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Family time . . Anna Jamieson with her grandparents Garth and Margaret McKenzie and the couple's great-grandchildren, twins Libby and Cooper (1), at Iona Enliven Care Home's weekly playgroup, which celebrated 23 years last week. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

An unusual Oamaru playgroup celebrated its 23rd birthday last Thursday, with people of all ages on hand to mark the special occasion.

Every Thursday, Iona Enliven Care Home hosts a playgroup for young children at its chapel, which allows parents to bring their young ones along for fun and games, as well as reading and singing.

Established in 1994 to service the North End of Oamaru, it gives the home’s elderly residents the chance to interact with children by watching them play or reading them stories.

It is believed to be the only rest-home in New Zealand that has an active playgroup in operation.

Stacey Curtis, who has four children aged between 7 months and 8, has been attending the playgroup regularly for the past nine years after a friend introduced her to it.

“I just like it because the children get to interact with residents. Mostly I like to see the reactions of the residents – they get on really well with them because they probably don’t get many kids coming to see them,” she said.

“The kids love it. It’s quite cool for them to get used to being around the elderly.”

Anna Jamieson takes her twins – 1-year-old Libby and Cooper – to the playgroup each week. It’s extra special for her, as her grandparents, Margaret and Garth McKenzie, are both residents at the home.

Between 12 and 16 children attend the playgroup each week. The number has remained consistent since it was formed.

Iona Enliven care Home activities co-ordinator Diane McCone said the playgroup, funded by the Ministry of Education, was initially set up after discussions between local social workers and church groups with the aim of fostering “inter-generation contact” between the home’s residents and young children.

There is also the occasional group outing, to the harbour area, the Oamaru Public Gardens or Chipmunks indoor playground in Timaru.

It was initially funded through grants and donations, before ministry funding was secured.

“It works really well,” she said.

“I think it’s because most of the residents have children of their own, they can also remember back to their childhoods and baby days. It gives them something to look forward to and it’s a lot different to the run-of-the-mill stuff that happens in a rest-home.”

She said an Auckland-based rest-home caught wind of the playgroup and planned to introduce its own.