THE type of experiment that has so captivated viewers of Channel 4’s Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds is also making waves in Hexham.

Now in its second series, the programme’s guiding question is ‘what happens when pre-schoolers and pensioners learn together?’

Will the memories, mobility and indeed the mood of the latter be improved? The long and the short of it is, will they remain more active for longer?

We have watched the sweetest of friendships blossom between four-year-old Scarlett and 84-year-old Beryl.

We have been entertained, one sports day, by the fierce rivalry that broke out between Sylvia, who at 102 was born during the First World War, and Ken, who is her ‘junior’ by 15 years.

Together, old ‘uns and young ‘uns face up to a number of specific challenges. Will they return from the supermarket with what they need and answer, along the way, one of the four-year-old’s questions – do chickens have belly buttons?

How will they negotiate a journey by tram? And will they all manage to get out of the maze set for them as a memory test? Hopes weren’t high for 81-year-old Lavinia.

While the Intergenerational Project launched by the Chrysalis dementia support group in Hexham has its differences in practise, the underlying premise is the same: young children and senior citizens are good for each other.

Manager of the project and the person responsible for promoting Chrysalis generally, Penny Wallace, said: “It’s a bit different here to what people are seeing on the TV.

“There, the children are going into a care home set-up and the adults are older people not necessarily with a diagnosis of dementia.

“As a result, we do think we are being rather pioneering here.”

The project began with three special lessons for six children at Hexham First School. The way was paved with information about the older people they would be meeting, what dementia is and how it affects people.

They have since enjoyed two of the five Intergenerational gatherings, at the Adapt Centre on Burn Lane, planned for this term.

Wendy Camsey wears two hats at Chrysalis, as art tutor and general volunteer. She said: “We had the first session mid-October, when we had the six children, four members of Chrysalis, three carers and two volunteers, as well as myself and (part-time co-ordinator) Debbie.”

“So, there’s enough people!” said Penny. “But not so many it starts to feel like a classroom rather than a social event.”

Already experienced in teaching art to children, Wendy has drawn immense satisfaction in her multi-generational challenge.

“You need to find something that challenges and engages them,” she said, “but avoids them just getting their heads down and concentrating on the art alone.

“It’s about encouraging them to talk to each other and to work as a team.”

So it is that one such piece of artwork began with the Chrysalis member holding down a plastic cup, while their young companion drew around it.

Colouring in the shapes they’d created together gave each pair the space and time to talk without either having to make a conscious effort to do so.

Lola Plumb, who joined the team as part-time co-ordinator just a couple of months ago, chips in with: “Doing something as simple as that quickly forms bonds.

“You do get some weird answers though when you ask ‘why do you like that person?’ One child said ‘because I fit under her chin’.

“It was lovely at the end of the session. The children were asking ‘will I see you next time?’”

Wendy testifies to the natural strength of the bond between old and young.

“There were children there who are fairly quiet usually, but they got chatting to their (Chrysalis) partner really quickly – they were drawing each other out.”

She hadn’t actively organised the members and children into pairs. That had evolved of its own accord. “It just fell into a pattern,” she said.

In an activity they are doing next time, they will draw around each other’s hands, with their thumbs touching. “On each finger, they should write what they like doing.

“The child might say Play Station or riding their bike, the member might say gardening or reading, but then they might find they both like music or watching TV.

“It’s making those connections, establishing what they have in common, that’s important. It gives them something to start talking about, and quite quickly the conversation becomes natural between them.”

It was a win-win set-up, because the member was happy to have a child there and the child liked having their ‘own’ adult.

And because the children had done the course at school beforehand, they were very aware that ‘their’ person needed a little bit of help.

“It puts that child in the position of helping and that gives them confidence too,” said Wendy.

Ironically, the fact the past is easier to remember than the present gives all involved a readily accessible topic of conversation – school and school days and memories of quirky teachers, choice school lunches and games they played in the school yard.

If the stars align, the project will be repeated in the spring and summer terms next year.

Natalie Harrison, acting headteacher of Hexham First School, said: “Our Year 4 pupils have really benefited from this dementia project and wear their dementia friendly badges with great pride.

“Through working with Chrysalis, we have developed excellent community links around a sensitive issue that is likely to affect many of us in our lifetimes.”

Chrysalis itself meets on Monday and Wednesday afternoons at the Torch Centre on Corbridge Road. Singing, pottery, gardening, golf and archery, as well as art, are the staple activities.

An important element is the inclusion of the members’ families and carers.

It is recognised that all parties need an outlet. A cup of coffee with others going down the same road can work wonders at the monthly Family Members Support Group meetings – at the very least, it cuts through the sense of isolation.

And as for the Chrysalis members themselves, well, there is a myriad of day trips organised by experienced hand Liz Tait. It’s true to say they fair criss-cross the North-East, visiting places such as Boundary Mill in Newcastle, the Bird of Prey Centre at Kielder and, of course, garden centres galore.

Anyone who would like to get in touch can do so by emailing: