Real Lives

Pen pal scheme is the write stuff at care home

Ody Moritis aged 8, Kacey James 8, Margaret Thomas aged 93 and Gabriella Beech aged 8

A 93-year-old former teacher who lives in a Barry care home has inspired a heart-warming pen pal scheme involving residents and pupils of a nearby school.

The postman arriving at Springbank Care Home on College Road causes a ripple of excitement as they eagerly await the latest batch of letters from youngsters at Jenner Park Primary School.  He arrives soon after morning ‘meds’ and one of the first in the queue is nonagenarian Margaret Thomas, who spent her career working as an infants’ school teacher.

Mother-of-two Margaret Thomas, who has dementia was one of the first to put pen to paper when the home introduced a letter exchange scheme as part of its wellbeing programme.

The project at Springbank has earned warm praise from Care Forum Wales which represents hundreds of independent social care providers.  Chair Mario Kreft MBE said: “This is an utterly brilliant idea and it’s helping to bring joy and friendship to two generations at very different ends of the age spectrum.”

Rhondda Valley born and bred, Margaret Thomas taught at her local school in Ferndale for many years before becoming headmistress at Ynyshir where she remained to her retirement in 1985.

Her daughter Rhian Thomas, from Barry, said: “Mam had a wonderful career in teaching and still talks about her days training in Barry when the student teachers would run into the kitchen to make sandwiches.

“Sadly she suffered a stroke in 2012 and was diagnosed with dementia last year. But she remembers a lot about the past and helping children to write their first words.

“When the letter exchange was started she was first to have one in the post. She wrote to a little boy telling him she been a teacher a ‘very long time ago’ and encouraged him to keep on writing.

“Her eye sight isn’t the best anymore and she misses doing her crochet work. You can tell the letter exchange has given her a new lease of life. She looks forward to what the children have to say.”

A group of 10 residents are now involved in penning letters to children in Years 3 and 4.  Now there is a steady flow of letters between the school which is 15 minutes’ walk away from the home on Hannah Street. They are laminated and displayed in the tea room.

Springbank operations manager Alex Kelleher said: “Many of our residents have dementia and it is hard to know ‘where’ they are in their minds but we can see how happy they are when the school choir visits. They love meeting the children and joining in with their songs.

“We wanted to develop this community connection further and had the idea of writing letters to children at Jenner Park Primary.

“Margaret was keen to be involved. She loves talking to people but is sometimes a little troubled and confused. The letters do seem to bring joy and fulfilment not only to Margaret, but all involved. They certainly put a smile on faces.”



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