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Tortoise talk bridges generation gap for new pen pals

A pen pal project aimed at combatting the loneliness of lockdown has linked teenagers in a Walsall secondary school with residents in some of our retirement living communities across Staffordshire.

The multi-generational pen pal project is the brainchild of Sarah Wilson, Engagement and volunteer co-ordinator at Care Plus. Sarah has been working with Walsall Academy staff member Kay Weston who, when not teaching languages and Skills for Life lessons, volunteers at Pencric where she is looking forward to resuming French conversation workshops with the residents once coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

“Letter writing is something that pupils learn on our Skills for Life course,” explained Kay. “These lessons inspire young people who might not want to follow a traditional academic pathway but who are motivated by practical skills and real-world experiences.”

Kay’s Year 9 pupils – more used to communicating by text and emoji – were asked if they would like to write to some of the older residents in our retirement living communities.

“We were surprised how many pupils wanted to take part,” said Sarah. “At a time when families have been kept apart, these young people have missed contact with their grandparents. It’s fantastic how quickly the multi-generational pen pals have connected with each other.”

With a teaching career spanning three decades, Doris Tuner, 91, relished the opportunity to communicate with the young people.

“I’m probably one of the last regular letter writers. Letters have always been my favourite way to keep in touch but during the last 12 months they have become even more important,” she explained.

When Doris received her first letter, though, she was surprised to discover a very special connection with her new friend.

“I had a lovely letter from 14-year-old Libby and was excited to read that she had a tortoise called Wally,” said Doris. “My own pet, Torty, has been an important part of my family for 60 years and I wrote back straight away to swap a few tortoise stories!”

Kind-hearted Doris is already hard at work making a knitted bag to pass on to her pen pal. “It’s hard being a teenager, I want her to know that Torty and I are thinking of her.”

Kay acts as ‘post person’ in the project, with letters sent to her in the first instance and passed on to the eager pen pals. “The first replies arrived while the pupils were on holiday at Easter and they couldn’t wait to read them on their first day back at school,” she said.

The pen pals and their tortoises hope to meet in person at a tea party later this year.

File photo