The ClementJames Centre
November 11th, 2021 by Emily Ansorge.
On Thursday 30th September, Safe Ground was invited to be part of The ClementJames Centre’s ‘In Touch’ wellbeing conference. As part of the 40-minute carousel activities, we delivered the letter writing section of our Human Writes programme. We aimed to emphasise the importance and art of letter writing and how it allows you to connect with both yourself and others, meeting the main themes of the day: communication and ‘creative connections’.
The ClementJames Centre succeeded in creating a supporting and stimulating environment in which Safe Ground could work with groups to consider different forms of connection, which I felt culminated in a really thought-provoking workshop experience.
The 23 participants had a range of experience with letter writing, very few had written a letter in the last 6 months, and some kept a journal, but everyone agreed that the craft of writing had been lost with the instantaneous nature of technology in recent years. Despite this, we discussed the special nature of writing a letter, as well as the positive feeling of receiving a handwritten letter. This exemplifies that technology has just concealed the practice of letter writing, not making it redundant completely. This became evident as through conversation the participants all shared their experience and reflections of meaningful letters they have received and kept and their thoughts on the different types of letters that we introduced to them (illustrated letter and letter to yourself).
Participants embraced the open, reflective space and the three groups engaged in emotive and stimulating conversations. Alongside facilitator and participant reflection, it was wonderful to see the group-atmosphere and both similarities and differences of people’s experiences with letter writing captivating group members thoughts and discussions all the same.
We provided our Safe Ground greetings cards, with the simple message ‘Thinking of you’ inside, for participants to write on, as well as resources to decorate the letter as they wanted, and stamped envelopes too. By the end of the session, all the participants had started to write their letter, in whichever format and language they felt most comfortable. This felt a great achievement in such a limited period of time and is proof of the renewed significance of letter writing and the impact of putting pen to paper. For example, one participant wrote to her estranged best friend, who she wanted to reach out and re-connect with, finding letter writing more personal and intimate. An additional participant decided to write to her sister, who she had been intending to phone, but was unsure what to say. As well as this, one participant wrote to her niece, with whom she only ever interacts in family group situations. However, through the practice of letter writing she wanted to connect with her directly and establish a one to one relationship. Another participant wrote to their mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, so used the letter writing as an outlet to have meaningful conversations that they hadn’t been able to have recently. Similarly, one participant wrote to their wife who had passed away and whilst painful, found it was a way to positively relive memories and reconnect with her.
I feel the participants’ shared stories are testament to the power of writing letters, as it provided the opportunity for them to reconnect with both happy and painful memories and emotions. We also wanted to emphasise the personal and unique experience of writing letters for each person. Not only does this make it a special and sentimental practice, but also one that changes depending on the occasion and reason for the letter, each time you write it can be with different purpose and feeling.
As mentioned earlier, we explained two different types of letters. One participant, who is unable to read or write found the illustrated letter a way to connect with her son. She dictated a message and decorated and drew in the card, demonstrating the sentiment without having to worry about writing a ‘perfect’ letter. As well as this, the letter to yourself proved very popular as it allowed for reflection in a way many hadn’t considered. One participant wrote a letter to themselves and asked us to post it in a few months’ time, to allow them to compare and contemplate on what they were thinking and feeling at the time.
Overall, I felt participants were engaged and focused during the workshop and responded positively throughout, sharing experiences, and playing the icebreaker, something they may usually find daunting. The emotive workshops effectively demonstrate the importance of a facilitated space in which letter writing can be used to connect with others and most importantly with yourself. Whilst letter writing has become an unused phenomenon, we feel it’s a unique technique to communicate feelings and thoughts to another person. Participant’s feedback was positive, many focusing on the importance of handwritten communication for a deeper connection, one participant stressed “not to be too anxious about the content and remember the ‘gift’.” Participants also noted the benefit of the session’s open discussion and one said, “I never thought writing letters could be so emotional”. Despite initial reluctance, all 23 participants said the session had made them think about reconnecting with someone and all found a renewed purpose for letter writing in their lives, which we hope they continue to include.
A combination of the participants positive attitude, their willing to contribute and share ideas, the caring and safe environment created by the ClementJames Centre and Safe Ground, and the motivation of facilitators came together to make the event a success.
We hope to be able to return and deliver similar sessions in collaboration with The ClementJames Centre in the future.
By Zoe Chatterton