The students, studying GCSE English alongside vocational construction trade programmes, took part in a pilot scheme with two care homes, Priestley Care Home in Birstall and Sure Care North Leeds
It involved students writing to the pensioners to alleviate the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic while improving literacy. Residents had the opportunity to respond and keep the dialogue going between students that were taking part.
More than 30 letters were sent and for some students, it was the first letter they had ever written. They talked about their courses at college, hopes for the future and how they have coped with lockdown as well as asking the residents questions about themselves.
Sarah Heaton, English lecturer at Leeds College of Building, said: “During the first lockdown, I saw heart-breaking stories on local news coming out of care homes. There were such desperate tales about how isolated residents were while relatives cried outside, unable to visit. I then read some news from the US about a school doing a pen pal initiative there. Everyone in the scheme gained something. It struck a chord, so I started some research about alienation and wellbeing.
Taking part in the scheme were plastering students, Zara Dupont and Ben Pratt, aged 17 and 16.
She said: "I really enjoyed taking part in the pen pal initiative. It was really rewarding, knowing we were making a difference in such terrible times.”
Mr Pratt added: "It's great that the residents were able to respond and tell us about themselves and their experiences and that they loved our letters so much."
A spokesperson at Priestley Care Home, said: “The pen pal initiative between Priestley and Leeds College of Building has been a big boost to our residents. The letters have helped alleviate some of the loneliness that the residents have felt during this past twelve months. The letters have allowed our residents to feel connected to the outside world”
Owing to the success of the project, the pen pal initiative will be embedded into the GCSE English scheme of work at Leeds College of Building for the 2021/2022 academic year.