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'It's a burst of sunshine in the door' - The rise of penpals during the pandemic

The pandemic has seen a resurgence in letter writing and penpals, as more and more people reach o...
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

15.52 31 Mar 2021


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'It's a burst of sunshine in t...

'It's a burst of sunshine in the door' - The rise of penpals during the pandemic

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

15.52 31 Mar 2021


Share this article


The pandemic has seen a resurgence in letter writing and penpals, as more and more people reach out to each other.

Dublin-based American woman Liz Maguire has around 90 penpals that she keeps in touch with regularly.

She told Lunchtime Live it is part of a global network.

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"Since last summer I have been participating in a very lovely community over on Twitter, called the PenPalooza community.

"That is a penpal exchange programme that was started by a woman out of New York, named Rachel Syme, and she saw a need and an interest in penpaling during isolation.

"Since then there's just letters flying around the world - it's wonderful."

"I've always loved letter writing and that sort of thing, but I've always wanted a penpal - and it can be a little bit weird to ask someone on the internet if you want to be a penpal friend.

"But the PenPalooza Twitter community is great: you just send a message and say 'I saw you tweeted about a book I just read - will I send you a letter?'

"And then you get started, and suddenly you have 90".

'It's a burst of sunshine in the door' - The rise of penpals during the pandemic

00:00:00 / 00:00:00

    

'There's so much really'

She said lockdown has been hard on everyone, and this helps people feel good.

"I think that receiving a letter in the door is the best thing that you can have when you haven't seen your friends or family for weeks at a time.

"Having a letter from someone you know, or maybe even a complete stranger, is just a little burst of sunshine right in the door".

She thinks the personal touch of a letter is a great way to communicate with new people.

"I describe what I might see on my morning walk or things like that, but there's books you're reading, films you're watching, series you're binging.

"There's so much really when you sit down to think 'What did I do today?'

"A lot of us are saying 'Oh I'm doing the same thing over and over again' - but really there are little moments that are quite sweet.

"You just drop those in a note and then somebody sends you theirs, it's really precious".

Liz said it also gives her a real sense of purpose.

"A lot of people even say that the act of sitting down and writing a letter is sort of a bit like a meditation and it centres them.

"Walking to the postbox in the morning sometimes - you might say 'I'll go for my walk this morning, I know I will' - but when you've a stack of three or four letters there you go 'I must get those to the postbox'.

"So you get up, you get out the door, you get walking and you have a total different connectivity with someone when you've used pen than when you've typed something out".

'We kept in contact'

Fiona from Cork had 11 penpals at age 12 in 1971 - and she is actually still in touch with one in the US.

"That was back in the days before e-mail and all the IT stuff.

"When the letters would come in - it could be from India, New Zealand, Australia, America - all very far-flung places back then because nobody travelled.

"Everybody in the family would gather around the kitchen table to see the latest letter, and hear about things that were happening in far-flung places, admire the stamps.

"It was just fun, it was fantastic".

"I actually met one from New Zealand - but my favourite is one from the USA, and we even met in London last February 12 months - just before the dreaded lockdown.

"We kept in contact: she came and stayed with me in Cork, and I went and stayed with her in Connecticut.

"We just have a lovely relationship - I know their family well and they know my family well - it's wonderful."

Fiona explained it all started back in first year in school, through a group called the International Youth Association.

"They matched you up if you just gave your name, what your interests were, your age, female/male - and they matched you up with the computer, which was a big thing back then.

"There were no such things as computers, so we thought it was very fancy.

"They just gave you a list of that people that you could be matched with.

"I'd one in Germany actually, I wrote to into the '80s, she used to write in German and I was doing German in school - so that was a great practice for me".

'It's a burst of sunshine in the door' - The rise of penpals during the pandemic

00:00:00 / 00:00:00

    

Main image: Liz Maguire. Picture via @thelizmaguire on Twitter

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