About four years ago, when the WI resolutions of mental health matters and alleviating loneliness had been voted on, Valerie Hughes from Sutton WI in the Norfolk Federation, decided that a good way of helping was to set up a WI pen pal group.
Getting the word out was difficult as Valerie wanted to keep it as a free service, so she went to social media and the Unofficial WI Facebook group (often referred to as The Daisies) for help and a sub-group. The ‘Pen Pal Exchange’ was set up, and now has over 1,000 members.
Once it was established, NFWI promoted it too; it has been written about in WI Life, and is mentioned on MyWI.
Writing letters can be very therapeutic; you may often do more or look at things in a different way so that you have plenty to write about. It is also always lovely to get a hand-written letter as opposed to a bill or circular. Pen pals can be supportive, encouraging, an inspiration, a person to share highs and lows without being interrupted. There is something tangible, something to re-read as often as you want.
Although Valerie is aware that potentially the loneliest people are not online, this is the only way she can accept applications as she is not able to advertise her postal address for GDPR reasons. She hopes that those who do have internet access will apply for those who don’t.
To apply, she asks members to answer the following questions and for the answers to be emailed to her. She only shares the applicant’s addresses with the pen pal she matches them to:
- Marital status
- Present or former employment
- Interests and hobbies
- A bit about your family
- Full postal address
Valerie aims to link members at the end of every month, hoping that their interests and backgrounds will be a common thread. This is not always easy, and she is also mindful of how near members live to each other – if they are too close, they may already know each other. The hope is that ‘just’ being in the WI and liking letter writing would be enough of a link.
Valerie’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mark the email: WI Pen Pal.