With very special thanks to Health Care Assistant and mother of 4 Katie Sloan, who first proposed this amazing project. We're so very lucky to have carers like you working in our communities...............................
How we can use old fashioned handwritten letters to reach out during the COVID-19 lock-down – Encouraging small acts of kindness.
It’s the end of March 2020. The Corona virus pandemic has swept the planet and whilst doctors, nurses, carers and other key workers are out risking their lives for our health and safety, many of us are confined to our homes.
Some are working from home, some attempting to home-school their children; many of us wondering if there’s anything we can to do to help the communities in which we live.
By now, we all know just how important it is for us to stay home.
We’ve been explicitly told to stay home via official text message and the newspapers are smothered with the message.
Governments around the world have ground whole economies to a halt in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, just long enough for our health services to get a handle on this.
They just need a chance to catch up and medical professionals have pleaded with us not to make their work even harder.
So what on earth can you do to help anyone if you’re stuck at home under lockdown, only going out if absolutely necessary?
The Viral Letter Project
On the 19th of March, a care home operator in Haverhill Suffolk UK, took the very difficult decision to suspend visitors to their home's effect immediately in order to protect the health and safety of their residents.
They vowed to do everything in their power to keep people in touch with their loved ones, using every means available - telephone, video calls, emails, traditional letters and cards, but this still wasn’t going to be an easy task.
So they made one very special public request.
They proposed a special letter-writing project – A pen friend project.
Asking local children if they would like to write handwritten letters to residents in an effort to lift their spirits and bring an extra smile to their faces while they couldn’t see their families and couldn’t go outside.
A small act of kindness that would cost almost nothing but a little time.
An act of kindness that could make all the difference to someone feeling isolated and alone.
Particularly those confused at the sudden disappearance of family, or those without any family, who had come to rely on their walks out and about for their daily dose of human contact.
Not everyone has someone to check in on them, grab something nice from the shops for them or drop off homemade cakes to them.
Why Handwritten Letters?
There's something very, very personal about handwritten letters.
The act of putting physical pen to physical paper. Carefully shaping letters and forming intentional thoughts into words.
Worthwhile letters. Slow and considered. Not what out fast-paced lives usually demand.
When was the last time you personally sat down to write a handwritten letter? When you were back at school? Can you remember at all?
They’ve become rather old fashioned haven’t they? Replaced by much more convenient ways to communicate.
But I’ve always been fond of proper letters and snail mail.
I associate emails with work, whereas I’ve never managed to move passed that childlike excitement of having actual mail that drops through the letterbox onto the floor.
I wrote to my own Grandmother for years, well into adulthood, when I was married with children of my own.
Being almost totally deaf and slightly averse to new technology, if I wanted to talk to her, I had to write. And she appreciated the conversations captured in those letters. Little stories of my life.
I still have boxes of those letters now. Copies of ones I sent to her and ones she sent back. Each one a journal entry. Transporting me back.
Can you name one other type of communication that matters that much?
Handwritten letters and the extra care taken over their writing can make a huge difference to someone’s day. Letting them know that someone cares.
The ability to write a letter is also an extremely valuable skill for any child to learn, standing them in good stead for the future.
So What Can You Do?
The first thing to do is to find out if there’s somewhere in your local area with people who would appreciate the letters. Care homes like the one near us would be perfect. Some hospices and hospital wards might also welcome them, but it’s a good idea to phone or email them to check. They may not need them or might be far too busy to want to be inundated.
Our care professionals are incredibly busy right now.
If you really can’t find anywhere, how about writing to isolated Grandparents. Even though most of us can pick up the phone, handwritten letters incredible keepsakes.
Posting the idea in a local Facebook Group is often the easiest way to reach out to care professionals who live and work in your area, who would be able to advise.
If you would rather contact them yourself, try Googling Care Homes Near Me to find an up-to-date list of all care homes in your local area. Most have websites where you’ll find links to phone numbers and social media pages where you can leave a message.
Of course, the hardest part of any kind of writing is getting started and thinking what to write.
Children can be amazingly imaginative, but if they’re totally stuck for ideas, having a set of prompts can help.
Once written, find out the best way to deliver them.
At the moment, in the UK at least, we’re all still allowed out once a day to exercise. Most of us live in the vicinity of a post box, so maybe think about combining your exercise with posting your letters.
As Covid-19 can live on surfaces, it’s probably advisable that an adult posts the letters, taking extra care not to touch the post box itself.
Note: While this is a nice project for children, there’s absolutely no reason at all why adults can’t join in too.
Letter Writing Prompts
How to start your letter
Unless your care home gives you the name of a person, or a list of people who are particularly in need of an extra lift (there will be people like this – you could always ask), it’s best to keep opening lines general.
That way one letter can be shown to a number of different people.
A simple “Hello” is fine, or if you prefer, “To whoever reads this message”.
What to write next – 20 letter writing prompts for children
The best letters are friendly, interested and conversational, so you could include any of the prompts below. Your letter doesn’t have be pages long.
My name is …………………….. and I am also in isolation at the moment. I’m really looking forward to writing to you.
How are you doing at the moment? or I hope you are well.
My favourite things.
My favourite foods & things I like to cook.
My talents and thing’s I’m really good at.
Thing’s I like to collect.
Three things I’ve been doing since isolation started – Schoolwork, board games, painting rainbows, other activities.
The best and worst parts of my week.
My favourite school subjects.
Books I’m reading.
Thing’s I’m watching on tv or listening to.
How we’re exercising.
Three things I’ve seen – Out of the window, in my garden, while on my walk.
People I’ve spoken to and things they’ve said (On the phone, neighbours over the garden fence, yelling across the road).
The weather! – Always an easy one.
A little story from my life: I remember when ………………..
Questions, questions, questions (well……. 2 or 3 questions anyway. Don’t go over the top).
If I had 3 wishes……….
I have sent you a picture that I have drawn, a short story or poem that I’ve written, a flower that I’ve pressed.
Thank you for writing back to me or Thank you for sharing your story with me (this only works if the letters are being sent both ways).
How to wrap it up
If you would like to write to me, I have enclosed my address.
You can say “I’ll look forward to hearing from you”, but only if you know they’re going to be able to write back. No pressure.
I like writing letters to you. It’s fine if you can’t write back.
If you were to try and find one positive outcome from this whole horrible mess, it’s seeing the ways communities are coming together to help each other and in particular, the vulnerable people around them.
Kindness really does bring everyone closer together.
Don’t worry too much if your spelling, punctuation, grammar or handwriting are not ‘perfect’. You’re not a professional calligrapher and no one expects you to be.
Equally, don’t be put off writing because you don’t have that much to say, or because you don’t think your daily activities are interesting enough. Remember than nobody is doing anything wildly exciting at the moment.
You can write on anything! Any basic note paper or even blank paper will do. The paper doesn’t even have to be lined – you can draw a few lines on yourself with a pencil and a ruler.
You definitely don’t need to have a proper letter writing set with matching envelopes. My children are using a couple of pretty sets we received at Christmas, but when they’re gone, we’ll use regular A4 paper and decorate around the edges
Remember, it’s the effort that counts!
Due to the unknown nature of exactly how the Corona virus transfers via surfaces, some care homes may prefer you to photograph or scan and then email your handwritten letters.
The care homes near us are using gloves to handle all post and they're removing envelopes before handing to their residents.
Please do not send handwritten letters, if you or any person in your household has displayed symptoms of being unwell in any way in the last 14 days.