Imagine living in isolation with no close relatives or friends nearby. It sounds like the pandemic lockdown doesn't it? Many complained about having to go through it. Now imagine your life is always like that.
Season 2 of Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds looks at how the social experiment of inter-generational preschools can be of great benefit to Australian seniors who live alone in their own home (1.6 million aged 65 and older).
Executive producer Debbie Cuell says the casting of the 11 seniors featured was a difficult process during Covid.
"Last season they were in situ at the facility we filmed in. This time we had to find people in the community - through home care organisations, social and community groups, hospitals and outreach programs. We couldn't just hang out at the local shopping centre," Cuell says.
"When we were planning the show in June [last year] we had no idea if we could make it because of the health regulations.
"Luckily there were no community transmitted cases during filming. We had two buses so the 11 adults could be socially distant and everyone had Covid tests. Temperatures were taken each day and hand sanitiser was used before and after each activity."
The filming was in a Sydney beachside suburb at a church which was setting up its own inter-generational preschool program. The church hall became the show set and some of the children were from the church preschool, while some came from two other local preschools.
Before meeting the children each of the seniors was tested for frailty, with nine of the 11 identified as pre-frail or frail. They were also asked to about their quality of life. Half said "not good".
Cuell says the production team kept a close eye on the seniors and the children, as the experimental program had to benefit both groups.
They looked for signs of fatigue in the seniors as the rigour of coming to the session four days of every week for five hours was taxing.
"We were working with two vulnerable age groups. It was a big change to the seniors' routine. We made it very clear at the beginning that if they were really tired, or had a doctor's appointment, it was okay to not come along," Cuell says.
The children were incredible, if there was one adult missing, two of them would go up to one senior.
While the first series was similar to the original UK version, this concept hasn't been done anywhere else in the world.
Cuell says the results from last season were instrumental in the federal government allocating funds ($500,000) to a residential facility and preschool under one roof in Melbourne, and for a similar project near Dubbo, NSW.
Playgroups Australia has also started inter-generational preschools.
CuelI signed on for the project because she loves "stories about real people that can make a difference in society".
"We rarely get chance to do that and to see that it actually has made a difference."
During filming she was focused on getting the job done, but says in post production lots of tears flowed.
"The oldies have kept in touch with their little ones. Some strong connections were made."