Youngsters to take part in YOPEY Befriender scheme to tackle society's neglect of the elderly

More than 20 Watford sixth-formers are taking part in a befriending scheme in the town that could be an answer to "our national shame".

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, blasted British society's neglect of its elderly and called upon the country to learn from other cultures where the young are better at supporting the old.

The government minister is going to be invited to visit a trial scheme in Watford where the young are already supporting the old.

The YOPEY Befriender scheme is being run by the Young People of the Year organisation, which promotes positive behaviour by the younger generation.

Students of St Michael's Catholic High School, in High Elms Lane, and Francis Combe Academy, in Horseshoe Lane, have joined the scheme, along with Lancaster Court care home in High Road, Leavesden.

Fifteen sixth-formers from St Michael's and ten from Francis Combe have signed up to visit the elderly at Lancaster Court until Easter.

During this time, the 16 to 18-year-olds will befriend residents at the home, which cares for about 80 people, many of whom have dementia.

The young people have been given training on how to relate to the elderly, including those with different forms of the disease that brings about severe memory loss, confusion and frustration.

They have been offered a range of volunteering, from simply talking and playing with the elderly through developing aids that will help the home care for the residents, to helping out in the kitchens and gardens.

Rhiann Kandola, a Francis Combe sixth-former, said: "I got a good amount of information about dementia and how you would start conversations to get some progress."

Tim Enriquez, in year 12 at St Michael's, said: "I hope to achieve a strong bond with others from whatever age group as well as give them a smile on their face. As a youngster I aim to help and respect my elders in whatever way I can."

YOPEY founder, Tony Gearing, who is personally overseeing the scheme as the first of their kind in the UK, said: "We have been blown away by the sixth-formers’ enthusiasm. They have been offered a range of opportunities to suit all abilities and levels of confidence, and grabbed it with both hands.

"I am particularly keen on the life histories where a young person will work one-to-one with an elderly person to record their lives in pictures and words. This can draw out the elderly person¹s likes and dislikes and help the home to care for them.

"Many of the young people have said they are willing to do this with residents with dementia, which poses extra challenges. But they want to give it a go and that is courageous and fantastic."

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