Historically, The Barcelona City Council has historically provided for senior citizens centres. The centres known as Casals de jubilats (“Retirement Centres”) in the past, are the “Casals i espais munici- pals de gent gran” (Municipal Seniors’ Clubs and Centres or “MSCC”) of today. Through the years, those centres have gradually evolved, in terms of both their infrastructures and the activities they offer, in an effort to keep up with the needs of the city’s senior citizens. In the 1990s, the wave of early retirement led increasingly more people to ask for some sort of activity. The retired population was younger and had other interests and a different social and cultural level. In other words, the people who came to the municipal seniors’ centres underscored the heterogeneous nature of this social group. At that time, the Barcelona City Council’s Sants-Montjuïc District was looking into the need to open up new avenues for the social participation of senior citizens, as an addition to the activities that were already being offered by the municipal seniors’ centres. Those activities would have to take into account diversity, society’s image of elderly people, and most importantly, the image that the senior citizens had of themselves, and the extent to which they wanted to change that image.
Generally speaking, senior citizens interacted with people from other age groups within their family environment (grandchildren, children, brothers and sisters, etc.); however such intergenerational relations seldom took place beyond the family realm. Usually, multigenerational family relations were determined by the biological bond and their connections are based on affection, economics, personal and family problems, housing, etc. At the same time, there was a common feeling of loneliness and self-marginalisation that kept them from interacting with the members of other generations. Moreover, the negative image of this group generally portrayed by the mass media was by no means helpful, as they seldom made mention of the value that senior citizens could provide to others through their social interaction, whether as individuals or as a group.
Among other intervention proposals, intergenerational relations activities were considered, as they met some of the objectives that we aimed to achieve, such as participation, personal commitment, being able to share life stories and feelings, involvement in the design of new activities, volunteering and interacting with other age groups, among others. The drawback was that in 1990, at the national level there were not many activities of this type that could provide any sort of base information. Nevertheless, in 1991 as a pilot project, an activity of this nature was implemented with the 6th-grade students (ages 11-12) of a small public primary school and six senior citizens from a municipal seniors’ centre and a municipal retirement home. This marked the beginning of “Learning with Seniors”.
Today, 25 years later, “Learning with Seniors” is a an intergenerational relations programme (IP) that operates at five primary schools, one secondary school, the University of Barcelona —with second-year Psychology students—,a municipal toy library and youth centre, four retirement homes and three municipal seniors’ centres within the district. This book is divided into two sections: the first describes the creation of the Senior Citizens’ Programme, and the second explores the “Learning with Seniors” experience. The aim is to share with those interested the beginnings of this intergenerational relations program: its composition, its current mechanics and how “Learning with Seniors” has gradually grown to establish itself and how for the past twenty-five years it has demonstrated that it was a necessary and advantageous programme for all the generations involved.
At the same time, for professionals who work with dif- ferent age groups, this publication may serve as food for thought and as a source of ideas that may help them to organize other intergenerational activities; and finally for senior citizens in particular, it will afford them insight to the advantages of these programmes, for themselves and for the other generations, hence ultimately spurring them to participate.