“You’re making something that has some sort of social outreach”

Some TV shows purport to be a social experiment. And then there is Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds.

Some TV shows bandy the term “social experiment” around but frankly offer no wider community impact.

They stand in stark contrast to ABC’s Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. Based on a UK format the show returns with a new cast but with the same mission: to improve the health and happiness of seniors by engaging them with pre-schoolers.

Endemol Shine Australia Executive Producer Debbie Cuell says the first series sparked new intergenerational playgroups around the country.

“There’s a little town called Wellington near Dubbo and they’ve been trying to get local funding to build an intergenerational playgroup and retirement village. After the show went to air it they gave them the leverage to get that through. So that’s since been built, and it’s operational now,” she said.

“There were over 2000 new intergenerational playgroups set up. We had a parliamentary screening and they actually stood up and took a bit of notice, which was quite timely because of the Royal Commission into aged care.

“About two months ago, the Victorian Government gave half a million dollars to a facility that’s being built on the Mornington Peninsula, which is a combined aged-care facility and preschool, under the one roof.

“After watching the show, I thought I’d better go and see my mum or dad.”

“But also just people you meet say, ‘After watching the show, I thought I’d better go and see my mum or dad.’ It just makes older people front of thought in their life and actually taking a minute to care about them a bit more.

“It’s pretty cool to work on something that does have the ability to make a difference”

“It’s pretty cool to work on something that does have the ability to make a difference. I know that sounds a bit self-righteous, but it is true. That’s why everyone loves working on it and Series 2. This might actually make a positive difference. You’re not just making beautiful series, you’re making something that has some sort of social outreach.”

Season 2 includes new seniors, aged 76 – 94 and 10 new four year old children. Unlike Season 1 it is no longer a visit to a retirement home, but bringing seniors to a specially designed preschool in Coogee. Over six weeks both groups will interact, guided by experts Aged Health Care Expert Professor Sue Kurrle, Geriatrician Dr Stephanie Ward, Child Psychologist Dr Carol Newall, Physiotherapist Nicola Kertanegara and Pre-school Educator Fiona Goode.

“There’s over 1.5 million living alone”

“Around 220,000 older Australians live in residential care, but there’s over 1.5 million living alone. That’s incredible. Having my own parents living in their own home, I thought, ‘What about keeping them healthier and happier, getting in early with the inspiration from four year olds?’ So it felt like the obvious thing to do,” she continues.

“If you look at the numbers, it’s relatable to more people, and easier to fix something before it’s broken.”

But trying to film seniors during a pandemic was an unexpected challenge with producers unable to undertake ‘street casting’ and forced to limit filming in public spaces. Cuell was grateful to film in October in Sydney, in a window before a Northern Beaches outbreak.

“Everyone was COVID-tested two days before the start of filming, including the four year olds. They probably weren’t used to having something stuck up their nose …it did take a little bit of the risk away, but none of the procedures,” she explains.

“We filmed 4 days a week for 6 weeks. So it’s pretty intense. But we did say to our older people ‘If you are just feeling tired, and you don’t want to come to class, do not come. Make sure you go to your doctor’s appointment… look after yourself.’

“I can’t let the children down!”

“Some of them did have days where they didn’t come but they’d say, ‘Oh, I can’t let the children down!’

“They weren’t long days, about 9 til 2:30 with breaks every hour and a 1 hour lunch break. But it’s still a lot, compared to someone spending a lot of time in their home.”

In addition to top ratings Season One took out an International Emmy, AACTA Award, Gold and Silver in the New York TV and Film Awards, and Best Factual Format at the C21 International Format Awards.

Cuell is optimistic Season Two will be just as well received.

“I think the characters are equally as loveable. Seeing them get back involved on a community level, has more for other people who might be sitting at home, but don’t want to go into an old people’s home,” she observes.

“I think Australians will fall in love with the characters equally as much as they did in Series One.”

Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds screens 8:30pm Tuesdays on ABC.

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