Friendships forged across the generations in city pen pal scheme

The art of letter writing could be considered on the wane in our digital age but not for a group of Cardiff schoolchildren and residents of some of the city’s care homes.

Children from Millbank Primary School in Ely and St Joseph’s RC Primary School in Gabalfa have been putting pen to paper, exchanging correspondence, and building new friendships with older members of the community who live at The Forge Care Centre, Heol Don Nursing and Residential Centre and Ely Court Care Home.

The intergenerational pen pal scheme has been organised by the city’s Hubs and Libraries service and is one of the many initiatives delivered by the service as part of the city’s work to become more Age Friendly.

In March, Cardiff became the first authority in Wales to join the World Health Organization’s Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities.

And last week, during the first Global Intergenerational Week and having exchanged letters over the past two years, the scribes finally came face to face when Year 6 pupils from Millbank visited the Forge Care Centre.

The two generations enjoyed the sunshine, playing games together in the centre’s garden including tiddlywinks, Connect 4, Robot Boy, armchair golf and snakes and ladders.

Lead Library and Strategy Manager, Nicola Pitman, said: “The children and residents really enjoyed spending time in each other’s company last week, getting to know each other in person after writing to each other during the pandemic. It was a privilege to be there and see some of the older people come alive, smile, laugh and in some cases just soak in the atmosphere while clearly enjoying themselves.

“The children are incredibly caring and both generations have had such a positive impact on each other during the difficult times of the pandemic. It has been a very moving scheme.”

The Forge Care Centre Manager, Gill Reed, said: “We had an amazing afternoon, such fun and so many smiles – it was heart-warming. A big, big thank you to all the children that visited, so beautifully behaved and respectful.”

Millbank teacher, Barry Blears, said: “It has been a wonderful experience for the children to write letters and meet residents at the Forge. With the new curriculum in Wales, it was the perfect opportunity to explore the health and wellbeing area of learning and to give it a real context and purpose for our children. It was a special experience for them.”

Cardiff’s membership of the World Health Organization’s Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities is a result of extensive collaboration with stakeholders across the city including Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, educational institutions, and third sector organisations, resulting in a dynamic action plan with an overall ambition of Cardiff becoming an Age Friendly City.

Global Intergenerational Week is a campaign organised by Generations Working Together, linking everyone who is passionate about connecting different generations and reducing ageism.The campaign seeks to create opportunities to build and celebrate relationships between different age groups to help strengthen communities, reduce isolation and loneliness, improve health and mental wellbeing.