THE lockdown movement which has seen hundreds of children become pen pals with care home residents through the power of letter writing can be traced to a 10-year-old schoolgirl who dreamed up the initiative.
Isla Elworthy, from Hampshire, has been credited with sparking the success of projects such as My Dear New Friend, which encourages people to offer friendships with the elderly and has received backing from the Duchess of Cornwall.
Isla’s intuition has also paid off after weekly letters saw her strike up a ‘wonderful’ pen pal relationship with a 93-year-old care home resident.
Learning to write formal letters at school before lockdown set in, she began to practice her newly-found skills and write to a residential care home in Hampshire where her mum, Chrissie, works as a speech and language therapist.
“She was very sad to hear about the residents not being able to see their family and felt that writing to them would make them less lonely and give them something to read and cheer them up,” said Chrissie.
Isla, a year five pupil at Preston Candover Primary School near Basingstoke, was quick to encourage other children to do the same and called her campaign ‘write a letter to make others feel better’.
She set about her project in March and kept up her handwriting skills with two letters a week before a pen pal relationship blossomed with Margaret, a care home resident from Chichester.
They have since exchanged many letters, photographs and stories while Isla even discovered that her new friend and mum went to the same school in Brighton.
Isla said: “I have learnt how important it is to write, especially during this time and it also shows a person that someone else is thinking about them, even people they don’t know. Letter writing is not something people do very much nowadays, but the elderly are not able to use those things that easily and writing to them has been so important.
“It was so exciting getting something from the postman for me! When I read my first letter it made me realise how much they loved getting my letter. The residents even sent me an origami bird to say thank you.”
Isla has read evocative stories of Margaret’s time during the Second World War, travels across the globe, swimming in the Lake District, how she used to be a tennis coach, descriptions of her dog Monty and her care home activities like carpet bowls. Now she hopes that they can soon meet.
“Like me she has brothers and loves sport and animals so we have lots in common,” said Isla. “She always apologises for her wobbly handwriting but I think it’s really good for a 93-year-old!”
Mum Chrissie, who also works for the NHS, praised her daughter, saying: “It has been a wonderful experience to see a new friendship, especially one that has so many fabulous stories and experiences that Isla would never have known about.
“A similar campaign called My Dear New Friend has been a great success and it is great that others have been inspired to do the same thing, but we are so proud that Isla came up with the idea totally on her own, following a school lesson at the start of this pandemic. She has ultimately developed a lovely relationship with a wonderful lady, as well as making many others in many care homes feel happy and not alone.”
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