Towards an intergenerational society

Towards an intergenerational society
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Josep Anglada, a 19-year-old student from Menorca, has been living with María Teresa, a 96-year-old from Barcelona, for more than two years.

When I get to the house, which I walked to with Josep, Maria Teresa gets up from her chair, where she has been watching TV, to receive me with a wide smile and words of welcome. Teresa is very chatty and tells me that she has been a language teacher all her life and that her grandchildren speak more than four languages fluently.

For a little over four years now the Barcelonan has been taking part in the Viure i Conviure (‘Living and Living Together’ in Catalan) programme, run by the Roure Foundation in Barcelona. The aim of the programme is to foster relationships between young and old and promote new models of relationships that are beneficial for both sides. This plan, whereby young people – almost always students – choose to share a home with someone who could easily be their grandparent, is not exactly novel.

The world pioneer of intergenerational programmes was the activist and founder of Gray Panthers, Maggie Kuhn, who began in 1972 in the US. Today Homeshare has taken up Kuhn’s baton, with numerous programmes inside and outside the US.

In Spain there are a range of intergenerational programmes on offer in numerous cities: Vitoria, Salamanca, Madrid, Valencia and Seville, among others. The majority, 62 per cent, are managed by a university. The rest are managed by governments and public institutions, and only 6 per cent by non-profit organisations, although these process more than 50 per cent of the total annual home shares.

The Viure i Conviure programme began its journey in 1996, and much of its success is due to the team and the work of the psychologists, who are responsible for conducting interviews with young and old and ensure that the pairings are a good fit.


Josep and Teresa do the laundry together. Intergenerational solidarity not only consists of supporting the elderly, but also of providing them with the conditions that enable them to participate in and contribute to the development and welfare of society.

Photo: Juan Luis Rod

To make sure that home sharing works for both of them, they set out the basic rules on timetables, cleaning, cooking, etc.

We all know that one of the problems of today’s society is the lack of time. We are short of time for everything, and including our families, and because we have such confidence in our family relationships we tend not to pay enough attention to our elders. The advantage of the programme is precisely this: as they are not family members, both strive to meet their commitments and the follow-up by the organisations is particularly important, to check that both sides are satisfied with what they have previously agreed to.


At 96, Teresa gets up every morning at 7:00 to go to daily mass at 8:30. It is the only time she gets out of the house, except at weekends when one of her children comes to pick her up to take her to eat with them and see her grandchildren.

Photo: Juan Luis Rod

Sometimes Teresa complains of eyestrain. And that’s when Josep joins the conversation, to scold her affectionately because she reads too much and at her age, he says, her eyesight is no longer up to it. “She is an inveterate reader, she started this book just a week ago and see how far she has got…”, Josep tells me, showing me the book The Four Names of God, by José Vicente Rodríguez –which has more than 500 pages.

Teresa likes to stay active and busy. When she gets back from Mass she makes breakfast to recover her strength. Her morning routine also includes reading the newspapers and walking around the house. When she gets tired, she sits down for a while to watch TV.


As she opens a big box where she keeps photographs that more or less summarise her whole life, Teresa remembers how hard it was to live through the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and that she and her husband had a very bad time in the beginning.

Photo: Juan Luis Rod

“They were different times and it was very difficult for people ... on both sides, whole families divided because of the war. People didn’t have enough to eat and they went hungry. I remember going to people’s houses asking for bread so that I could eat something,” she says.


“I love living with Teresa, I think that coming from an island (Menorca) also helps. Islanders have a calmer nature, we have a different rhythm and that makes day to day living with others easier. Being a little more carefree and having that ability to adapt to almost everything helps us have a very good relationship and we both learn from each other.”

Photo: Juan Luis Rod

Josep is doing a degree in Nautical and Maritime Transport to become a merchant navy pilot, and also plans to do a master’s degree so that he can become a captain in the merchant navy. To build up some savings, he combines his studies with a private security guard course so that he can work in this sector during the summer months.


Josep prepares dinner, a moment he shares every evening with Teresa.

Photo: Juan Luis Rod

Intergenerational living has great potential as a tool for change in social development policies. It is an area of interest for many researchers and there are numerous initiatives being carried out worldwide on this subject. The central idea is that, as the Greek philosopher Aristotle said, the human being “is a social being by nature.” So relationships and social support are essential in our daily lives when we live in society.


Teresa reads the newspaper to keep up with what is happening in the world. A couple of times a week a home help comes, whose main responsibility is to do the weekly shopping, cook, and clean the house. She has been working with her for over 35 years, and, as Teresa says, she is part of the family.

Photo: Juan Luis Rod

There are many benefits from these arrangements: older people who participate in intergenerational programmes feel happier than those who, in similar conditions of age and health, do not. In addition, increasing physical, cognitive and social activity can help improve the health of the ageing population, while young people improve their learning, discover new values, and expand their support network.


Teresa and Josep often have a chat, exchanging experiences and anecdotes about what happened during the day, before dinner.

Photo: Juan Luis Rod

These relationships connect people with the past, with the future and with the flow of life. When children and young people have close relationships with older people, younger people have better self-esteem and greater self-awareness.


Elderly people who participate in activities with children and young people can cope better with stress, better tolerate frustration and have a wider perspective on events, and are able to analyse them better and more objectively.

Photo: Juan Luis Rod

Knowing more about intergenerational programmes can open the way to expanding them and improving their management, as well as making them a viable and effective aid faced with an ageing population (reducing health and residential care costs). But they are also as a good solution for thousands of students (although not exclusively) faced with higher housing costs.

This article has been translated from Spanish.