Smile Project

The Smile Project

Since January SELFA and The Dales Care Home in Draughton have been working in partnership on their new ‘Smile Project’. The inspiration behind it was the recent Channel 4 documentary, ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, an intergenerational experiment designed to tackle the increasing problem of loneliness and isolation of older people.

In the documentary, ten pre-schoolers were introduced into a residential care home where a team of psychologists devised a series of activities for them to take part in together. The programme showed them taking part in a six week programme of games, walking, arts and crafts and ending with a school sports day.

A study from the University of Bangor found that intergenerational projects benefit the old and young alike. They found that the children brought “vibrancy and fun” which encouraged the residents to smile and join in with more conversations; whilst the elderly gave the children extra attention and “more opportunities to develop their social and emotional skills.”

Following on from these well documented studies, SELFA and The Dales Care Home decided to embark on a similar journey where a small group of children would visit residents once a month for mutual friendship and support. SELFA Staff and the trained care home team organised a programme of activities that would aid interaction and build relationships. So far, the children, residents and staff have taken part in baking and decorating cookies together, joined in with tasting games and activities, and made bird feeders.

After just three sessions the innovative Smile project appears to be benefitting those taking part.

Dawn Johnson, General Manager of The Dales, who facilitates the project said:

“I became Manager of the home in May 2018 and was interested in bringing  another dimension to the home with some intergenerational work.  It has been great to work with SELFA and see the joy on our residents faces. The atmosphere when they are engaged with the children is fantastic and the relationship building is beautiful to see. Our residents look forward to the children coming as it really brightens up their day.”

Lucy Short, SELFA Activity Coordinator, who initiated the project commented:

“The Smile Project has been a fantastic opportunity for our younger children to meet and work with some of the elderly people in our community. Most of the children involved really struggle to communicate and this affects their ability to build and maintain friendships. However, after lots encouragement, it has been wonderful to watch friendships blossom between the two generations and see the children’s excitement to visit their new friends. I am super proud of them for bringing their enthusiasm and their enormous amount of energy to the care home.”

Parents are also noticing how the Smile project has benefitted their children. One parent said:

“My son loves his trips out with the Smile Project – he always goes and returns with a smile on his face.  He is not very good at communicating but we have noticed that after these visits he tries hard to explain all that he has been doing and how much fun it was.”

So far, the Smile Project has had a positive impact on old and young alike – to follow our Smile Project journey follow SELFA on Facebook @SELFAChildrensCharity.

The full article of the Bangor University study can be found on

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