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Students and retirees bond over shared life experiences

Westhaven resident John with his digital life story students

Five dancers are chatting in a group. Their shared experiences easily span the more than 60-year age gap between them.

Nearby, retiree John shares his love of the outdoors with a group of 12-year-old boys with similar interests.

The groups are part of a digital storytelling project bringing together residents from Bolton Clarke’s Westhaven retirement village in Toowoomba and students from Faith Lutheran College in Plainland.

It’s part of a Bolton Clarke Research Institute program using storytelling and reminiscence to build connections, improve wellbeing and reduce loneliness for residents living in residential aged care and retirement living communities.

Research Fellow Xanthe Golenko said that digital storytelling is a powerful way of giving people a voice and capturing their life experiences through combining voice, still and moving images and music or other sounds in a short digital form.

“Adding an intergenerational component to digital storytelling provides the opportunity for old and young to work together on a meaningful activity, which helps to develop relationships across the generations that are mutually beneficial and create a sense of community” she said.

“It encourages residents to engage with the community and enables them to remain productive and feel valued as contributing members of society. This helps to strengthen their sense of identity, purpose and belonging.”

In the digital storytelling project, Year 7 students have worked with retirement village residents in groups, with each group choosing a group name and story topic that they will explore in detail.

“It’s wonderful to see the joy that residents experience as they share details about their lives with the students,” Xanthe said.

Westhaven resident John says that he wasn’t sure what to expect from the project, but he has been pleasantly surprised by his group and their willingness to listen to his stories.

“What amazed me with the five boys in my group was their liking for the outdoors and outdoor activities,” he said.

“I’ve been telling them what life was like back in 1937 with the depression, the lack of money and work and lots of things not available - they find it very hard to believe.”

Fellow resident Marlene is sharing her history of ballroom dancing with her group, who are also dancers.

“The best thing about the intergenerational program is knowing the benefits that I am giving out to the students - I am getting back,” she said. “It’s so important to learn from one another.”

“It’s really valuable to both sides to hear each other’s perspective. It’s been a buzz to meet these girls who have a real interest in what I have to teach them.

“Even though we’re in different age groups, we are still getting the same thing out of dance and it really makes me happy to know that these girls are learning those benefits and applying them in different ways, in their own lives.”

Faith Lutheran College Principal Doug Braiden says that students look forward to seeing their buddies each Tuesday and are very proud of the stories that they are co-creating.

“Their level of engagement in History and English has increased because the students are learning authentically through living history,” he said.

“It is our hope that after this trial project, the Intergenerational Digital Stories project becomes a part of our Year 7 curriculum so that students tangibly continue to learn about their world and our society from the older generation.”  

Adding another generation to the mix, university students from Griffith Film School are following the progress of the project and filming a short documentary to showcase the importance of intergenerational relationships in our society.

The project will be capped off on Saturday, 30th July at 12pm at Faith Lutheran College with the students presenting their final presentations to Westhaven residents, friends, family and community members.