Gus Bialick volunteers in a project to bring his century of life experiences to schoolchildren.
I tell stories, little human stories,” says Gus Bialick, who turned 100 last March, of his role volunteering in an innovative project to break down generational barriers.
“These are things you may not read in the history books, but they happened, and they happened to me.”
Bialick, the son of Jewish refugees from turn-of-the-century Poland, is the first centenarian to take part in the Intergen programme. The project has brought more than 100 older people into 22 primary and secondary schools in London and the north-west of England to talk about their life experiences and offer support with reading and other activities in an effort to build relationships and challenge intergenerational stereotypes.
Bialick sees himself as a “living history book”, sharing with schoolchildren his first-hand accounts of Zeppelin raids on London during the first world war, 1930s marches by the fascist blackshirts through London’s East End, and the allied landing in Sicily in the second world war.
He loves his new role. “I have lived a long time, and been through and seen a lot of things, but when I speak to young people today they know so little,” he says.
“There’s nowhere for them to get their recent history from, apart from films or television. So if they meet someone like me who tells them things that actually took place, little personal things, they seem to want to know more and more about that, and that’s interesting for me.”
Intergen, set up in 2010 by the charity From Generation to Generation to bring older people and children together in schools in the neighbourhoods, has worked with several volunteers in their 90s, but Bialick is the first centenarian.
The idea behind the project is that older people have more time to listen and have seen it all before, so they can really make a difference. The volunteers, meanwhile, feel valued and that they are giving something back.
The charity’s founder, Norma Raynes, believes the link between generations works wonders, with pupils gaining greater understanding and respect for older people, and the latter escaping isolation.
From Generation to Generation plans to extend the project beyond schools to share skills such as beekeeping and allotment care between older and younger enthusiasts.
Asked how he got involved, Bialick says he joined Intergen after a chance encounter on a park bench with one of its coordinators.