fund; the National Institute for Health and Care Research funded ADAPT project which set out to create a set of online resources of culturally appropriate assessments and interventions to support people from South Asian communities at various stages across the dementia care pathway; and work by University of Bristol PhD student Lois Peach on storying moments of intergenerational connection through music.

We were at the symposium to present the early findings from our National Institute for Health and Care Research funded evidence syntheses on intergenerational activities – our iGEN project. Morwenna delivered a warm-up workshop on Finding and Making Sense of Research on day one. Fiona, Becky and Morwenna presented the early findings from our evidence and gap map and two systematic reviews destined for publication in the Campbell Library and ran a workshop on using the evidence and gap map on day two. Fiona and Jo recorded a podcast with some of the iGEN project team (Ellie Robinson Carter, Ronald Amanze and David Truswell) and other symposium delegates on day three.  The podcast will become part of the University of Sheffield School for Health and Related Research Communicable Research Podcast Series in due course and will be available via our project website.

After taking part in the podcast session, Ronald Amanze wrote this heartbreakingly beautiful poem – too good not to share here:

I was invited to contribute my thoughts

To a podcast on the subject of loneliness

Needing time to process my reply

I didn’t know what to say

Then later someone inquired

Ronald where have you been

And I just smile and said

I’ve been here, didn’t you see me

It’s lonely out here

The atmosphere at the symposium was friendly, open, and welcoming.  The passion, enthusiasm and vibrancy of the presenters and the audience was clear in and between every session.  It felt like a real treat to be at a face-to-face meeting where there was so much respect, positivity, and engagement between delegates.  This was very far from the kind of academic conference where people need to check out how important you are by reading your name badge before they are willing to spend time talking to you.  Although, in some respects as researchers rather than practitioners we did feel a little bit like outsiders.  Here we were amongst some of the leading names in intergenerational practice, people who have devoted their lives to bringing together generations for mutual benefit, people who know that intergenerational practice works! And yet, our research suggests that there is very little evidence to support that. Our evidence and gap map includes almost 500 pieces of research but very few are robustly designed, and most don’t measure the sorts of outcomes that so many practitioners at the symposium observe, such as shared learning, reciprocity and the enhanced quality of relationships between generations.  Despite this apparent mismatch between research and practice, our work was generously received. It was fascinating to hear stories from practice and research juxtaposed side by side throughout the symposium and our understanding of potential next steps for research in this area has been greatly enriched.

There were also workshops – poetry writing with Ronald Amanze and David Truswell – playing with clay on the beach with Ellen Love from the Leach Pottery and the Sensory Trust’s dementia friendly walking group the Wednesday Wanderers, painting hearts with Ellie Baker and laughter and playfulness with Katie White founder of The Best Medicine. Paddling in the sea at St Ives with the Wednesday Wanderers whilst making a pinch pot from clay from the Leach Pottery will be an enduring memory of our Only Connect! experience.

And did we mention the food?  The food was outstanding.  Both at the main venue (thanks to Alice Robinson-Carter and Judith Robinson) and at the evening events.  We were thrilled to have the opportunity to feast at The Potager Garden – the most amazing setting – with food prepared by Toots Parkyn from Falmouth Food Coop and Loveland, Penryn and all veg grown at the Loveland community field in Penryn. We were also treated to a delicious meal with a delicious view at Tate St Ives, before film showings of Amanze by Lucy Hawes, Kiran by Emily Dodd and Sensory St Ives by Rachael Jones.

We returned home tired, happy and refreshed, as if from a short holiday.  Inspired not only by what we learned of the magic of bringing generations together but also by the generosity and vibrancy of the community and the power of connection.  Much of what was discussed is relevant not only to building intergenerational connections but to connections throughout our lives whether they be between academia and practice, hearing the seldom heard or bridging understanding between different audiences.  To return to the title of this blog post – relationship building has to be conscious not accidental.

Thank you to everyone who made Only Connect! such a success – from the beating hearts at the centre Ellie Robinson-Carter, Peter Daniels and the Photobook Project team to the presenters who came from far and wide to share their stories, to the audiences who brought their energy and enthusiasm and those who made our visit to Cornwall magical with wonderful food and beautiful settings.

Sunset over the bay at St Ives