Children revel in spirit of Christmas past: The generations mix for carols, bowls and 'living history' after a senior citizen's club moves into a classroom. Diana Hinds reports

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The Independent Online
AT ST AIDAN'S County High in Carlisle, elderly members of the school's Hobman Club are rehearsing with pupils for the carol service. Sporting party hats and clutching scripts, they act out a short scene in which they reminisce about Christmas past, about plucking the goose and stirring threepenny bits into the pudding.

The pupils watch with a mixture of respect and amused indulgence. Although this is the first time the old people have joined in the carol service, they have been a feature of school life since the Hobman Club was established several years ago, the first of its kind in the country.

Named after David Hobman, the first director of Age Concern England, who helped launch the project, the club is based in a converted science laboratory, which the school no longer needed. David Kemp, head of St Aidan's, originally agreed to house the club, for a small rent, because it had nowhere else to go, but he had little idea of the productive relationship that would develop between members and pupils.

About 30 older people attend the club every Tuesday morning, many of them to play Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit, or to chat. But when they started games of bowls in the school hall, pupils became interested and asked to join in. Games with club members developed, and last year a joint sponsored bowling tournament raised pounds 1,700 for Children in Need.

'Their (the pupils') concentration seems to wane after about an hour,' said Jack Hawes, vice-president of the club, ' but it's quite a good laugh playing with them because, being schoolchildren, they take the mickey out of each other. But they're very polite to us: I think they respect old age.'

Club members have also got involved in the classroom, offering themselves as resource material for 'living history' projects, both at St Aidan's and at a local primary school.

'The children think we're Ancient Britons,' said Dorothy Glaister. 'One asked me if I had had a bicycle when I was young, and another one said, was it a penny-farthing?'

Mr Kemp believes further links with the club could follow, such as one-to-one support of pupils during lessons, but he is anxious not to push anything. Other schools are now starting to follow suit, and Hobman Clubs have been established this autumn in the Isle of Wight, Birmingham, and Cleator Moor, Workington and Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria.

Mr Kemp said: 'Bringing together the generations is vital for the future of society . . . There is definitely a tendency among young people to imagine that the older generation is in some way out of touch with reality and that therefore their ideas are not to be taken seriously. At an informal, subconscious level, we are to working to oppose that point of view.'

At St Aidan's, the benefits of the scheme are felt on both sides. 'Doing things with the school brings back memories of past days, and my own children,' said Dorothy Williams. 'I haven't any grandchildren, so it's nice to be with the young ones again.'

Chris Kennedy, 16, who plays bowls with the club, said he found it easier to get on with the members than with his teachers, 'because they don't shout at you to be quiet and you can say what you want. It's definitely a good idea having them here - and it gets them out and about as well.'

(Photograph omitted)