CARING Sunderland College students are doing their bit to help bridge the generational gap between young and old.

More than 30 students have been named as ‘intergenerational advocates’ with the aim of working alongside older people to offer social engagement, support and advocacy.

The level 3 health and care students are working with residents of care homes and extra care housing schemes, where staff have identified those who will benefit the most from the new initiative.

Split into two groups, the first wave of intergenerational advocates have already began their new roles and will be setting up a range of group activities for extra care housing residents in Bramble Hollow in Hetton-le-Hole and Willow Brook in Washington.

Five advocates are also volunteering at Belle Vue House, a Hendon-based care home, where they are offering support and companionship to residents on a one-to-one basis.

Christine Scott, manager of Belle Vue House, said: “The experience has been a great success and the vibe in the home has been upbeat and very positive and rewarding. This is a great scheme, and is one that every care setting should embrace with open arms – we would certainly recommend it.”

The students have introduced a broad range of entertainment and activities including biscuit decorating, organising musicals, playing card games and board games, reading books and poetry, and helping residents to create memory boxes.

This is intended to increase social engagement and help those who have cognitive impairments such as dementia, and is also designed to improve the self-efficacy of students.

Carla Raine, health and social care lecturer at Sunderland College, said: “This initiative gives our students a meaningful opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of members of our older community. Unfortunately, social isolation is becoming an increasingly common problem for older people and there are many risks associated with this such as mental health issues. So it’s fantastic to see younger members of our society helping to combat the effects of social isolation by working with health and care providers in the region.

“Many of our health and care students plan to work in the adult care sector once they finish their education, and this experience is giving them an important insight into the social engagement element of this industry.”

Catherine Hay, Housing & Care 21 regional extra care manager for the North East, added: “We’re delighted to be working with the health and care students from Sunderland College.  The residents at Bramble Hollow are really benefiting from the activities and the students are experiencing how rewarding working in extra care can be – it’s a win win situation for us all!”

The initiative has been co-designed in partnership with Sunderland City Council and its adult social care team, with workshops delivered by social workers to enable students to prepare for their new roles.

Councillor Graeme Miller, Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for health, housing and adult services, added: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to work in partnership with Sunderland College and care providers in what is an innovative initiative to improving the health and wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable people in the city.

“Involving students in intergenerational work gives the opportunity to bring the outside world into care settings. Connecting students to older people will build valuable bridges between these generations -providing support and companionship to older people and giving fantastic life and work experience for students.”

The intergenerational advocate scheme has been launched as part of a government extended work placement pilot that Sunderland College is involved in.

Ahead of the introduction of new T Levels reforms – technical study programmes – in 2020, the college is one of a number of further education providers piloting the Department for Education’s proposed reforms.

These substantial, high quality work placements are intended to replace current work experience programmes which are usually one to two weeks long.

The college is focusing on four T Level routes – digital, engineering, health, and catering and hospitality – during the year-long pilot, and is sending regular progress reports to the government.

Ellen Thinnesen, principal of Sunderland College, added: “This is a unique opportunity for Sunderland College and Sunderland City Council to lead the way in technical-based education as we approach a new era with the introduction of T Levels.

“Our intergenerational advocates form an extremely important part of our wider work placement pilot, in addition to our progress in embedding careers, information, advice and guidance. These exciting new opportunities open up a wealth of opportunities for our students. The work we are doing now will help to influence the government’s approach to T Level work placements in the future, and we are very proud to be involved in a programme which will result in such positive benefits for students across the country.”

The first wave of intergenerational advocate work placements is expected to end in February and the second will begin shortly after.

For more information about health and social care courses at Sunderland College, ring 0191 511 6000, email or visit