STUDENTS from Warrington are taking part in a pen pal project to befriend people living with dementia during the COVID-19 lockdown..
The Letters Against Loneliness project was set up by the University of Chester’s Volunteering Team to connect student volunteers to people who may be socially-isolated in the community.
Students from the Warrington and Chester campuses are writing hundreds of creative poems, letters and messages to vulnerable people living in 11 local care homes and those supported by the charity, Re-engage.
Re-engage is currently supporting people over 75 years who may be finding the COVID-19 crisis particularly devastating, with few family members or friends to talk to.
Warrington Campus’ Letters Against Loneliness team has forged strong links with two local care homes. Safety has, at all times, been the watchword. Students meet online for weekly creative workshops then laminate the mail they generate before sending it to care home staff to be disinfected. More than 50 mail items have since been sent to care home residents unable to have visitors due to the shielding restrictions.
The Warrington group is led by two second year mental health student nurses, Abigail Price and Sarana Coppin. The Warrington Campus has dementia-friendly status – an Alzheimer’s Society initiative to change the way people think, act and talk about dementia.
Sarana said: “I really enjoy our weekly online meetings because they lift my spirits”
Abigail added: “It’s great to get creative together and we know, from the feedback we’ve had, that our efforts are really making a difference.”
Mental health senior lecturer Dean McShane, said the project, launched on World Mental Health Day in October 2019, was mutually-beneficial and the long-term goal was to expand the project to make contact with other vulnerable, socially-isolated groups.
He said: “The feedback from staff at the homes has been overwhelming. It’s clear the letters have brought so much joy during this difficult period. But it’s a two-way process. The students giving their time not only benefit from meeting each other online to get creative, they’ve had heart-warming feedback that proves their efforts are really appreciated.”
Volunteer co-ordinator Shaunagh Smith is a member of the team co-ordinating the university-wide project. She said: “We not only support our students to ensure whatever they’re sending is sensitively-worded, we encourage them to inject some of their warmth and personality into their letters, messages and poems. After all, it’s the human touch that matters – the human touch that means so much to someone cut off from family and friends at this difficult time for us all. I am very proud our students who have stepped up to this challenge and are making such a difference.”
Pictured: Warrington Letters Against Loneliness volunteers, Sarana Coppin (left) and Abigail Price.