CHILDREN IN Sheffield have been given the opportunity to make pen pal friends during lockdown to improve their mental health.
The scheme, which 60 children have already signed up for, has been set up by Always an Alternative; an organisation that focuses on reducing serious violence amongst young people.
Anthony Olaseinde 33, the founder of Always An Alternative, created the project to give children in the community something to do, away from school classes which are all online at the moment.
Mr Olaseinde said: “Lockdown is effecting young people a lot. I’ve seen a lot of parents struggling and I see my children having to go on the computer from 9 am to 3 pm constantly. So I thought, okay, Pen Pal Project, they’ll be able to make new friends and they’ll be able to meet new people. They’ll also be able to practice their handwriting, their punctuation and their grammar.”
According to a survey conducted by Young Minds after the first lockdown reflected a decline in mental health amongst young people. 80% of respondents agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse.
Lesley Pollard, managing director of Chilypep, a youth empowerment charity based in Sheffield, explained how the Pen Pal Project could benefit young people and their mental health.
She said: “I think it’s a brilliant idea. There can’t be a downside to it, the idea of it is fantastic for young people to connect not only locally but nationally and even internationally. It opens the world up for them and builds connections. One of the big issues for young people is that they’ve felt incredibly disconnected and isolated through the lockdown… I’m sure it will be nothing but good.”
The project has been made possible through the sales of Mr Olaseinde’s book ‘One Knife Many Lives’.
He said: “I think pen pals now they’ve phased out, it’s email now. They’re in front of a computer, and this is giving them something new to do. It’s a new experience and they’re engaging in a different way.
It might lead them to find a love for writing… It’s just about opening doors and giving people the opportunity to try new things in safe environments.”