An innovative new idea which has seen babies mixing with elderly care home residents across Britain and abroad has now reached Lancaster.
Abi Doughty set up her Sling Swing group for mums and babies 18 months ago, which gives parents the chance to dance with their babies in slings.
And she has now taken it a step further by taking the class into Laurel Bank Care Home.
The classes have given the elderly residents the chance to interact with the babies, as well as join in with the fun.
Abi, who has sons aged nine and four, said: “When my youngest was a toddler he built up a great relationship with some of the people at The Cornerstone cafe – their faces would light up and you could see the positive effect which went both ways.
“I saw a video of someone going into care homes and running a class with the residents, and it gave me the idea that maybe I could do a class with the residents joining in rather than being observers.”
Abi spoke to Wayne Clifford-Lund, the lifestyles and activities coordinator at Laurel Bank, who agreed to let the group visit the residents twice a month.
Abi said: “We socialise with the residents for a bit, babies get cuddled and lots of questions asked, and then we hand out pom poms and start our dance class.
“The parents and babies do the same moves they’d do in an ordinary class, but it takes place in front of the residents and they wave pom poms – and even sing along a little bit on one of the tracks – and enjoy us being there.
“The first time we went I was really excited to see what it would be like, but the residents didn’t move and afterwards I was worried but Wayne said they were still talking about the class hours after it had finished.
“Some of them have very limited mobility and issues communicating but their faces light up when we come in.
“Every time we go, they open up to us that little bit more and look thrilled to see us and call out to babies by name.
“It’s a great project to be involved in, mixing the generations, seeing unlikely friendships develop, and seeing the joy that it brings.
“Having babies and toddlers doing things in care homes is fantastic stimulation for the residents and the children enjoy it too.
“I asked one mum why she comes along and she said she loved the idea of mixing the generations.
“Her baby absolutely loves it, and gets taken to meet residents who don’t leave their rooms too.”
Wayne said staff can see the difference the classes have made to the residents.
“When Abi first approached me about it I was a bit hesitant to say the least because it was with babies and elderly people; there is that old saying ‘don’t work with children or animals’,” he said.
“The first session arrived and we had around eight residents in the room ready for the arrival and as soon as they arrived the look on the residents faces was priceless – the babies lit up the residents’ faces and the room.
“Nearly all the residents who attend are in wheelchairs; they have various health conditions ranging from dementia, multiple sclerosis, strokes, learning difficulties and trouble with manual dexterity, so the exercise helps with improving manual dexterity and movement with their upper limbs movement.
“It also improves the residents’ mood and well-being, especially those who don’t have visitors, and some of the residents remember each Monday afternoon that it’s Sling Swing, and if for any reason it’s not on, they know and ask why.
“The effect it’s having on the residents who attend is big and positive.
“We now have four regular residents who attend the sessions and they have built up really great bonds with the babies and a fantastic relationship with the mums who have been coming regularly.
“It’s one of those things you need to see it to believe it and it does sometimes put a lump in my throat seeing the residents so happy and how they handle the babies.”
Abi runs her sling library from The Cornerstone cafe in Lancaster and also Sling Swing classes at the Laura Sandham School of Dance in The Storey.
She can be found on Facebook at ‘Sling Swing Lancaster and South Lakes’.
See our slideshow of photos from the class here