Grand designs for working older adults

By Gigi Eligoloff

Childcarer and neighbour Anna (57) has been taking care of the school run for Kathryn (42) and her son for over a year. Social enterprise GrandNanny looks to solve our childcare crisis and showcase the value of the over 50’s workforce with one simple business model.

With ever-soaring childcare costs and a constant battle for places at ‘good nurseries’ up and down the country, isn’t it time we recognised the older adults-shaped answer right under our noses?

If you’re over 50, you’ve done things in your life that you bring along as experience to benefit the family you work with — Connie, 63, GrandNanny

Childcarers Connie (63) and Margie (62) meet up for coffee and share their experiences of working with GrandNanny.

The US, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands have been enjoying the benefits of intergenerational programmes since the 1970s, but here in the UK we’ve been rather slower to the party. The launch of the UK’s first co-located nursery and nursing home in 2017 was followed by Channel 4’s 2018 documentary ‘Old people’s home for 4 year olds’. Both innovative projects began to open the UK’s eyes to the benefits of intergenerational connections but the pandemic stalled the growth of such projects along with everything else. Now with a new year and fresh hope that the worst of the pandemic may just be behind us, it could be time for the UK to really wake up to the benefits of this approach.  Social enterprise GrandNanny addresses the problems of finding great childcare and providing suitable part-time employment for older adults as well.

Connecting generations in communities benefits everyone. Take for example Connie who is 63 and a star in the making at GrandNanny. Connie’s CV is impressive. An ex-Embassy worker, London Fire Brigade Administrator, Charity Patron and children’s author with an MA in Early Childhood Studies. Passionate about raising the next generation she’s also an old-hand at parenting with nine of her own children and ten grandchildren. Connie is currently working part-time for a local family caring for their two young children. She picks the children up from a local school and nursery and takes them back to the family home where they spend the evening doing arts and crafts, reading and making food together. Everyday is different depending on what the children she’s working with want to do:

The fact that you’re making a child’s day – keeping them happy and busy – makes this a very special job. In fact, it doesn’t feel like work at all — Connie, 63, GrandNanny

Rather than just focussing on providing good childcare and part time work for over-50’s, the business puts the emphasis firmly on tapping into the wealth of ‘grand experience’ that comes from employing older adults. This is about enriching a child’s life with the wisdom, patience and life experience of trustworthy older adults in their community. The benefits of these kinds of intergenerational connections are as valuable for the families involved, as for the workers. At GrandNanny, they are wrapping the scientific benefits of intergenerational programmes into a practical part-time childcare service. At the same time, they are exploring the value of the work in relation to an increased sense of wellbeing in their workforce.

A GrandNanny Coffee morning with the team and older Childcarers. From left: Adele Aitchison (GrandNanny Founder), Margery Williams, Clare Marchbanks, Hayley Biley, Constance Ajilore.

Our early research suggests that taking a childcare job in later life could support mental, physical and social wellbeing. We have a hunch that one understudied facet of well being – ‘eudaimonic wellbeing’ – is at play here too — Adele Aitchison, GrandNanny Founder

As Adele explains, “Eudaimonic well being equates to psychological wellbeing or how meaningful an individual considers their life to be. It includes self-discovery, a sense of purpose and meaning in life”.

All this and a decent part-time wage too. What’s not to like? And for the children themselves studies have shown marked improvements in areas such as reading, self-esteem, confidence and empathy. Families gain access to local experienced help with raising their children, the GrandNanny model really does sound like an intergenerational win-win-win.

As Connie puts it:

It’s not about being a biological mother, but about bringing your passion, your experience, your skills, your love and your warmth to the children that you’re working with. That’s what makes you grand

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