A view from Dave Trott: Make the useless useful
A view from Dave Trott

Make the useless useful

If you’ve ever been to an old-people’s home, you know it’s a pretty depressing place.

Mostly, they sit around in chairs sleeping.

Every so often, one of them dies.

So their environment is reduced to people sleeping and occasionally dying.

But there is an old-folk’s home in Seattle that isn’t like that.

Because the environment isn’t just old people.

They’ve mixed an infants’ school in with the senior-citizens’ home.

Five days a week, the children, between ages one and four, mix with the old people.

They watch films, they read books, they sing, they draw and paint, they tell stories, they eat lunch.

They make, and pack, sandwiches for homeless people.


For a few hours each day, the old people wake up and forget about themselves and their troubles.

Because they know the little children are vulnerable and need help.

So they help them read, and draw, and eat.

Basic instincts kick in: the old look after the young.

And the old people go from being cared for to being carers.

Meanwhile, the children recognise that these old people are much more gentle and fragile than most grown-ups.

They move more slowly, they talk more softly, they’re not in such a rush as most grown-ups.

These adults have all the time in the world for the children and whatever they want to do.

The children learn confidence, they learn to feel valued.

What’s happening is a return to the ways of "primitive" societies.

Where the old and the young were in daily contact.

Where the old, instead of being shunted off, were an important part of society.

Being around old people taught the young respect, consideration and thoughtfulness.

What I love is the way two problems come together into
a solution.

Problem one: working people are so busy nowadays, they don’t have time to look after aged relatives, so they put them into care homes. 

Problem two: working people are so busy nowadays, they don’t have time to look after infants, so they put them into nursery schools.

Solution: put the little people, with no experience, together with the older people, with lots of experience. 

People at opposite ends of their lives, both of whom have lots of time.

Let the people who are no longer useful teach the people who haven’t become useful yet.

The children feel valued, and things move at their pace.

The old people feel useful, they can protect and help the children. 

There are 400 residents in the care home and 125 children in the preschool.

And there’s a two-and-a-half-year waiting list (400 families) for the preschool.

Studies show 47% of elderly people feel isolation, which leads to loneliness and depression, which speed up mental and physical decline.

And we know the number of old people will double within 25 years.

What I love is the creative thinking that went into the Intergenerational Learning Center.

It’s the sort of creative thinking we could all benefit from adopting.

How to turn problems into opportunities.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.