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Annual tea dance brings community together

By Helena Clennett at

Oxford Academy held their annual tea dance for members of the wider community at the end of January after snow meant the usual pre-Christmas celebration had to be put on hold.

The school aims to use events like the tea dance as a means to build bridges with individuals and groups from the local community and let them know about the intergenerational work they are currently doing.

Performances from Oxford community choir and a local children’s dance school entertained visitors from Iffley residential and nursing home and volunteers with the ‘Old School’ project among others.

Sharon Woodley, activities co-ordinator at the residential home, said: “We were invited this year and as we now have a minibus I have been able to bring a group of seven residents along. They’ve enjoyed the singing and dancing very much. Initiatives like this are very important as people can feel isolated in care homes.”

June, 90, is an Iffley resident and said: “It’s been lovely to get out, and I’m very interested to have come to the school as it has been so long since I’ve been to one! ” Her friend Anne, 97, added: “I’m past tea dances but I like seeing other people enjoying it.” Fellow resident Aileen said: “It’s been very nice, and I would like to come to something again-perhaps when it’s warmer!” while Lucy Lynch, 80, felt the afternoon was “perfect.”

The ‘Old School’ project was launched over two years ago during the BBC programme of the same name fronted by the ‘Hairy Bikers’. It paired local senior citizen volunteers (also known as senior partners) with children (junior partners) from the school with the aim of fostering intergenerational friendships and mentoring opportunities. The school is currently looking for new recruits for this successful and innovative scheme.

“The project has been going well” said Tom Peterson, assistant community director at Oxford Academy, “Our lottery funding has now ended so we are looking for new sources, but we also need more volunteers from the community. We need people who have time on their hands, who are willing to make news friends. The students who originally took part in the ‘Old School’ project loved it, they found it really helpful to have someone to talk to about exam stress, or anything else really, it’s just about having a friend.”

Peter Porter, 69, from Headington is a volunteer with ‘Old School’. He has been paired with Emily who is 16.

“I applied somewhat hesitantly, but our first meeting went well and we’ve gone on from there. We usually do something like playing Scrabble and have a chat at the same time. We have things in common and both have a sense of humour! It keeps me active and ‘young’, and I’ve always loved spending time with kids. I hope I’ve helped her too.”

Melanie Horwood was one of the original volunteers featured in the BBC programme. She said: “I’m still volunteering with the ‘Old School’ project, though I now have a new partner, and it’s early days as we’ve only met three times so far. I hope we can build on our work with the ‘Old School’ and expand the range of activities we do with the children, perhaps by visiting museums and care homes, for example. It would be great to have the opportunity to take these ideas forward in future.”

For more information about The Old school project or other community related queries contact Rosie Butler on 01865 774311 or email All applicants to ‘Old School’ will be DBS checked.