Only Connect Pen Pals – Arts in Care Homes

We have developed this project which started in 2019, in response to the Coronavirus situation. Originally a postal project, we now ask pen pal partners to send messages of support, including letters, postcards, artwork and/or poems to care homes via email. We have already linked up over 300 care homes with Only Connect Pen Pal partners, including artists, arts organisations, school children, families and individuals. We have also linked care homes with pen pal partners in other countries, including Mexico and Japan.

The idea originated from a discussion with a resident of a care home who received weekly cards from her sister. She said that getting this mail was the highlight of her week and she waited eagerly every Friday or Saturday for the post to come. The messages from her sister, clearly provided a much needed lifeline to the outside world, as well as stimulation and entertainment. From this conversation, the spark of an idea was formed. 

Starting with creative writing workshops, held with staff from Sunrise Seniors and Greensleeves Care housing providers, residents were linked up with pen pal partners. There were many positive outcomes for residents, staff and pen pal partners. Residents felt valued and had a sense of purpose. Staff learnt new skills and were inspired to start up lots of new creative writing activities. The pen pal partners linked with the homes, really enjoyed becoming making a useful contribution to the life of the care homes and, in some cases, felt less lonely and isolated by taking part.

Due to the current situation, the need for social contact, stimulation and messages from the outside world is more important then ever for care homes. Staff benefit as well as residents – Only Connect emails provide a talking point and can be the starting point for related activities including writing messages and creating artwork to send back.

Get involved

Care providers

If you are a care provider who would like to be linked up with an Only Connect pen pal, who will send you messages of support, letters, postcards, artwork and/or poems, please sign up here.

We suggest that participating care homes have an Only Connect display board or wall where they can put up the messages they receive, along with other cards and letters from relatives and friends.

Please share on Social Media using #OnlyConnectPenPals and tag in @Artsincarehomes and @NAPALivingLife.

Resources to help you start sending Only Connect Pen Pal messages

Only Connect Resource pack for care homes
For developing creative writing activities, suggest letter topics and develop Only Connect pen pal partnerships.

Only Connect Postcard Pen Pals
This is aimed at primary school children who would like to become pen pal partners with a care home. We have come up with 12 weekly postcard challenges, suggesting ideas for artwork and messages on different topics. We hope that sending and receiving weekly postcards will help the children and older people feel less isolated, lonely and anxious at this most difficult time.

Only Connect Poem Pen Pals – coming soon.

Only Connect Arts Exchange – coming soon.