As part of this life-changing scheme, Alleyn's Year 8 pupils work with elderly suffers of Alzheimer's disease.
The Sweet Readers programme started life in the US. In 2016, it came to UK shores, with Alleyn's as the first school in the country to take part.
As part of the pilot scheme, six Year 7 pupils were recruited to partner with the residents of a local care home, taking part in reading and art activities together under the careful supervision of Alleyn's staff members who were trained by Sweet Readers to facilitate. Since then, the scheme has gone from strength to strength.
In what has been a wonderful success for all of the parties involved, Sweet Readers at Alleyn's has expanded greatly. The senior participants now enjoy, on average, 20 hours of attention from their Alleyn's partners each School year.
Head of Outreach, Natalie Demain, on the Sweet Readers Experience
As soon as the opportunity was presented to me – to help become a driving force behind the international movement for ‘Sweet Readers’, a charity that connects young people with the elderly suffering from Alzheimer’s disease – I knew that it was worth investing the time and effort to make it happen. And indeed it was.
"We are all affected in some way by old age; whether it is contact with grandparents, neighbours or indeed simply the realisation that we are ageing ourselves every day. To enable our young peoples’ eyes to be opened to Alzheimer’s disease and to connect with their elderly partners each week has been astonishing and I am not ashamed to admit that every week I am overcome with emotion watching as the relationships develop. Indeed, on week one of the programme, I was unsure about whether we could do this – a whole host of problems occurred that were difficult to manage and, as secondary teachers, we were very much ‘out of our comfort zone’. Yet I shouldn’t have been worried. As I looked over at one of our young Sweet Readers, Alfie aged 11, and witnessed him simply put his hand over his elderly partner’s saying ‘it’s ok, I’m so looking forward to getting to know you’ and seeing the calming effect on Anita, aged 85, I thought ‘Wow – I can learn so much from our youngsters’. Powerful learning that goes so far beyond a classroom.
"So at Alleyn’s School, we decided to invest fully in the project and have now re-designed our timetable to allow two classes of pupils to participate in Sweet Readers in our first year. We take out 13 pupils at a time, with the remaining 13 staying in school and receiving more personalised teaching in their subjects at school. After six weeks of the project, the children then rotate, to allow every single member of the group to get involved. This inclusivity is so very important – the young people are not hand-picked and even the shyest, most reluctant pupils have demonstrated an amazing journey and new-found confidence through the project. Every week, our Sweet Readers are literally ‘buzzing’ and wanting to share what they have learned about their elderly partner with our team.
"I am incredibly proud to be a part of this amazing initiative and the first British school to take on this work. Not only do I firmly believe that this is an example of life-long learning, it has also really helped open my own eyes as an adult to identity, to discovering the person behind the disease and has brought a richness to my working week. I now can’t imagine my job without it."
Pupils and staff at Alleyn’s School engage in a range of outreach, community and partnership projects. For more information, contact our Outreach team.
"Watching the relationships develop between our young people and their elderly partners is astonishing."