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Opinion

Paul McNamee: We have to look to the past to shape the future

We can all learn something from the joyous Channel 4 documentary, Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds

My favourite is Hamish. He has an artificial leg. He began with benign befuddlement and resignation.

“I can’t quite see what great difference it’s going to make,” he said of the trial. He’s 88.

You may well have seen the TV show by now. It’s called Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds. If you have only heard bits, it’s so much better than the reports. It’s a joy.

In brief, a number of residents of St Monica Trust retirement home near Bristol – the majority of whom are well into their 80s – agree to allow a nursery class of four-year-olds in for six weeks. The home will be their playspace, the residents their playmates.

Each of the residents has one or more of the increasing, unforgiving number of issues that ageing brings. Some are facing loneliness, as partners die or are taken by Alzheimer’s. Others are in poor physical health. Hamish, for instance, begins by showing such terrible mobility that he fears putting one foot in front of the other without a stick or another aid.

By the end of the first week he is jumping from his seat in order to roll about on the floor pretending to a be a lion.

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And so it goes.

The experiment is a very good thing. People who stared into a darkening, growing emptiness suddenly had exultant, joyous happiness and noise roar back. Almost 60 per cent of residents in UK nursing homes never receive visitors. The benefits, for resident and child, are manifestly clear.

But there is a secondary motif that has been overlooked. And that is what is lost. One of the residents, a quiet man called David, is 89. He misses his wife desperately. As he talks, simply, about her, he reveals he used to be very active. He led expeditions to the Antarctic. That was over 50 years ago, when, you’d imagine, it was a little harder to do such things. And here he is, quietly expiring.

This is the shame. Everywhere, there are these incredible wells of experience, vast reservoirs of knowledge, lives lived in rich and glorious colour. To leave such resources untapped, to think of them as worthless, is knuckleheaded. These people know things. And it’s a ridiculous situation if we don’t ask.

People who stared into a darkening, growing emptiness suddenly had exultant, joyous happiness and noise roar back

There is a current vogue for pitting the generations against each other in a battle for the future. The rules of engagement are set – look at those baby boomers, those scheming olds, who took all the cheap housing stock, who locked in final-salary pensions, who took all the good jobs and the good money, the free university places, the happiness. They voted for Brexit and left the rest to whistle.

The millennials have been screwed. They are generation rent, there is no job security, no way to plan out of student debt and a life lived on credit. As Johnny Rotten said 40 years ago, no future. And he was a baby boomer…

While it’s clear the future is tricky, to allow this bogus faultline to define the next steps is a foolish move.

Of course, not ALL older people have rich hinterlands and wisdom of the Delphic Oracle. Some toy with Armageddon scares like they’re bantering with golf club cronies.

But there is enough out there for us all to start asking older folk for advice or just the memories. The benefit for us, and them, will be huge.

FOOTBALL’S COMING HOME

There is another story breaking about a mindboggling football transfer. Eighteen-year-old Kylian Mbappé is rumoured to be on the way to Paris Saint Germain to join Neymar. The fee is thought to be £160m. At the same time, because of the huge sums the Neymar transfer brought them, Barcelona are struggling to buy any player for under £100m as other clubs put on the squeeze.

It looks like top-level football is a bloated, greedy, obscene mess that is eventually going to burst. However, there are good things to celebrate.

Last week, Southampton FC, a top Premiership outfit, spent a lot of time helping The Big Issue vendors in their local area. Players, including fan favourites Manolo Gabbiadini and Oriol Romeu, took to the street, donned the tabard, and helped sell the magazine, and raise the profile. It was part of a week-long series of activities between Southampton and The Big Issue that culminated in our special edition being sold as the match programme at the Southampton versus Swansea game.

It doesn’t end here. Southampton are going to keep working with a number of vendors on a special, eight-week employability programme. And we are going to work with the Saints Foundation, the football club’s brilliant charitable arm, as they will refer suitable participants from their outreach programme to sell The Big Issue.

I discovered over recent weeks that they are a great club. And there are other fine clubs out there doing important work in their communities too. In future, I hope The Big Issue opens doors with them as well.
Football can still be of the people. We just need to know where to look. In fact, tell us. Share your stories with us about the work your club is doing in the community. We’ll tell everybody!

Paul McNamee is Editor of The Big Issue; BSME British editor of the year 2016

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