Making connections across generations

A group of children from a play centre were fascinated by older people when they had morning tea recently at a rest home in Palmerston North.

Wheelchair users look bemused at youngsters.

“It was really special to watch the small children go up to somebody in a wheelchair and touch their hand, to see their smile, because a lot of children don’t have grandparents,” says Age Concern’s Robyn Baker.

The focus on bringing the generations together and creating an age-friendly community motivates the social worker who is already planning another such event.

“The feedback has been amazing, it’s been really positive.

“The rest care facility wants to do it again and the play centre are very grateful for our interaction so it’s just bringing young and old together.”

Ms Baker hopes to expand the morning teas to other parts of the city.

“One of my goals is to work within all the areas in Palmerston North.

“If we can touch base with play centres and kindergartens we can actually connect them to rest care facilities within their environments.”

The Age Concern manager is also part of a new group which plans to transform Palmerston North into an age-friendly city.

Age-friendly city

The infrastructure is largely there with good lighting, wide footpaths and kerbs with access for all, from mothers using prams to those in wheelchairs, but social connections are just as important.

“We work a lot with social isolation and elder abuse so how can we reduce risk? How can we be the ambulance at the top of the cliff for people?” asks Ms Baker.

“That’s about information and communication, social housing, transportation, social participation and respect, social inclusion.

“How can we make a community that’s for our young and our old, working together as a community?”

Lew and Robyn at café

City councillor Lew Findlay, (left with Robyn) is also behind the age-friendly project.

He would like to ensure better connections between church groups, Age Concern, Grey Power and others helping those over 65.

“It’s very fragmented; you have…lots of different organisations all helping or representing older people but there’s …no connection between them," he says.

“To me, the first step in an age-friendly city is the networking between older people’s groups and bringing them together.”

Once that’s set up, he believes the gap between generations should be tackled.

“The next step, of course, is going to be a huge step forward to do – bringing in other age groups, relating teenagers to older people.

“The relationship between the generations has been broken down – that vision of a family is no longer there – grandparents are in Invercargill or Australia or Timbuktu or wherever.”

On the streets at night in Palmerston North are volunteers, including Mr Findlay, who reach out to teens.

“We go out on the streets at night, give out food, drinks, stuff like that, and our older volunteers are phenomenal, how the young ones are attracted to them, to want to talk to them.

“We’ve got one lady who’s 86 years old and at 4 o’clock in the morning, she’ll be sitting there talking to some of these young kids who have never ever related to an older person in the way that Trudy relates to them.

“She was a prisoner of war in World War 2 in Java – she’s telling these kids – ‘this did happen, it’s not a lie, this is what happens, I was there and I saw it.’ And these kids are sitting there going ‘Really? Is that true?’ And they’ll come in looking for Trudy and know what nights she’s on because they want to talk to her.”

It stops the teenagers from feeling quite so on their own.

Ending social isolation

Kindergarten children enjoyed the interaction with older people

Robyn Baker wants to see connections between young and old

Social isolation doesn’t just affect some of the younger generation, who may be without family support, but it’s also a growing issue for older people, says Ms Baker.

Like many, a friend of hers in her 80s, was on her own as her family all lived overseas.

“She was incredibly lonely, she was actually a woman in the community, she belonged to some groups but she was lonely, she was socially isolated.

“It’s to be able to connect those people with other supports, networking in the community to break down those social barriers.

“That stigma that we get unfortunately with our aged care sector, that they’re just old people. That’s not ok – where do we get that we become just old people?”

Creating the connections can be rewarding.

Lew Findlay says years ago, his son had a learning disability which left him at the bottom three of the class but a retired accountant changed that when he volunteered to help with remedial reading at the school.

“He taught my son phonics, something old-fashioned and not done. My son ended up in high school being the top reader in his class because this man spent two years with him teaching him to be able to read.”

Recently the councillor spoke at a retirement village.

“I was talking about that experience and that man was there, and he got up and cried his eyes out, so it happens.

“He tangata, he tangata, he tangata – [it is people, it is people, it is people] and when you get people working with people, miracles will happen.”

Mr Findlay says retired teachers, accountants, lawyers and others have so much to offer, and one proposal being thought about is setting up a community centre in the city

“You’ll find people bring their kids along, [they’ll] get used to dealing with older people, get used to hearing older people – they’re not those strange grey-haired people any more; that’s that nice man who helped my son.

“It’s getting the interaction going – we’re working on it, we’re working on it.”

Both share a vision of a community driven age-friendly city.

“People will be able to interact with each other and feel really comfortable doing that, and as social services, we don’t work in isolation – we work together as teams so we can all be working together,” says Ms Baker.

“Age-friendly cities is not just working with older people – it is working with all the generations and getting the generations to work together,” says Mr Findlay.

“There’s generations of lost contact there that we have to rebuild.

“There’s a saying I’ve come across which I absolutely adore, ‘It takes an ant a long time to eat an elephant but in the end, it will eat it one bite at a time.’ Let’s just look what’s in front of us and take care of that first.”    


Who can help

There are many places you can go to if you are feeling lonely, or recommend to a person feeling lonely.

Organisation name What do they do?

Neighbourhood Support

Neighbourhood Support works closely with the Police and many other organisations in their respective communities to reduce crime, improve safety and prepare to deal with emergencies and natural disasters.

Neighbourhood Support has groups that allow people to share information, ideas and insights.

Age Concern - Accredited Visiting Service

Age Concern runs the Accredited Visiting Service (AVS), a service to reduce levels of social isolation and loneliness. This service is available to people 65 and over.


MenzSheds are spread around the country and provide a space for older men to share their skills and work on practical tasks individually or as a group.

You can find the nearest MenzShed to you on their national website.


For some people who have family or friends living far away, the use of online technology can be a great way to stay in touch and access important information to improve wellbeing.

Your local SeniorNet can help you stay in touch. Learn to use the computer, the internet, skype (video messaging) and email.


Probus clubs are designed to

  • keep minds active
  • expand interests and
  • provide fun, interesting activities and fellowship for retired and semi-retired professionals and business people.


The RSA was formed in New Zealand in 1916 by returning Anzacs during World War One to provide support and comfort for service men and women and their families.

Today RSA has 105,000 members throughout New Zealand. People join the RSA because their parents or grandparents did, because they want to connect with the values that RSA fosters, because it’s a great place to socialise.

University of the Third Age

University of the Third Age (U3A) groups are social and cultural gatherings for people in retirement or semi-retirement.

Each U3A is autonomous, promoting healthy ageing by sharing educational, creative, leisure activities organised by their own members. There is no qualification for membership and no degrees or diplomas are awarded; activities are for stimulation in an informal friendly atmosphere.

Ethnic organisations

Shanti Niwas Charitable Trust

TOA Pacific

Asian Family Services

Chinese New Settlers Services Trust

There are a number of ethnic organisations providing support to older people.

Many are in the Auckland region. These include: Shanti Niwas (Indian), TOA Pacific (Pacific people), Chinese New Settlers Services Trust and the Korean Positive Ageing Society.

Asian Family Services have a phone number you can call for information. Their hotline is available in Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean and Japanese.

Napier Connects

Napier Connects is a project that has developed a big group of community-based activities to initially combat social isolation in the Napier Community. Their events range from a social walking group to a “Knowledge Bank” where different generations come together to share practicial skills such as baking, knitting and carpentry.

You can read more about Napier Connects' activities at on the Ministry of Social Development website

Other organisations

Rural Women

St John’s Caring Caller service

Red Cross (Meals on Wheels)

Organisations also working on these issues include Rural Women, the Returned Services Association, St Johns, the Red Cross and various clubs and societies.