Edinburgh friendship project is inspiring city’s old and young

Liz Mouat with Struan colouring in.
Liz Mouat with Struan colouring in.
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There is more than 80 years between them. But age is no barrier to a friendship between 88-year-old Mary Aitchinson and four-year-old Olivia.

The duo have been paired up as part of a new project teaming nursery children with residents at retirement home Claycot Park in Corstorphine.

The four- and five-year-olds from Gylemuir Primary School Nursery spend every week with residents, playing with Lego, blowing bubbles and other activities which are having a positive impact on both parties.

It is hoped that the pilot will be used to encourage other schools and sheltered housing developments to get involved and forge links between the age groups.

Mary Aitchinson, who is blind, says she has thoroughly enjoyed her weekly meet-ups with Olivia.

She says: “It is just lovely to spend this time with the children. Olivia reminds me very much of my granddaughter, who has just left to go to university.

“While I do still get out and about, having these meet-ups is one of the highlights of my week; the children are always so happy and enthusiastic – it makes me feel young again!”

The groups have been bonding through a range of fun tasks including Lego building, bubble blowing and colouring in which has helped some children express themselves.

Gylemuir Primary School Nursery teacher Mrs Johnstone says: “The children thoroughly enjoy coming to Claycot Park every Friday and spending time with their older friends.

“It is rather special that the children keep choosing the same older friend that they chose the previous week, and it has really helped some of the more quiet children come out of their shells. At the first meet-up, Jayden was very shy and didn’t say much to his older friend, Bill. But now, after only three weeks, they are the best of friends, cracking jokes and talking about their lives.

“These activity mornings have been so successful that we have a waiting list of pupils who want to come along!”

Each meet-up begins with the children singing a welcome song to the retirees after which everyone is given a name badge and each child chooses their “older friend” for that morning’s activities.

With three weeks of the pilot still remaining, it is hoped the meetings with the 58 residents at the Corstorphine housing development continue into next year with plans to expand the groups in size to get more children involved.

Claycot Park Sheltered Housing manager Sarah Montgomery said: “The huge smiles on the resident’s faces after the meet-ups are encouragement enough to continue the project. It is just a lovely thing for everyone involved.”

Reverend Moira McDonald, minister of Corstorphine Old Parish, helped to arrange the meetings after being approached by Gylemuir Primary’s deputy head teacher Mrs Sophie Lowe.

Parents have also expressed their support for the pilot project. Karen Callaghan says: “My daughter is already looking forward to next week’s activity. I am so pleased she is enjoying her time with her older friend at Claycot Park.”

Jade Finlayson says: “It’s such a great thing for the kids and for the community.”