Pen-pals meet up at celebration event

Letter writers in a scheme that links students with older people in a bid to tackle loneliness met face to face for the first time at a celebration event yesterday.

An inter generational pen pal project at the University of Leeds which helps combat loneliness in older people and in students settling in a new city held a celebration event where pen pals who have been writing to each other over the last few months met for the first time. Picture Tony Johnson.

The University of Leeds’ Writing Back project has been praised for tackling isolation among students and older people alike, and this year expanded to include international students from China, India, the United States, and elsewhere for the first time, in the hope of reaching people from different communities in the city and beyond.

The scheme was founded by PhD graduate Dr Georgina Binnie in 2014, and this year included more than 200 people, 70 of which were at yesterday’s event. Pen-pals are matched on a variety of elements, including their interests and cultures, and historic images of Yorkshire were used to spark conversation in the first letters.

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Dr Binnie said: “This is not just a scheme that tackles loneliness in older people, it’s about an exchange of knowledge between the age groups and having a point of contact within the community.

Magaret Thompson meets students Qianyun Zhong and Isabelle Redfern. Picture Tony Johnson.

“Our international students seem to have formed even stronger friendships with their partners, perhaps because their family and friends are on the other side of the world. They seem to really enjoy the exchange in cultures.”

The scheme has won awards both nationally and from the university, and in December Dr Binnie was invited to the launch of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness’s final report in December in recognition of her work.

If you would like to take part in the project, contact Miss Binnie at the School of English, LS2 9JT, email [email protected] or call 0113 343 6189.