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My Dear New Friend

1564. Alice Irwin

Alice Irwin, from Wiltshire, created ‘My Dear New Friend’, a letter exchanging campaign between school children and care home residents which has seen hundreds of thousands of letters sent between new friends.

Alice Irwin

Alice conceived of the idea at her kitchen table, and what started with her own two children is now a nationwide campaign backed by the National Literacy Trust. The initiative encourages children to write letters addressed to “My Dear New Friend”, including details of their hobbies, pets, day-to-day life, drawings and other things they would like to feature, and Alice has created a dedicated social media account for parents to share photos of their children’s letters. Supported by schools across the country, the National Literacy Trust has also created resources including letter templates that can be downloaded to help pupils with their writing, as well as editable cover letters for sharing with local care home managers.

In a personal letter to Alice, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“I want to thank you for how you and your family have put pen to paper to connect with older people facing isolation.

“One of the greatest challenges of this year has been the necessary separation from family and friends and the loneliness this has caused. The simple act of receiving a letter in the post can lift the spirits immeasurably.

“I am delighted that the idea you conceived of with your children has become a nationwide campaign. ‘My Dear New Friend’ has seen hundreds of thousands of letters exchanged between young and old and I am sure it will bear true friendships beyond the pandemic.”

Alice said:

“I started ‘My Dear New Friend’ in March when the first lockdown began as I felt such sadness for how isolated residents of care homes must suddenly feel. This was a very simple idea as to how to reduce the terrible sense of isolation that care home residents felt when lockdown came. It was just about making a new friend through letter writing and hopefully one day in the not too distant future many of these new friends will actually meet.

“While primarily this was about reducing the sense of isolation it has also had the wonderful supplementary benefit of introducing letter writing to school children, a traditional form of communication very familiar to those who receive the letters but not so much to those initially sending them.

“I am genuinely surprised to receive this award from the Prime Minister and deeply honoured to have done so but the most important thing is that the young and the old keep writing to each other and hopefully form new friendships through the written word.”

Picture credit: Sam Pelly

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