This month’s interview is with talented and accomplished US-based calligrapher,…
This month we have been talking to Stuart Bourn at the very popular worldwide pen pal site, Global Penfriends. We wanted to find out all about the website; why it was set up, how it is run, and how it is impacting on the lives of its users. If you’re a fan of snail mail, or of keeping in touch with friends around the world via email, read on to find out more about this excellent website.
Hi Stuart, what is your position at Global Penfriends?
I’m the Manager of Global Penfriends.
When was Global Penfriends set up and by who?
It was set up by myself, Stuart Bourn, as a personal project to find penpals from all over the world when I was attending University.
Why was Global Penfriends set up?
Global Penfriends filled a gap in penpalling. With the internet gaining pace in the early 1990’s, I could see people had a desire to choose their own penpals, rather than the traditional penpal lists where clubs gathered profile forms from around the world, manually matched up penpals, and sent a paper list to recipients with names and addresses of their prospective penpals.
How does your site work?
People register a profile for free. Our profile is quite detailed to ensure people get a good sense of the penpal, and whether this would be a good fit for their penpalling needs.
Is there a subscription fee?
We offer free credits to our members but if the free credits are not enough, members can choose to upgrade.
What are the benefits of starting a penpal friendship? And a global one in particular?
I could write a book on this one – in fact, we have. You can check out the benefits of snail mail correspondence here.
How many penfriends do you think you have matched up since you began?
Literally hundreds of thousands, spanning the last 20 years!
Do many of your members opt for snail mail as opposed to e-communications?
We currently have over 70,000 members that have registered for snail mail correspondence on our site – it is the biggest searchable database of postal penpals anywhere. We do offer both E-pals and snail mail penpals on our site – it seems that for every 1 snail mail penpaller there are 2 E-pallers. Snail mail is cool though, and it’s developing quite the cult following. Mail-art and pocket pals are interesting offshoots of the popular hobby.
What’s your favourite ever member feedback?
We are lucky in that we receive frequent feedback from our members – in fact, our club is built on feedback and we really encourage it. The best feedback we have received is a tough one. We have actually placed some of our users feedback here.
We have received some feedback to the effect that joining our club had been a life changing move, and they had gone from feeling very lonely and depressed to having so many friends around the world that they did not have enough hours in the day to write to them all. To know that you have affected someone’s life in a positive way – that’s a great feeling, and one of our greatest motivations for making Global Penpals the best possible penpal site.
What are your tips for writing a first letter or email to a new penfriend?
We have created a page for tips, but basically: keep it simple and keep it unique (and don’t send out the same mass mail to everyone). Tell them the essentials about yourself and describe a few hobbies or interests. Ask questions! Then finish with a harmless sign-off like “Sincerely” or “Your friend”, rather than “Love” or “Hugs and Kisses”.
Great tips, Stuart! Thank you for your time, and good luck for the future.