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Generations share lives in the old people’s home for school students

The world is poorer with so few opportunities for older and younger people to meet and share their experiences and stories.

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A new project is helping bridge a generation gap, bringing older generations together with young teens to better foster understanding of one another.

The Bolton Clarke Research Institute project saw residents of the southeast Queensland Westhaven Retirement Village join in a digital storytelling project with students at Plainland's Faith Lutheran College.

For 88-year-old Neville Brown, it was a revelation. Neville grew up in an era when children should be seen but not heard, so he was excited to tell the young ones a thing or two.

Instead, the conversations Neville had with his five new buddies had a profound impact on him.

"I was blown away by their maturity at 13, their self-esteem, and self-motivation too,” he told ABC News.

The Year 7 students were amazed at his tales of his own school life, from being tapped on his fingers with a piece of bamboo for misbehaviour and how he learnt to write.

"They do their school work on a computer, so when I told them I did mine on a slate and a blackboard, they couldn't quite get it," he said. 

Never too late to learn

The students were impressed when Neville shared the skills he had acquired in middle age.

"I was 47 when I learnt ice skating, I had a skating partner, and after four years, there were ten dances we could do on the ice."

He’s also exploring his artistic abilities. "I'm doing mostly acrylic [paintings] but a little watercolour as well," he explained.

What the students think

Year 7 student Jacob Sippell said spending time with Neville provided insightful tips on how to live.  

"You take your time and do what you love, and you don't rush your time here because you don't know what's going to happen, and there's always a surprise around the bend." 

For Darcy Keys, Neville's memories of the changing decades imparted the importance of having resilience.  

"Somehow, he still managed to get through it. He went through lots of hard times, but he didn't give up, and he encouraged me to not give up."  

Classmate Claire Hopper said her takeaway was learning there was real value in earning your living.  

"I think it would have been rewarding because everything wasn't handed to you on a silver platter, and he had to work hard to achieve what he has become today." 

Having shared this with Neville, 11-year-old Alice De May now knows there is no age barrier for doing the things you love.  

"I learned that no matter how old you are, you've got to give it a shot. Neville was 40 when he started ice skating and about 50 when he started horse riding."  

For Neville Brown, the end of the project taught him that the way the media portrays young people isn't the whole story, and their voices have as much right to be heard as everyone else.  

"With a school like this bringing up these children, they're kind, humble and have creativity and courage. If there's more of these types of schools and children around, our little Australia is in good hands," he said. 

For further reading: ABC 

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