Letter writing tackles loneliness

Written by Amadiora Emechete, Challenge Project Manager

“I really loved it, such a nice way to spend an hour and a break in the day. I really hope the letters were well received; it was a pleasure to support such a great project.”

Imagine, sat in the house, with the same four walls staring back at you. It’s July now, lockdown is easing for most, but as an older member of society you have underlying health issues, you are fragile, more susceptible, you have to continue isolating – the uncertainty of when you will be able to leave the house – safely – and intermingle is real …

This, for many of our older people in east London and around the UK is not an imagination or work of fiction, it is their everyday reality. Since lockdown was implemented in March 2020 and for many, a longtime prior, the community hubs, clubs and centres was their reprieve. To help them through this time, uplift their spirits and show them that they are indeed not alone, ELBA has started facilitating Letter Writing Workshops encouraging volunteers to lend a hand, in written form to be delivered to their doorsteps.

The quote above is from one of our volunteers, who expressed how much they enjoyed the session. Another volunteer expressed how wholesome they felt during the workshop, which we hope will transfer across to the recipients. Since the start of these workshops in June, over 60 volunteers have taken part and written letters.

The Letter Writing sessions are an opportunity for volunteers to write to members of the Forget Me Not Project. This is a memory café for people suffering from dementia, Alzheimer, or other memory disorders – many of whom are often of older age. Due to the current health situation, its 90 members are still shielding and have been unable to come together for their weekly memory café sessions which are marked by activities like chair exercises, storytelling, gardening singing, creative arts, laughter, and food. To keep its members engaged and cared for, Madhumita Bose, the manager of the project, has been sending out weekly care packages. To make these packages more meaningful, the letters are now included with them – adding a personal touch and for those suffering with memory, it provides a physical thing that they can keep coming back to, reading over it again.

Letters can be written individually, but Team Challenge have incorporated the more fun and social option: to write your letter during an allocated letter writing session on Zoom, remotely face-to-face, with your team of course! When writing a letter, volunteers are given the freedom to express themselves creatively and include for example poems, drawings, and quotes. Volunteers write about their personal experiences during lockdown, their life before and things they have been looking forward to doing when lockdown is lifted. Receiving a letter is a great way to boost their morale as someone they don’t know has taken the time and effort to write to them. In addition to this, a letter is a great way to keep the mind engaged which is crucial for people suffering from memory disorders.

Now lockdown is easing, loneliness is increasingly seen as an issue not just for the vulnerable who still need to be shielding but for the many people are still working from home – loneliness and its consequences are way more far stretched than often taken into consideration. Therefore, the letter writing sessions ELBA runs is not only a way to tackle the loneliness of vulnerable people, but also for people working from home:

“It was really lovely and somewhat therapeutic.”

– State Street Volunteer

“I really enjoyed the session and thought it was really well paced. I liked that we were able to discuss and share ideas.”

– Chaucer Volunteer

To address this, the sessions cater for up to 10 volunteers from the same company or team, who ‘get together’ share ideas, drink a cuppa’ and get their children and pets involved! During the workshop, it is not only ideas on what to write or draw in the letters that are exchanged, but they also present an opportunity for latest updates in the volunteer’s lives, film, recipes and music suggestions to be exchanged. The sessions are like a fun team social or pre-lockdown hallway conversations – whilst doing something meaningful too! We even opened the session to ELBA staff as part of our wellbeing:

“The Letter writing session was an amazing opportunity to do something meaningful while getting creative and connecting with colleagues. It felt great to reach out to a stranger during these challenging times and share some positivity and well wishes.”

– ELBA, Wellbeing Committee

Following the sessions, volunteers send their letters to Madhumita who will include the letters in the care package. Volunteers often feel satisfied as they have done something for the community while being able to re-kindle with their team.

If you are interested in this opportunity and want to participate in one of ELBA’s letter writing sessions with your team, please contact Amadiora:  Amadiora.emechete@elba-1.org.uk.

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