I’m on a mission to learn from intergenerational bridge builders across Europe
In April and May 2023 I’m travelling across Europe to meet people building bridges between generations. Is this you, or people you know? This blog explains why I’m doing this and more about the plan for the trip so far.
I got a Churchill Fellowship! So in April — May 2023, I’m heading off on an 8 week train journey across Europe to learn from people and places building bridges between generations. Stretching across the arts, culture, education, sports, housing, agriculture and beyond, I am interested in the shared everyday intergenerational experiences that are a gateway to closer, life-giving, powerful and generative relationships between people of different generations. I’m looking to learn from people rising to the challenges of our time — from housing to health to democratic disaffection to unemployment— by bringing generations together.
My draft itinerary currently looks like this:
- Early — mid April 2023: Sicily
- Late April — early May: Mainland Italy
- Early May: Austria, around Vienna
- Mid — late May: I haven’t planned this final leg of my journey so could come home via Switzerland, Germany, France or other western European countries!
- Do you know folks who are working to bridge generational divides — especially (but not only!) across Italy and Austria?
- Do you bridge generational divides? Even if I’m not (currently) visiting your place, I’d love to meet virtually.
- Do you fancy grabbing lunch, going for a walk or just having a chat about anything we have in common — I’m interested loads of things including in the health of civil society, how we attend to endings in nonprofits, and walking in beautiful places (you can find out a bit more about me on my website here).
Contact me on email@example.com.
Why I’m doing this
‘They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.’ These are not the words of a disapproving baby boomer bemoaning snowflake millennials, but a quote from ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle complaining about young people BC. Intergenerational tension is an issue as old as time.
In his excellent book, ‘Generations’, Bobby Duffy set out to get beyond the headlines to interrogate the causes and effects of the present day’s so-called generational warfare. Does our age and generation create some innate conditions for our actions and behaviours? Or are our generational relations being shaped by more than just where we fall in the generational cohorts?
From smoking behaviours to voting patterns, Duffy unpicks how our generational cohort combines with natural ageing patterns and things that affect everyone whatever their age. What emerged is a mixed bag, some things really are generational, other things less so.
These divides are underpinned by an underlying economic reality. Home ownership for young people has halved since the 1980s. Meanwhile older people own the wealth — housing and pensions. This is both cause and effect of the alarming lack of interaction and integration between generations.
Data shows people of different ages are living side-by-side and seldom interacting, or increasingly in entirely different postcodes and regions all together. Children now have a mere 5% chance of having someone aged over 65 living in their area compared to a 15% chance in 1991, while the level of segregation between retirees and young adults has roughly doubled during the same period. This is reflected in our relationships: we are less likely than ever before to have any sort of relationship — close or acquaintance — with someone from a different generation outside of our family unit.
Generational disconnection is the fertile ground on which it’s possible to foment intergenerational conflict. In short: it’s all too easy to accept simplistic, hateful narratives of different generations if you don’t have any decent relationships with people from those generations. The result? Different generations lead evermore separate, parallel lives.
Like all divisions, intergenerational division weakens the fabric of society that can be a crucial part of us leading healthy, happy lives where we trust one another, we have faith in our institutions, we are supported by and support those around us, and are active participants in democracy fuelled by a belief in our own agency and contribution.
There is a critical need to redress the economic inequalities that underpin intergenerational tension. But that won’t happen — or at least not quickly or effectively enough — without intergenerational solidarity unleashed by stronger relationships and greater understanding across generational divides. How else are we going to meet and overcome the complex intersecting environmental, social and political polycrises we all face if it’s not standing shoulder-to-shoulder across generations?
I’m inspired by the emerging field of intergenerational practice in the UK which is building relationships across generational divides. Take GrandNanny which is supporting over 50s back into the workforce to offer childcare and build bridges with younger generations. Or The Cares Family who are breaking down the invisible walls of our communities to connect young and old in rapidly changing cities. Or the proliferation of partnerships between schools and older people’s homes where company, connection and laughter nourish the days of old and young alike — Apples and Honey, Care Home FANS (from The Linking Network and My Home Life) and the Channel 4 show Care Home For Four Year Olds from St Monica Trust.
These are the green shoots of a wave of intergenerational connection, but we need much more of this and quickly if we are to foster the intergenerational connections needed in the years ahead. And that’s what I’m on a mission to explore with my Churchill Fellowship.