When a number of young students from Denton Community College arrived at The ‘Olive Café in Denton, they wasted no time introducing themselves to their new ‘pen-pals’ whilst tucking into a beautifully presented afternoon tea, provided by volunteers at the Carmel Street Christian Centre.
The afternoon tea meeting, which was made possible by ‘Ambition for Aging’ was all part of Denton Community College in partnership with New Charter Homes intergenerational outreach project called ‘Letter Links’ which sees older residents connect with young people through their love of letter writing.
The duel beneficial program which was set up in May of this year was designed to help students develop their reading and writing skills and gives students a chance to see what text-based communication looked like before the advent of computers and Smartphone’s! But it’s not only the participating students who are benefitting from the partnership, as each group write and then meet up once a month to talk about their letters face to face over organised lunches.
Emma Watson, Executive Director of Neighbourhoods at New Charter Homes explained “A lot of our senior citizens are lonely and there are too many of them living in the heart of our communities who basically feel forgotten. This project is just one initiative designed to get them out of their homes and hopefully make them feel more connected and valued by the community.”
Looking round, the project was clearly working. Within 10minutes of the students filing into the room and meeting their new ‘pen pals’ it was clear that a bond was forming as the children and their pals engaged in sharing conversation; getting a real dialogue going with the seniors, whilst eating sandwiches and cakes.
It was also clear that the seniors were getting satisfaction by helping a young person grow and learn about history. So far, the contents of the letters have ranged from what the students are learning at school, their interests, and the activities they participate in, to what is going on in their lives at home.
Hayley Duffy, from Denton Community College said, “The seniors and students exchange letters once a month. The letters are then formatted and each one assessed as ‘friendly’ before being passed to the students. The students then write their letters back and after checking are collated and passed to New Charter’s Neighbourhood team to distribute.”
Hayley added, “The benefits of having the students write to senior pen pals, then going on to meet them one to one are many, including making connections with others; feeling comfortable with senior citizens; and learning that writing is a way of sharing ideas and expressing themselves; also, learning that the elderly have a lot of knowledge and vast areas of experience to share.”