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Here to Help: Not Alone pen friends stamping out loneliness amid the lockdown

PUBLISHED: 10:11 15 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:11 15 April 2020

Here are some of the faces of the people who have signed up to become Here to Help: Not Alone pen friends. Picture: Anne Jones/Hannah Hopkins/Nicola Brown/ Submitted/Adam Wilson

Here are some of the faces of the people who have signed up to become Here to Help: Not Alone pen friends. Picture: Anne Jones/Hannah Hopkins/Nicola Brown/ Submitted/Adam Wilson

Anne Jones/Hannah Hopkins/Nicola Brown/ Submitted/Adam Wilson

Since launching last month, the campaign - an offshoot of the EDP and Norwich Evening News initiative Here to Help - has seen dozens of individuals and groups reach out from all corners of the country.

Reporter Donna-Louise Bishop launching the Not Alone (pen pal initiative) string of the Here to Help campaign. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYReporter Donna-Louise Bishop launching the Not Alone (pen pal initiative) string of the Here to Help campaign. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

In association with Norfolk County Council, the pen friend scheme has attracted people and groups from all walks of life, creating new and unique friendships in its path.

EDP reporter Donna-Louise Bishop explained how impressive its reach has been: “We’ve now heard from more than a hundred people since we launched.

“It’s been an absolute delight and privilege to work on this project bringing people and communities together, who may otherwise have walked on by from each other.

“Our youngest pen pal to sign up is aged two-and-a-half, and he has been corresponding with his three-year-old pen friend by sharing pictures they have drawn - with the help of their mums to get them into the post, of course.

Keeping in touch as Donna-Louise Bishop launches the Not Alone (pen pal initiative) string of the Here to Help campaign. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYKeeping in touch as Donna-Louise Bishop launches the Not Alone (pen pal initiative) string of the Here to Help campaign. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“The oldest writer we have is 89-years-young and is an inspiring wartime evacuee who has lived through six years of war and served in the Women’s Land Army.

“We’ve had youngsters missing their grandparents now writing to residents of nursing homes, school children wanting to reach out the people in their local community, and even families offering to correspond as a group with individuals isolated in their own homes.”

As well as groups, such as schools and care homes , getting involved, the campaign has reached far and wide not only in Norfolk but further afield to other counties including Herefordshire, north Devon, and Cumbria in the Lake District.

The initiative has also reached as far as south west France, where high school pupils studying English have jumped on board to offer their help.

Anne Jones signed up to become a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend. Picture: ANNE JONESAnne Jones signed up to become a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend. Picture: ANNE JONES

Miss Bishop added: “It’s been truly touching to discover how many people want to be part of this, and also the reasons why.

“With more than 100 people now communicating with each other, I wonder if we can reach the next landmark of 200 and help stamp out loneliness.”

· To become a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend, email penpals@archant.co.uk with your name, age, a few brief details about yourself, the correspondence email or address you would like to use, and the type of person or group you would like to communicate with.

Nicola Brown signed up to become a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend. Picture: NICOLA BROWNNicola Brown signed up to become a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend. Picture: NICOLA BROWN

Meet the pen friend: Anne Jones

Anne Jones, of Chandlers Hill, Wymondham, decided to become involved because she thought the project was “a great idea”.

She said: “I thought it was a simple way to help people feel less isolated and get to know someone who may live just around the corner.

Adam Wilson signed up to become a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend. Picture: ADAM WILSONAdam Wilson signed up to become a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend. Picture: ADAM WILSON

“I’ve enjoyed hearing about how others are coping with the isolation, finding ways to keep busy and positive at this challenging time and about their lives.

“It is a great way of getting to know someone through correspondence, which is so easy to do at anytime in different ways, and it is accessible for all. It helps me to think about someone else and to share my day and experiences.

“I have found out that my pen friend has been showing dogs and organising events for a long time, something I know nothing about and such an interesting role to hear about. I have also found out how much I enjoy letter writing, taking time to think about the content and hopefully make it interesting.

“It was a lovely feeling to receive a letter too as someone has taken time out to tell me what they have been up to and how they are feeling.

Hannah Hopkins (left) and her two children Jack (middle), nine, and Ily (top), three, signed up to become a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend. Picture: HOPKINS FAMILYHannah Hopkins (left) and her two children Jack (middle), nine, and Ily (top), three, signed up to become a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend. Picture: HOPKINS FAMILY

“I will definitely meet my pen friend when we can as they live only a few miles from me.”

Meet the pen friend: Nicola Brown

Adam Clarke (right), aged seven, signed up to become a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend with his brothers James (right), five, and Harrison (middle), two. Picture: BISHOP FAMILYAdam Clarke (right), aged seven, signed up to become a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend with his brothers James (right), five, and Harrison (middle), two. Picture: BISHOP FAMILY

Nicola Brown, 48, of Town Street, Upwell, said she first heard about the pen friend initiative via an article she read on Facebook.

She said: “For me I feel like I am doing something to help, albeit very small in comparison to what other people are doing.

“It has been nice to just write a few things down, for example what we have been doing since lock down, almost like a journal.

“I would definitely recommend other people do it, as I always like to receive letters in the post. It’s more personal than a text or email. So I am sure other people like to receive letters too.

“I have not received a reply yet, but I am really looking forward to it - it’s exciting. I had forgotten how much I like to write.

“I have thought about whether I would meet my pen pal or not, and I think all being well it would be quite nice to meet up.”

Meet the pen friend: Adam Wilson

Adam Wilson, 36, of Boyton Road, London, said he become involved because he wanted to connect with other people.

He added: “I wanted to help out and connect with people, as it may help me too.

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“I would recommend becoming a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend for the same reasons - to connect and help.

“Maybe in the future, it could be good to connect with my pen friend in person.”

Meet the pen friend: Alison Oldfield

Alison Oldfield, 73, of Sixteenacre Road, Norwich, wanted to get involved as she is currently housebound due to health reasons.

She said: “There’s not much I can do for other people at the moment but writing is something I can do, and enjoy.

“It’s been quite interesting and I would recommend it to other people - just give it a try and see how it goes and keep your address private unless you’re fully confident.

“My pen friend enjoys images and music, whereas I’m rather focused on words, and although it was a bit odd writing into the blue to start with, I was able to begin with a general introduction.”

Meet the pen friends: Hannah Hopkins and Jack and Ily

Hannah Hopkins, 35, of William Lant Close, Forncett St Peter, and her two children, Jack, aged nine, and Ily, aged three, have all become Here to Help pen friends.

Ms Hopkins said they wanted to get involved to “brighten someone’s life through these hard and lonely times”

She added: “I wanted to teach my children the importance of doing something nice for someone else.

“The experience has been excellent. The children have loved receiving pictures and questions from their pen pals. It’s encouraged Jack to sit calmly and write responses to the questions asked. It gave us time as a family, up the table all writing and drawing pictures to our pen pals.

“I would absolutely recommend it to other people as it’s a fantastic thing to be involved in.

“So far, I have received stories about my pen pal’s evacuation and land army days. It was really interesting and Jack found it interesting too as he loves history. The children waited for the postman each day for their first letter.”

Meet the pen friends: Adam, James and Harrison Clarke

Adam Clarke, aged seven, of Stocks Loke, Cawston, got involved with the Here to Help: Not Alone project with his brothers James, five, and Harrison, two.

He said he wanted to become a pen friend because he likes “thinking of new people”.

He added: “I wanted to write to people with my brothers because it makes me feel happy getting a letter.

“I like all the colours from the pictures my pen friend sent me.

“I found out that my pen friend is older than me and he likes the colour green and his favourite dinosaur is tyrannosaurus rex. I love dinosaurs too.

“I was surprised to get my first letter and I was really amazed and enjoyed reading it.

“I would tell other people to be a pen friend because I like to see new people writing letters to each other.”

Here to Help Campaign

With Norfolk County Council, we have launched our Here to Help campaign in a bid to create an army of helpers to step in to offer that extra support.

Clearly, there are safety issues of which to be aware but there are all ways in which we can help - whether that’s dropping off food, walking a pet, phoning someone on their own or just pointing them in the direction of the most up to date advice.

We’ve included a Here to Help postcard, which we would love to see people post through their neighbours’ letterboxes.

For updates, visit our Facebook page Norfolk Coronavirus Updates here .

Join our Here to Help Facebook page here .

• If you are doing something to help in your community email newsdesk@archant.co.uk

• Subscribe to our daily coronavirus newsletter, with all the latest from where you live, here .


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