Only Connect – developing creative writing through pen pal partnerships

Only Connect is a creative pen pal project developed by Arts in Care Homes with Creative Writes and staff, residents, relatives and volunteers from two care providers, Sunrise Senior Living and Greensleeves. The name is taken from a passage from Howards End, a novel written by EM Forster in 1910:

“Only connect…the prose and the passion”

EM Forster

The Only Connect resource pack (pdf), includes tips for: writing letters; finding pen pal partners; setting up Read Aloud sessions and developing creative writing and arts activities. It was launched on 24 September, the first National Day of Arts in Care Homes. The pack includes a postcard written by Vincent Van Gogh on 24 September 1883 as well as copies of original letters from The Georgian Papers Programme and The Royal Albert Hall.

The idea for the project came from a discussion with a resident in a care home. Arts in Care Homes Project Manager, Alison Teader and Creative Writes Director, Nichola Charalambou were talking to a woman about what activities she enjoyed doing and the subject of letters came up. The highlight of the woman’s week was receiving a card, usually featuring an image of animals or flowers, which her sister sent to her through the post. She spoke very movingly about how much this meant to her – it was clear that the letter acted as a lifeline to the outside world. When asked if she ever sent a letter back to her sister, the woman replied that she was unable to write a letter by herself, due to arthritis in her fingers.

Anna’s Song, written by Anna from Sunrise Guildford with Nick Jones.
Based on a poem written by Anna as part of the Only Connect project.

The Only Connect project was developed as a response to this incident, as a way of lessening loneliness and isolation for people living in care homes, whilst developing creativity and writing skills. Letter writing is a very accessible and cost-effective activity for care homes and something that care staff can get involved in and support fairly easily. It is also a good way of involving relatives, friends and volunteers from the local community who want to do something to contribute towards the quality of life of people living in care homes but don’t know how to help.

“People love receiving letters!”

Only Connect participant

Promoting this as an intergenerational activity, linking up care homes with local schools and colleges as well as other community groups and individuals, also seemed to have lots of potential. We are already seeing some great outcomes from the pilot project. New friendships are being made, stories are being shared and links are being developed with pen pal partners not only in the local community but further afield.