Norwich man’s letters of kindness for Christmas
- Credit: Steve Adams
Sometimes the kindness of strangers is exactly what you need to realise that you're not alone.
Norwich man Alex Walton has a Christmas mission: to deliver messages of hope and festive cheer to 100 strangers in the hope that he will find people who truly need to connect with a compassionate heart at a time of year when loneliness can feel amplified to deafening levels of hopelessness.
His festive green and red envelopes have been appearing around Norwich in a selection of random locations, some including cinema tickets, all including a heartfelt story written by Alex and a small gift which finders can carry with them through good and bad times.
Each envelope bears the following message on the front: 'Several years ago I received a Christmas gift in strange circumstances. It changed my life for the better. I am now returning the favour by randomly distributing that same gift in equally strange circumstances. So wherever you may find this envelope, it is means for you. Please take it, please open it, please read it. Merry Christmas.'
Inside the envelope is a story of loss, loneliness and love, an inspiring tale of a man who thought he would never enjoy Christmas again, but who finds hope after being given a small but incredibly significant gift by an almost Dickensian character who finds him during a snow flurry in Norwich.
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The man behind these random acts of Christmas kindness has already delivered almost half of his cards, but there will be more to find during the festive period, with clues appearing on social media, on Twitter @findmystory and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/findmystory.
'I have always enjoyed Christmas and have been lucky in that I've never had the kind of desperately sad Christmas that the story inside the envelope is about, but I know that this time of year is so incredibly hard for some people because it brings home how alone they are,' said Alex, who works for a mobile phone company.
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'The idea for the story which is inside the envelopes came to me about 18 months ago but this is the first time that I've been able to get the project together – but earlier this year, I had one of those bad days that makes you want to do something good and this is what came out of it.
'I love surprises and I love mystery and the magic element of just happening across an envelope full of surprises is something that really appeals to me – I know that I'd love to stumble across one of these and see the message within.
'For me, it's exciting to think that people will be picking up the envelopes and thinking 'why has someone done this for me?' 'who are they?' 'why did I find this?'. It's a little bit of magic for grown-ups at a time of year which is all about magic for children.
'I used to practice magic of the Derren Brown kind and I used to dabble in certain kinds of tricks, so I'm trying to bring a little bit of that wonder and enchantment into this project and make people feel like they did when they were little and believed in Father Christmas.'
Envelopes have been left outside the EDP's Prospect House office, in Chapelfield Gardens, on London Street, in Norwich Castle gardens, at Cinema City, Eaton Park, Mousehold Heath, Carrow Road, outside Castle Mall, the Forum, Norwich Cathedral, by the Old Catton village sign and at Café Britannia on Britannia Road.
On December 18, Find My Story will be bringing some Christmas Cheer to Food Cycle at The Quaker Meeting House on Upper Goat Lane and Alex hopes that local businesses will hear about his project and possibly offer something to add into the envelopes for a little added cheer.
Alex's story is written from the first-person perspective of his hero, who has a very good reason to dread Christmas but who meets a stranger who helps to restore his faith in the festive season. The hero now wishes to pass on that gift in a similar fashion.
'I want people to know that if they find the story, then it was meant for them to read,' he said.
'In my head, there was the thought that I would make 100 envelopes and that if one out of the 100 people that opened them found the message of hope at just the right time for them and it made them feel like someone cared and was thinking of them, that they had a talisman that they could carry round to remind them that life is still full of joy and magic, that it would make a real difference to them.
'It would make my Christmas to think that I had helped someone else.'
Alex, whose wife Clare has been hugely supportive of the project, has two children, Dexter, four and Brodie, one, thinks a terrible accident he had several years ago may have contributed to his desire to reassess his priorities.
On a snowboarding holiday in France in 2010, he broke his neck, his pelvis in two places, his hip and his left wrist: 'When the French surgeon looked at me, he told me my neck was in pieces and that they wouldn't know where to start putting me back together.
'I was in this Darth Vader-type mask that was around my face and almost down to my waist and I was in a wheelchair. Physically, I was massively lucky to still be able to walk but mentally it was difficult to readjust because I went from someone who was really sporty to someone who was unable to do everything they used to be able to – I think something like that changes you.
'While it might not be a conscious decision to try and concentrate on what is really important in life, I can't see how it can't be a driver. When you realise that you were a centimetre or so from being paralysed, it has to change you as a person.'
The story in the mystery envelope isn't Alex's first flirtation with fiction: he has an unpublished book waiting in the wings which is the story of a man who is sent £10,000 in cash with a note saying: 'Don't tell anyone and spend it wisely'.
'I've obviously got a bit of a thing about letters, mysteries and surprises!' laughed Alex, who admits his dream would be to see his project rolled out across the county and country by others with a similar desire to spread the love.
'It has been so exciting to put together the Find My Story envelopes and see the reactions coming back – I hoped I might have one or two reactions but there have been more than that and it's such a thrill. I almost shed a tear when the first one came in. That's why I did this. It's lovely to give the people you love presents at Christmas, but it's even nicer to give something to someone who might not have got anything this year.'
If you would like to help Alex with his project, contact him via Twitter or Facebook on the addresses above.