A HOUSING association has opened up a new chapter in breaking down age barriers with older tenants helping schoolchildren with their reading.
Since last autumn Year Seven students from Ysgol John Bright in Llandudno have been paying regular visits to Cartrefi Conwy’s nearby Cysgod y Gogarth sheltered housing development where tenants have been sitting down with them to go over the text of their favourite books.
But, as everyone involved agrees, the Joint Reading Project is about much more than mastering the written word and is actually helping to bridge the generation gap.
One of the tenants taking part, 79-year-old retired midwife Pat Farley, said: “It’s helping the young people to discover that reading is an important part of their lives and the sessions are also teaching us a thing or two about modern life.”
Nerys Veldhuizen, Cartrefi Conwy’s Older Person’s Engagement Co-ordinator who helped arrange the pioneering project, said: “It all part of our mission of creating communities to be proud of.
“A group of about 10 Year Sevens aged 11 and 12 come in every couple of months for the reading sessions.
“They select their own books to bring with them and the tenants involved hear them read and help them with some of the words and punctuation in the text.
“The sessions last for two hours with a short break in the middle for refreshments.
“This is the perfect example of partnership working between Cartefi Conwy and the school.
“Some of the children came in to sing for our residents last year and the reading project developed from there.
“It’s helping to break down barriers between the generations and not only is it improving the children’s literacy skills but also helping older people to feel they are part of the younger community.
“Some good relationships have been formed, friendships made and both groups have had lots of fun.
“I’m delighted with the way it’s developed. We’re already planning to continue it next year and are looking at different ways of enhancing the experience.”
One of the residents involved is Pat Farley who spent her career before retirement as a nurse and midwife.
She said: “Working with the young people has been such fun and I’m glad to do it because reading is such an important part of life.
“It does me good too because I’m learning new things about modern life and also some new terms, such as shopping mall, which crop up in the text and I wasn’t sure about until I started doing this.”
Another regular at the sessions is great grandmother Nita Ellison, 71, who has lived at Cysgod y Gogarth since the opening of the £4.2 million development last summer.
“It’s lovely helping the children with their reading because it’s such an important thing,” she said.
“It helps me to keep in touch with the younger generation and, I hope, helps the children to better understand older people like myself.”
Another reading assistant, 62-year-old grandmother-of-two Buddug Cotton, agreed that the benefits of the project works both ways.
She said: “I think it does us all good. It keeps us older ones in touch with young people and what’s going on in the world and they learn from our experience of life.
“Many of the books they bring in are about modern-day things that older people wouldn’t know a lot about but it’s interesting to find out about them.”
One of the youngsters who look forward to the reading sessions at Cysgod y Gogarth is 12-year-old Byron Morris from Llandudno.
He said: “I’ve been to two of the sessions now and I like them because it’s helping me to read betterand you get to speak to people you wouldn’t normally meet and to get to know a bit about their lives.
“We’ve done a couple of books together, which were Diary of the Wimpy Kid and Roald Dahl’s Boy in the Dress. The first of those is my favourite because it’s really funny.”
It was the same story with Rosie Knowles, also aged 12 and from Llandudno, who said: “I’ve been to the sessions twice.
“I find they are helping me with my reading and it’s very interesting to hear the stories of the people here. They tell us some really interesting things about their lives and when they were younger.
“The last book I read here was one of the Horrid Henry stories and I enjoyed it because it was really funny.”
Catherine Beattie, director of learning for Year Seven at Ysgol John Bright who brings the children to the sessions, said: “Since the project started we’ve made three visits here and everyone finds it very useful.
“It helps the students to get to know another part of their community, improves their literacy and also gives them a different kind of experience.
“It’s so useful because it brings together two groups of people who wouldn’t usually meet.”