Men aged 80+ suicide more than any age group and often due to being forgotten in society. Meanwhile 1 in 4 Australians report regular feelings of loneliness. How do we get young people to view the elderly differently, and give their time to create new intergenerational friendships? How do we connect people across age groups in an increasingly disconnected world? The solution must be accessible, relatable, easy to do, respectful, and scalable.
OLDMATE is a social contract based around a digital platform. Pledgers sign up at oldmate.org.au and commit to one hour a month for twelve months with an elderly person - their new 'old mate', and provided with more than 70+ activities curated activities including Oldmate Movie Date, recipes, or intergenerational music discography (Sinatra and Minaj, anyone?). Each month, new activities are provided alongside offers like two-for-one coffees. Through official partners such as Anglicare, we help connect young people without an elder relation to those in care who have no available friends or family. This isn't volunteering anymore - it's genuine connection.
OLDMATE launched a grassroots campaign that secured hundreds of young pledgers in the first few months. Many of whom began to reconsider their forgotten relationships with their grandparents. We then sought to connect pledgers with elders and partnered with aged care providers. In the first year of operation, our partners have recorded a 4000% (four-thousand percent) increase in volunteer applications month-to-month. All together, we have generated thousands of volunteer hours in communities across Australia to reduce social isolation of the elderly and improve their wellbeing. Pledgers have routinely continued to spend time with their old mates past the initial period.
OLDMATE was designed to use digital tools but not be 'just an app'. The website is the platform, but only to facilitate social connection. We reached people through grassroots publicity, use of social media, and later a billboard campaign (through pro bono support from Goa) and a Vice media doco, but the focus had to remain on the actual connections. Additionally, we had to remain respectful of the elders involved and never trivialise or infantilise them. And, while this is ultimately a volunteering mechanism, we decided to never really talk about volunteering - and instead, encourage people to 'find your old mate'.
The use of curated activities provided accessibility and a starting point for pledgers, and these were designed for the groups in mind - e.g. cooking activities help to teach younger generations life skills, while also sharing knowledge across age groups.
In the wake of COVID, while our elders are all isolated, we've partnered with Ipsos research to undertake a landmark study in the effects of intergenerational friendship on loneliness and mental wellbeing.