Schoolchildren team up with elderly pen pals to spread some cheer during social isolation

Children from the three Foundation schools are using the art of letter writing to help bridge the gap between generations and tackle loneliness during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic as part of a new pen pal initiative set up by John Whitgift Foundation.

The pen pal project asks schoolchildren who are now learning from home to write letters, poems and drawings detailing everything from their family and school life to holiday memories and favourite pets before sending them to elderly residents at the Foundation’s care homes to help bring a smile to their faces and provide some welcome relief from the loneliness of social isolation.

Year 6 and 7 pupils at the Foundation’s three schools, Old Palace of John Whitgift, Trinity and Whitgift, as well as local school Oakwood Primary, have written over 40 letters and pieces of art to residents so far.

Residents who are able to put pen to paper are sending replies to the children expressing their delight at receiving the surprise letters and sharing their own stories.

The children have found all manner of subjects to talk about with their elderly pen pals, with a common theme of missing school and the teachers, their friends and even their minibus driver.

The younger generation also shared recommendations for things to do during lockdown, such as keeping a dream journal and using Skype or FaceTime to stay connected with people.

Mariyana Nesheva, Senior Care Officer, Whitgift Care, said: “The letters we have received from the children are wonderful and have really brought a smile to our residents’ faces at this very difficult time. Actually, I told them beforehand that we were expecting letters from the children and everyone got very excited! Thank you so much for sending them, our residents are so grateful and happy when they receive their letters. You and your students are amazing!”

Martin Corney, Chief Executive, John Whitgift Foundation, said: “The pen pal project is a fantastic initiative which has brought a true sense of joy to our residents’ lives during this period of uncertainty. It is wonderful to see the younger and older generations coming together and sharing stories, which really brings together two strands of what we do as a charity so well. I would like to thank the teachers and pupils for reaching out to our residents during these difficult times.”

As well as funny anecdotes and fond memories being shared on both sides, extracts from the letters show both generations united in the shared hope that normality will return soon:

“We are all well and being looked after. Now the sun is shining we can go for a walk around the grounds. The spring flowers are so pretty and the leaves are coming out on the trees. I have lived in Croydon since I was a little girl, it has changed so much. I used to watch Crystal Palace football. It is a strange time but it will get better soon and we can see you all again.” Pat, Whitgift Care resident

Staff are helping residents harness the power of technology to communicate with family and friends, using iPads to connect with loved ones through a screen. However, there is still something very special about receiving a letter through the post, and this more traditional means of communication can bring a sense of comfort and familiarity to the older generation.