Mahana Stories

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Mahana Stories of intergenerational connection during the COVID-19 pandemic.



The restrictions imposed on New Zealanders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic gave many people a new experience of social isolation. Unfortunately we know this is a day to day reality for many older people. With formal services suspended or fundamentally altered, and anecdotal accounts of people increasingly reaching out to their neighbours, we sought to understand the impact of social distancing on intergenerational connection, as well as the roles older and younger people have been playing in supporting each other. The stories that follow were developed alongside and based on the accounts of those who generously shared their experiences and perspectives with us - young and old, from diverse backgrounds and living in a range of situations and locations across Aotearoa / New Zealand. They should not be thought of as individual stories but anonymised narratives which aim to shine a light on the experiences of those we spoke to, and what was important to them during this time. Through sharing these stories and insights, we hope to bring some less frequently heard voices to the conversation about how we can move forward better together, whatever the future may hold and whatever your role might be in making this a reality. In the words of one of our co-designers:

'It's about moving towards each other...having the conversations and telling the stories'

For further information on this project, or to explore the implications of what we’ve heard for your particular context, please contact emily.preston@innovationunit.org


Whose stories are these? What can we learn from them? Each of the stories in this pack represent a group of people who spoke to us. They are not intended to represent the experience of all New Zealanders. They do however raise questions about how we build, support and value intergenerational connection and what we might do differently whatever our role or interest in this area. John’s story draws on conversations with older people living active, connected, independent lives in urban environments. While comfortable connecting online, they found lockdown had a substantial impact on their social connectedness, taking away access to the places and spaces where they found connection. How might we enable places and spaces of safe connection during a time of pandemic?

Nikau’s story draws on conversations with a diverse group of rangatahi / young people and those working closely with young people across Aotearoa / New Zealand. How might we acknowledge the power and encourage the development of ‘grandparent’ relationships - biological or not?

Aroha’s story draws on conversations we had with wahine and tāne in rural communities with strong community responses to COVID19. These mostly younger people mobilised their communities to quickly and effectively pool available resources and take care of those most vulnerable to the virus How might communities be supported and resourced to respond to the needs of their members in a way that works for them?


Peter & Susan’s story draws on conversations with older people living in their own homes in towns and cities across Aotearoa / New Zealand. These were people who were generally fit and active and either had strong relationships with neighbours or built neighbourhood connections during lockdown. How might we sustain the desire, confidence and space to reach out and connect as life returns to its normal pace?

Pat & Chris’ story draws on conversations with older people from across New Zealand who are living in their own homes while accessing services to support their independence, as well as those who provided informal services to older people over lockdown. What additional supports made available during lockdown led to additional positive impact, and how might we sustain / amplify these?

Ramesh’s story draws on conversations with elders from the Hindu community in Auckland relating to their own experiences and those of the wider community. How might we ensure that information, services and support are reaching people who do not have access to digital channels, speak languages other than English or have other accessibility needs?

Interviews and codesign sessions were led by Emily Preston and Ezekiel Raui Illustrations by Carol Green.


I’ve always been active socially - I live in the city so there’s always something going on and I have a good circle of friends of all ages. When lockdown hit I set up online activities so we could still connect. It was fine - I’m perfectly able to use the technology and it wasn’t too strange once we all got used to it.

John

As the weeks went on I found myself missing people, physical contact. I was craving real connection. Zoom is fine, but it didn’t quite do the job. One day I decided I had to do something so I went for a drive further than I was supposed to but I really felt I had to. I bumped into someone I knew and had a bit of a chat at the supermarket. That made a big difference for me.

Inner city living doesn’t encourage connection, Living in an apartment you have all the security but you can’t bump into people. It’s very isolating if you’re not going out. All the places I would usually connect with like-minded people were closed - the theatres, art galleries etc.

Going back into lockdown was even harder. We’d just started to get back to normal and it was a shock, especially because we were separated from the rest of the country so that feels very different. I wonder about how we can use those places that became hubs for us - the ‘essential’ places as a point of connection. You heard about people putting postcards into neighbours’ letterboxes or having beers at the end of their driveways but what about those people who don’t have neighbours? Or driveways? We’re still going to the supermarket at least.


What can we take from this story? Reflections: Intergenerational connections, like most relationships, are often founded on shared interests. Places and spaces which attract like-minded people are important in keeping people connected While online connection can be helpful, it is not sufficient for many people to avoid feeling isolated. This is true even for those people with the skills to use it effectively. We know housing design has a significant impact on social connectedness. This was exacerbated during lockdown where incidental or passing connections were especially important.

What questions does this raise for our approach to pandemics? If social isolation is a strong enough driver to cause people to go against guidance they both understand and agree with, how might we acknowledge and meet this basic human need? How might we enable places and spaces of connection to be created or maintained throughout a pandemic? Where people live without whÄ nau, neighbours, and out of sight of ‘services,’ how might we ensure they are visible and supported?

What questions does this raise for a more connected future? How might we... create more spaces where older and younger people come together organically and can connect around shared interests? ensure connection, as well as security, is considered when designing housing, particularly housing for older people? enable people to connect organically, in spite of spaces and places which are not designed for connection.


My grandparents are really special to me. I’ve always been able to talk to them about anything and they gave me somewhere I could learn and grow, especially when things weren’t great at home. When uni closed and I had to come home for lockdown I found that hard and I lost my way a bit. Luckily my grandparents are pretty tech-savvy so we could stay in touch but I did miss being able to visit them. As soon as I was able to, I moved over to stay with them. They got me back on track. I just think grandparents think differently than parents on how to support us as young people.

.They give a different. .perspective that helps. .me.understand.the world. .and.myself.a little better. They give me a level of connection to my whakapapa: where I’m from and who I am, and that makes me feel more confident in myself.

Nikau

When I stay with them I’m able to support them with more physical tasks around the house. At the same time they’re always teaching me practical skills - from gardening to cooking and managing my money and studies. We take care of each other and I love that I have the chance to give them something back. I wish more people would set aside time each day, week and month to spend with their grandparents. It doesn’t even need to be their own grandparents, just being with the elderly, having a laugh and conversation as much as supporting and caring for them.


What can we take from this story? Reflections: The connection between rangatahi / young people and kaumātua / older people often has a special quality: warm, non-judgemental and nurturing. Grandparent figures (whether biological or not) can create a safe and comfortable environment to express feelings and work through challenges Kaumātua and Kuia can provide vital connections to whakapapa by sharing stories and kōrero with rangatahi

What questions does this raise for our approach to pandemics? Should a more holistic approach to ‘safety’ be encouraged when people consider what ‘bubbles’ will sustain them through a lockdown period? The perspectives of older people can be helpful to younger people when going through times of stress. How might we draw on this wisdom to build our resilience and help us get through together?

What questions does this raise for a more connected future? How might we... prioritise the reconnection of rangatahi with kaumatua and kuia? make space for shared and reciprocal conversations, fun and laughter rather than just support and care? acknowledge the power and encourage the development of these grandparental relationships, including where these are non-biological?


As soon as COVID hit we got together to figure out how we could support our kaumātua and kuia. In our community the majority are Māori, most are over 60. We needed our own plan for our community in the context of Māoridom.

Aroha

Our intention was to protect older people, the disabled and our babies.

We were stuck on the virus but kaumātua and kuia were coming into the checkpoints to talk. People had family just down the road but they couldn’t visit. They didn’t have a mobile or know how to check their messages so they thought no-one was calling. They thought, ‘nobody needs me,’ and some even considered taking their own lives. So we told them, ‘we need you.’ Our rangatahi were delivering essentials and they were really stoked to do it. We’re a small community everyone knows everyone but not a lot of the rangatahi knew our elderly so it was really cool that they got to build those relationships and that mutual respect.

They would go out to our rural communities and see how they were smoking fish, shelling kinas. They got to taste some and see how they were doing it. That was powerful. We were close before this happened but new relationships have formed and they’ll continue. If they see each other in town they’ll go and say hello. We’re also carrying on with the food deliveries for those people who have been impacted - maybe they’ve lost income through COVID. Safety means more than just protection from the virus - we need to be culturally safe and emotionally and physically connected.


What can we take from this story? Reflections: Knowing the people gives communities a really strong start to respond quickly and appropriately. Something as simple as having a list of kaumātua and kuia meant they knew who they needed to reach and how. The communities this story reflects mobilised quickly and effectively as they already had strong connections, were united in the desire to keep people safe, and had strong leadership and organisation. In some cases COVID19 contributed to a loss of identity and purpose, particularly where older people shifted from being active in service of their whānau or community to a more one-way relationship of being ‘protected’.

What questions does this raise for our approach to pandemics? Where communities are actively and effectively managing their own response, how might they be supported and resourced to do so in a way that works for them? What role might ‘vulnerable’ people play as part of the response? How might their unique skills, experience and perspectives most powerfully and safely contribute?

What questions does this raise for a more connected future? How might we... How might we balance the desire to protect, with the need to recognise and respect older people’s autonomy and choice How might we ensure ‘knowing the people’ is central to all interactions with older people How might we make sure the safeguards that give older people confidence in their safety (e.g. in relation to data) don’t become ‘red tape’ that hinders action?


When I grew up we knew all our neighbours - that was just how life was. Today, particularly in bigger cities, people have no idea who lives next door to them. People are so busy. We got really lucky with our neighbours - they’re a lovely couple. We have a lot in common and we just clicked from day one. It has to happen naturally - you can’t force it. We have other neighbours we’ve known for years but I guess we just socialise differently. We’re kind of like their parents really, so grandparents to their little boys as we don’t have any grandchildren of our own. We actually had a similar relationship when our kids were small but then we were the younger ones.

COVID forced people to talk to their neighbours just because they desperately wanted to talk to somebody! Lots of people were checking on their neighbours, helping them with shopping, that sort of thing.

Peter & Susan

I liked seeing all the families people you’d never normally see walking. People were sitting at their letterbox with 2m distance drinking their glass of wine and talking. They still do it today. People are busy, life’s pace is frantic. When we locked down lots of people liked the fact that that franticness was taken away but we get on that merry-go-round again so quickly. Sometimes the small things really matter. I just want people to be kind and mindful and put themselves in each others’ shoes.


What can we take from this story? Reflections: COVID19 has provided opportunities for connection which break through the awkwardness many people feel reaching out. Picking up shopping, putting teddy bears in windows etc. enables risk-free connection Relationships between individuals at any age comes down to the basics: shared values, interests and real human connection. Modern life creates barriers to connection which permeate all areas of our lives. Some of these were paused during lockdown: people had time and were active and visible in their neighbourhoods as well as having shared experiences and a stronger sense of community.

What questions does this raise for our approach to pandemics? How might we support and amplify all the great connection initiatives going on between neighbours across the country?

What questions does this raise for a more connected future? -

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How might we sustain the desire, confidence and space to reach out and connect as we move away from lockdowns and life gets closer to its normal pace? There seems to be a natural desire for older people and new parents to connect. What is the opportunity for mutual support between these groups? What opportunities, spaces and places exist for older and younger people to connect organically in an unforced, unmanaged way?


We don’t drive and I have a bit of trouble getting around so we usually have a volunteer driver for appointments and the like. We like to go for a drive around while the others get picked up. It’s a bit of an outing. We did miss that over lockdown. On the other hand, we had a wonderful volunteer picking up our shopping for us so in some ways things were actually easier. She would give us a wave and a smile and over time we started to chat. She’s even been back to see us since and showed us how to do our shopping on the computer. Our kids aren’t nearby and they do worry so it really helped that we already knew the volunteers - they’d helped us out after the earthquakes and we knew we could trust them. We know we’re lucky. We have a friend who cares for his partner - she has dementia. All the support they were used to had to stop during lockdown and it’s hard when routines change.

Pat & Chris

It’s great when people have neighbours or family checking in but not everyone has people around or feels comfortable reaching out People have their own problems and responsibilities and you don’t want to add to that. Even for those people with family nearby, there’s pride in being able to organise things for yourself rather than relying on them to do it.


What can we take from this story? Reflections: Fear of ‘being a burden’ is a major barrier to older people reaching out and connecting (in spite of widespread recognition that intergenerational connections provide huge value to both older and younger people.) Trust and safety is very important for older people (and their whānau) when accessing support Perversely, some people actually found themselves feeling less isolated during lockdown. They were able to access services and support that they hadn’t previously and felt less alone (mobility cards was one example).

What questions does this raise for our approach to pandemics? What can be put in place to ensure adequate support is consistently available through all levels of restrictions including full lockdowns? What are the lessons we can learn from those who are coping with isolation in their normal lives, to support those who struggle to adapt to social distancing and other restrictions? How might we support and amplify the community-driven initiatives which have stepped in to fill the gaps while formal services have been unable to safely operate?

What questions does this raise for a more connected future? What additional supports made available during lockdown led to additional positive impact, and how might we amplify these? What can we learn from the effectiveness of community-led initiatives to build more positive intergenerational connections? How might we overcome the barriers which make it difficult for older and younger people to reach out and connect?


This last few months has led us to reflect on what’s important - people, our health. Also to question what’s not important - consumerism and buying things that we’ve been living without.

Ramesh

COVID has shown us how weak humans are. We need to take better care of ourselves, each other, the environment. We’re all connected - animals, nature and the human race and we all need to contribute. Helping older people is ingrained in our culture, but there are a lot of older people here who don’t have their family around to support them. Some are being exploited by their children or the people they are living with and don’t know where to get help. Some really struggled with the basics of life - they couldn’t access their money as they didn’t have online banking. It was very difficult - they had the money but they couldn’t pay for anything. It’s not just about knowing how to use technology, there’s a cost to digital connection and not everyone has that. It’s been very important that we check in on people and make sure they’re ok.

For myself, because I know what knowledge is available and how to access it, I’ve used this time and learned a lot. Older people have time and wisdom and we want to share our skills. We’re always thinking ‘where can we contribute.’

We’ve shared an experience - something mutual to connect about and that’s important but in order to connect you have to first feel safe.


What can we take from this story? Reflections: Reliable information relating to COVID19, restrictions and available support didn’t reach everyone. In particular people without internet access, with English as an additional language or other accessibility needs missed out. For older people who are in an unsafe living situation or being in some way exploited, lockdown was extremely difficult and exacerbated by this lack of information Practical considerations such as how to access money without internet banking can be a real issue and significantly affect people’s ability to function through lockdown periods.

What questions does this raise for our approach to pandemics? How might we ensure that information, services and support are reaching people who do not have access to digital channels, speak languages other than English or have other accessibility needs? What culturally appropriate, safe and accessible support is in place for those experiencing elder abuse or other urgent issues? What provision is there for offline essential services, and what support is in place to enable people to navigate it?

What questions does this raise for a more connected future? What opportunities exist to create and amplify connections around issues of common concern e.g. the environment, sustainable growth etc. How might we amplify and support community-led initiatives which play a vital role in keeping older people connected? How might we share and spread the value of spirituality to build both connection across the generations, and mental resilience.


Our thanks to those who shared their stories and perspectives with us, young and old, to those who have supported this work in other ways, and to all those who have worked tirelessly to keep us safe and connected during this time.