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West Suffolk charity hopes to get more younger people to connect with care home residents

A Stradishall-based charity is offering young people the opportunity "to do their bit" during the Coronavirus lockdown by writing letters to lonely elderly people in care homes.

It is also inviting more care homes to take part in the scheme which is raising residents’ spirits.

The charity YOPEY – which stands for young people of the year – wants young people, aged five to 25, to handwrite a letter on one side of paper, photograph it on a mobile phone, and email the photo to hello@yopey.org.

A young person reading their reply to a Yopey letter, Contributed picture
A young person reading their reply to a Yopey letter, Contributed picture

In normal times YOPEY runs befriending schemes where young people visit care homes.

It has run YOPEY Befriender schemes in Bury St Edmunds, Haverhill, Mildenhall, Newmarket and Sudbury as well as further afield. But the lockdown stopped all visits to care homes.

YOPEY’s founder Tony Gearing MBE said: “When the lockdown happened, many young volunteers still wanted to do their bit. So I started a letter-writing scheme. The scheme is called @IwanttohelpCareHomeResidents and you can find it on Facebook.

“We have already sent out hundreds of letters, but I want more young people to get involved, not just those who are YOPEY Befrienders.”

Mr Gearing also appealed for more care homes in West Suffolk and further afield to take part in the scheme. "I realise this is an incredibly tough time for care homes and their staffs so this is a free service to put smiles on the faces of your residents."

Any young person, aged 5-25, or their parents or guardians can email a letter addressed to Dear Resident to hello@yopey.org. YOPEY likes the email to include a smiling head and shoulders photo of the young letter writer plus 1-3 photos of them doing something they mention in the letter.

"Many young people also illustrate their letters with drawings, from doodles to amazing artworks,” added Mr Gearing.

“We are getting lots of letters from very young children; I would like more letters from teenagers and young people in their early 20s.”

The charity then puts this material together in packs of 10-20 letters that it emails to care homes.

The charity is not putting anything in the post to avoid the risk of transmitting Covid-19 from one location to another.

So far packs have gone out to more than 100 care homes nationwide, but mainly in the East of England. “We know from feedback from some of the care homes that their residents are loving reading the letters,” said Mr Gearing. “It helps to take their mind off of a disease to which they are highly vulnerable."

Mr Gearing explained not all residents are able to reply – some are very old and frail or have dementia so they have lost the ability to write – but some do, and their letters can be wonderful.

Among the elderly whose replies have been passed on to the young volunteers are:

• an 84-year-old who said moving to East Anglia after the Second World War “was a bit of a culture shock - no running water, no bath arrangements or proper toilet”.

• an 88-year-old whose first job was in service at a big house in East Anglia. “My job was to peel potatoes and get all the other vegetables done. Then I had to clear up and scrub floors.”

• a 90-year-old who likes to sing. “Songs from the 1930s and ‘40s are my favourites.”

• a 92-year-old woman who has a doctorate in history and likes to encourage young people to “study hard. You are in charge of your life and if you work hard you will be rewarded with a good life.”

• another 92-year-old who met her future husband at a fete in Norfolk. “We were married for 57 years.”

• an 82-year-old who told a 10-year-old "your letter really cheered me up and makes me happy".

Mr Gearing said those young people who receive a reply can start a penpal friendship for the duration of the lockdown and possibly beyond.

“Although some of our young letter writers will receive replies, this shouldn’t be why you write a letter. You are writing a letter to do your bit for others in the pandemic and to raise the spirits of care home residents.”

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