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Student volunteers from the University of Chester have connected with Snow Angels, a social enterprise group that supports older people to live independently and keep well. The organisation works across Cheshire in partnership with a range of local organisations and one aspect of its work includes reducing isolation by offering home visits and befriending services.

The University’s Volunteering team set up a scheme called Letters Against Loneliness where student project leaders recruit and manage volunteers who write letters to Snow Angels to share with their elderly service users. The recipients then write back to the students via the organisation, which then forwards them to the University for the students to receive.

The project reduces the feeling of social isolation for elderly people who are particularly hit by the isolation of the pandemic. It enables them to feel connected to the outside world and is especially beneficial to those who are vulnerable and can’t leave their homes.

By becoming pen-pals, a relationship is able to form between the volunteer and older person, allowing them to chat about common interests and learn new things about each other.

The team at Snow Angels have received feedback from their elderly service users that they have enjoyed writing to the students, sharing different points of view and taking part in stimulating conversations.

Heather Miller Co-ordinator at Snow Angels, said: “The students have had a beneficial impact on our service users. Many look forward to their letter and it brightens up their week. They often engage in similar topics of interest, resulting in longer responses, which has been fantastic to see.”

Project Leader for Letters Against Loneliness, Olivia White, 21, who studies Primary Education, said: “I got involved with the project because I heard that loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and that statistic made me want to do something to help combat loneliness and social isolation.

“In my letters I write about my life, such as my degree, my family and pets, my hobbies and what I have been doing recently. I also ask the reader questions about their life too. I enjoy writing the letters and knowing that hopefully I will brighten up someone's day.”

Louise Morris, Volunteer Coordinator in the University’s Volunteering and Mentoring team, said: “It’s great to see that our students are making such a big difference to the lives of others by simply taking some time out of their day to write a letter and connect with someone who is at risk of isolation and loneliness.

“Something as simple as receiving a letter from somebody who has cared enough to write can make such a big difference to someone’s day or even week.

I’m so proud of how our student Project Leaders have worked together to run and adapt the project among the changing circumstances.”

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