All hail snail mail: Why it's time to pick up a pen pal

·3 min read
Pen pals are back in fashion (Getty Images)
Pen pals are back in fashion (Getty Images)

From baking to knitting, the pandemic has seen the revival of many bygone pastimes, but perhaps none have given such an important sense of connection as letter writing.

Nevertheless, people haven't just been writing letters to much-missed friends and family - many people have been writing to strangers.

In fact, what we're witnessing is the return of the pen pal, crossing national borders and generational divides.

Watch this: Organisations provide pen pals to reduce isolation among seniors

Schoolchildren and care home residents, both isolated groups during lockdown, have been encouraged to write to each other via outreach programmes.

An Irish Postal Service campaign gave everyone two postcards to send for free, while many people have turned to brand new pen pal agencies, such as Penpalooza, to strike up an epistolatory friendship. Launched in the spring of 2020, it now has over 10,000 members from more than 75 countries.

Read more: Nursing home 'overwhelmed' after call for pen pals

Writing to pen pals has helped connect strangers during strange times (posed by model: Getty Images)
Writing to pen pals has helped connect strangers during strange times (posed by model: Getty Images)

It's not hard to understand why people have been craving the opportunity to connect with strangers, and to slow down and switch off during this scary time of loneliness and Zoom fatigue.

But the pen pal boom forms part of a general revival in the not-so-lost art of letter writing, spearheaded by organisations such as the ultra-popular Letters of Note, which has been celebrating the world's best letters for over a decade.

Sales of letter-writing stationery, particularly from boutique brands, are through the roof. Papier, for example, reported sales in February of this year which were up 228 per cent on the same month in 2020.

Pen pal exchanges have allowed many of us to form cross-global friendships, sharing similar but different experiences with people on the other side of the world. Nevertheless, finding a pen pal can bring joy on a much more local scale.

Read more: Why I still write letters and keep pen pals

"My girls, aged three and five, started writing to most of the children in our neighbourhood during lockdown," says New Build Database founder Nichola Venables, from Barry in Wales. "Nearly all of them they hadn’t met before, and we got over 20 children involved. We’d take photos and write little newsletters then walk around and post them."

Nichola's daughter Arya with her letters (Credit: Nichola Venables)
Nichola's daughter Arya with her letters (Credit: Nichola Venables)

The pen pal exchange gave the children meaningful documents to keep, mementos of growing up in a strange and difficult time. "They loved getting letters back and we have a huge scrap book full of letters to look back on in the future.

"Plus, my five-year-old is now reading and writing at a seven year old's level - my younger girl has zero interest in reading or writing but loves colouring the letters and getting letters back through the letterbox!"

So sharpen those pencils - it's time to find yourself, or someone you love, a new pen pal.

Watch this: These women have been pen pals for over 50 years