On 23rd March 2020, Boris Johnson announced that the UK was going into lockdown. That day marked the beginning of a long period of isolation for many people in communities across the country. However, physical isolation and distancing left many of us with more free time to come up with creative solutions to keep in touch with friends and maintain our social lives. Zoom quizzes, live stream events and video calls with friends and family became our ‘new normal’. However for some people, “this Zoom stuff doesn’t cut it” as author Lionel Shriver stated in this BBC article. The article discusses the resurgence of letter writing during lockdown as a meaningful alternative to all the online and virtual options of keeping in touch. You can read the full article here
Whilst the rest of the country began writing letters to each other, some local Sheffield charities got in on the action too! Sheffield Churches Council for Community Care (SCCCC) started a Pen Pal scheme to give people the opportunity to volunteer in a less traditional, more remote way - letter writing! This allowed the older people they support who would usually benefit from in-person befriending schemes, to connect with volunteers from far and wide in what still feels like a very personal way. Click here to see some heartwarming pictures of some of the cards and pictures that were sent through the scheme
Sheffcare, a charity providing residential care to older people in Sheffield, also set up a pen pal scheme with Sheffield Volunteering allowing the continuation of a strong link between Sheffcare residents and our students. Isla, a student volunteer, writes in a letter to a resident, “Unfortunately, because of current circumstances we are unable to come and visit you in person. However, I’m writing this letter to let you know that our thoughts are still with you! I really hope you feel comfortable and cared for.” You can read the full letter here.
Kathryn, Volunteer Coordinator at Sheffcare, had the following to say about the scheme:
“Over the last 3 years Sheffcare has attracted high numbers of students from The University of Sheffield to do befriending and activities with our residents. This further enhances our residents’ lives, bringing the community into our care homes and making intergenerational links with the young and the older generation.
One of the first precautions that Sheffcare took to protect its residents at the beginning of the covid-19 outbreak was to cancel projects and put all the volunteering on hold to reduce footfall in the homes. This meant that students who had been volunteering could no longer visit and as the lockdown was extended many students left Sheffield and went home.
This situation didn’t stop the students making contact with our residents as we have received letters and cards though the post and via email, some containing photograph’s and poetry which are lovely to receive
It’s great to see traditional methods of communication still having their place and making a positive difference.&rdquo
Lockdown proved to be a particularly harsh reality for older people living in care homes; a community who even prior to the lockdown were particularly vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation. The Covid-19 pandemic has seriously impacted social interaction for those in care homes with no loved ones or volunteers being allowed to visit. Furthermore, as many older people struggle with access to some of the technologies required to keep in touch digitally such as mobile phones, social media or video calls, the gap between residents and volunteers has widened over the months of lockdown
For a generation who were brought up writing and receiving letters, these pen pal schemes have been a blessing; allowing many of Sheffield’s older people to stay connected through such tough times