Interview: the volunteer pen pal

Lonely older man taking a walk

This month we’ve had a chat with a Silver Line volunteer, who works on the Silver Letters team. The Silver Line started out as a phonecall service, however the Silver Letters side of the charity was set up to enable lonely older people to communicate with a volunteer on a regular basis through the medium of snail mail instead. Sarah* has been volunteering for nearly a year now, so we thought we’d ask her what it is like to be a volunteer pen pal.

Hi Sarah, can you tell us a little about your role at The Silver Line?

Hello! I certainly can. In a nutshell: I write to a lovely older lady, and she writes back to me.

So, how does it all work?

The Silver Line match volunteers and older people up based on their responses on a questionnaire they fill in when they join the service. This isn’t a task taken lightly; I had a telephone interview when I joined, and then a further chat about my likes and dislikes, to make sure I was suitable for the role, and to ensure they found me a suitable match.

Once you begin writing to your Silver Friend, The Silver Line forward all the letters on from both sides, so you never know your correspondent’s address. This also means they can check the content of the letters, to keep everyone safe.

What made you want to sign up to The Silver Line?

I love writing letters, so the thought of being able to write letters in a way that makes a difference to someone’s life seemed like a no-brainer really. Nobody should have to feel lonely.

What is your favourite thing about your voluntary work with The Silver Line?

I was matched with a wonderful lady, who I have grown really fond of. She is an inspiration to me, and I hope I am like her when I am older. I adore receiving her letters, and also look forward to sharing all my news with her too.

Have you always had pen pals, and do you have others at the moment?

Yes, I’ve had penfriends since I was a child. I have five at the moment, who I write to regularly, but I always prioritise my Silver Friend – after all, she signed up for a pen pal because she is feeling lonely, so my job is to help alleviate that feeling as best I can. I take my role very seriously in that regard.

What is your favourite thing about letter writing?

What’s not to love?! I like the slow pace of it, I like the fact it helps you reflect on recent events and feelings when you’re writing about them, I find it a relaxing process, I like the thought of people getting excited to find mail on their doormat… and don’t even get me started on pretty stationery!

Haha, ok. What is your favourite stationery though?

I have to use lined paper, as I cannot write it a straight line for toffee! However, I always use nice envelopes and a pretty fountain pen to write my letters: my Faber-Castell e-Motion is my favourite. I own many fountain pens though, and keep them in rotation so I don’t overuse one.

Are there any negative aspects to your volunteer role?

Just one. My Silver Line Friend and I can never meet. Actually, no, there are two:  I’d also love to send her a gift for Christmas and her birthday, but gifts aren’t allowed. I can understand why, but I’d love to treat her! She has become an important part of my life.

Would you recommend this role to others?

Absolutely. I only wish Silver Line Letters had been set up years ago! I don’t think they’re accepting new volunteers at the moment, as they’ve been overwhelmed with applicants, but keep your eyes peeled on their website and social media if you’re interested in signing up.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with The Pen Company, Sarah.


*Names have been changed to respect the confidentiality of the Silver Line service.

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

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