Primary schools should team up with care homes so children and elderly can read to each other

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Every primary school should team up with a care home so children and the elderly can read stories to each other to help heal our “divided nation”, Dame Esther Rantzen has said.

Dame Esther Rantzen DBE has called for the oldest and youngest generations to spend more time together as they can benefit from each others’ experiences.

Dame Esther founded both ChildLine and The Silver Line, which was established in 2012 to combat loneliness in older people.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Dame Esther said: “We live in a divided nation. For once I am not lambasting politicians for this.

“Because I can’t blame them for the divide which I believe causes damaging pain, the gulf between generations. The fact is even the oldest and the youngest need each other. ”

She added: “The old need the young to keep us fit, strong and happy. The young need the old to tell them our stories and stop them stumbling into the same old landmines.”

The 79-year-old journalist and founder of multiple charities referred to a project called Silver Stories primary school pupils – or so-called ‘Silver Readers’ – telephone older people – referred to as ‘Silver Listeners’ once a week and read to them.

“So before Christmas this year,” Dame Esther writes, “I would like to call upon every primary school to contact care homes in their area and ask for Silver Listeners.

“To be read to once a week is a pleasure. When you are deprived of children’s company, to be read to by six-year-olds is a special joy.”

Dame Esther gave the example of 86-year-old Doris who suffers with osteo-arthritis, meaning she cannot stand nor walk and who lives in a care home near Manchester which is mainly full of dementia-sufferers.

She spends most of her time crocheting, reading and doing puzzles. Her son lives in New Zealand, her daughter lives 150 miles away and her husband died 14-years-ago.

Doris says she misses the company of children and described Silver Stories as “a joy, [which] I’m very grateful” for, adding that she looks forward to hearing from the children every week.

According to data from Age UK published last year, the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6.

This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/7 – a 49 per cent increase in 10 years, and experts warn that this figure will continue to rise.

Dame Esther has previously spoken out about the severe impact loneliness can have on old people.

“Some of the saddest conversations I have ever had were on Christmas Day for the past six years, speaking to older people who spent Christmas on their own with only the occasional phone call to break the silence in their homes,” she said.

Last year she claimed that old people were not as well-treated as animals because they are “not cuddly enough”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Schools have the flexibility to provide extracurricular activities for their pupils, including volunteering in their community, and we fully support them doing so.”