As part of testing whether there was a demand for what we could offer, we ran pilot workshops in a range of settings in London and North Surrey.
We brought together Emberbrook Care Home in Thames Ditton and Princess Alice Hospice in Esher with younger pen pals pupils at Hinchley Wood Secondary School. All three groups enjoyed weekly workshops on different themes led by artists Yero Timi-Biu and Vanessa Kisuule and wrote letters to their pen pals.
Some of the children walked past the care home on their way to school but had no idea what went on inside or who lived there. Connecting through letters proved to be a great way to challenge assumptions, on both sides, and find commonalities. At the hospice we worked with a group of day patients who were pleased to make new friends with their pen pals.
One of the hospice patients commented:
“It’s hard as you approach the end of your life as people want to do everything for you. It’s a basic human need to want to be useful and helpful to others but that’s taken away from you. This project gave me a real chance to help someone else by sharing my life experiences with a young lad and offer him advice. It was brilliant when I heard back how useful it was to him and how much he appreciated it. You don’t expect to make new friendships when you’re terminally ill. This was a breath of fresh air.”