We call it ‘Creative Thoughtfulness’ – a gesture that has been imaginatively and sensitively thought out – designed to surprise, delight and deeply touch the recipient at a time when they would least expect it, and most appreciate it. These ‘gifts’ not only delight the recipient and prompt the phrase: 'How incredibly thoughtful', they also thrill the giver who instantly sees the value in what they have done.
And that ethos is at the core of Kissing it Better, which was set up to encourage young people to share their talents, and the simple ideas on our website, with the most vulnerable in hospitals, care homes and the community. We work mainly with students from schools, colleges and universities, connecting them with frail older people and their carers. Here, the students can offer skills learned from their courses in drama, beauty therapy, hairdressing, art, poetry, music or dance, etc., delivered in a way that can trigger long-term memories. In return, the students see the enormous significance of their skills to a much older generation and their loved ones. Both sides feel valued and self esteem on both sides soars.
But there is more. The 'events' light up the room and spark conversation. Memories of similar events long ago are prompted and shared. The students learn social history at first hand from a generation who learned to jive in the 1930s and idolised Elvis Presley in the 1950s. In turn, the older person is reminded not only of happier times but also of a talent they may have – until then, long forgotten – that can entertain and inspire vibrant young people. Time and again, delicious giggles can be heard as someone in their 80s shares mischievous stories from a different time, relishing the opportunity to remind their audience that they, too, were young once.
Good intergenerational conversations benefit both sides. We see it all the time. The 86 year old can, so often, put a teenager's life into perspective. Exams are not the be-all-and-end-all. Far more important, the older person will say, is being a good person with a bit of grit and determination – that’s what matters most and, time and again, will get you the furthest in life. Leaning to cope with the bad times knowing that there will be good times to follow is also very helpful for a young person who cannot see beyond GCSEs.
When we do something that is valued we feel so much better. The boss who takes the time to tell us that we did brilliant job at the end of a busy day removes our tiredness and brings a skip to our step as we leave the building. We return the next day wanting you do more. And when young people make a positive difference to the lives of someone who is vulnerable they improve their own lives too. Through the mentored approach of a member of our team, they will learn just how much their contribution means. A simple foot tap during a musical performance may be the first time that person who has dementia has engaged with anything for weeks. Or the person who mouths the words of a song when they haven't spoken since their stroke, are all enormous milestones, created at that moment by the student’s ‘gift’. Of course there will always those people who are harder to engage, who through their dementia may say something tactless, but, under our strict supervision, we are there to teach the groups how to create sensitive engagement; how the power of respectfully listening, and not rising to the bait – learning to choose your arguments – can slowly but surely create mutual respect.
Through ‘creative thoughtfulness’, a younger generation can improve their own lives as well as those they have come to energise and entertain. They may bring a skill or they may bring a simple gift – Kissing it Better ‘goodie bags’ are a huge part of our work – but the key is that they help to bring the vibrancy of the outside world into any setting. They break up a boring day and perhaps bring their greatest unexpected gift of all: the chance that as a result of all the stimulation, some members of their audience will sleep better during the long dark nights.
I recently had a significant birthday. Work had been frantic for weeks and it was great to have a day off. I was sad that my eldest daughter was in Australia and couldn't be with me on my special day. Just after she had rung me to wish me 'Happy Birthday', there was a knock at the door. There, on the doorstep, was the most magnificent bicycle, covered in birthday ribbon. It was her present to me, designed to ensure that I took time out of my crazy, busy life to relax and cycle around the country lanes that surround our house. Had she been at home she would have made a stunning cake and decorated the house with balloons and banners. As she couldn't be there, she did the next best thing and thought how she could surprise and delight me in so many ways. And she did. Thoughtful, creative, loving and fun, her touching gift made my day, week and month and, of course, I am reminded of her kindness every time I ride it.
We are not suggesting we buy bikes for everyone but the aim of our teaching programme is to spark up a new generation to think 'outside the box' about the little things, and sometimes the big ones. Learning to think like this will transform the lives of the older generation and, we believe, help make the world a better and less stressful place for young people too.
To find out more about our fully regulated, highly interactive teaching programme that brings ‘Creative Thoughtfulness’ to life, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07831 1361252