Catch the conversation here: The Lost Art of Letter-Writing
For the past nine months, Jake (our podcast host) and I have been communicating with our 92-year-old nan (grandma) through the barrier of a double-glazed window, through facial expressions and the grace of a push-button mobile phone. That means our family hasn’t had a face-to-face conversation with her for the best part of a year - but make no mistake, we know we’re some of the lucky ones considering the current climate.
Having now had a double-dose of experience with grandparents in care homes, it strikes me that that senior loneliness is something that we (the royal we that is) need to start doing more to address. When it comes to care homes for the elderly, they’re sometimes referred to as ‘end of life stage’ but by its very nature, that phrase suggests that there’s still life to be lived yet and it certainly shouldn’t be lived in loneliness.
Less about us though - let’s now turn our focus to a fabulous young lady called Nina who, amidst studying for her A-levels, is “bridging the intergenerational gap” through the universal language of music and “the lost art of letter-writing”. How though, you might ask, do Nina and our nan(s) fall into the same realm? Well because Nina is the brains behind two powerful not-for-profit initiatives which work to address the problem of widespread loneliness, primarily in care home residents but more recently (courtesy of COVID) also across all epochs of age.
So without any further ado, here’s the inspiring tale of how Community Senior Music and Community Senior Letters came to be…
“It was great to see that me, as one person, could make a positive difference to a lot of people”
I remember when I was 17 years old and studying for my A-Level qualifications. All I cared about was how low my kohl eyeliner was running and what Blink182 songs were missing off my iPod. In Nina’s case, she’s paralleling her studies in maths, geography and economics with the creation and growth of two non-profit projects. The first of which – ‘Community Senior Music’ - bloomed from her passion for playing the violin and volunteering at the senior coffee and chat mornings at her local church. These two things combined led Nina to want to marry her musical talents and desire to provide company for senior members of the community, to create positive impact on a much bigger scale.
Nina set about on a mission to recruit semi-professional musicians from the likes of the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Those enlisted were drafted out to perform musical concerts for elderly residents of a number of care homes around London which Nina had also self-curated. Not only is this a great comfort zone in which these aspiring musicians can practice their craft, it also provides the care home residents with entertainment, company and human connection through the shared experience of live music.
“Even before lockdown and COVID, loneliness was an issue in care homes”, Nina tell us, talking about how special it is to witness how the residents’ spirits are uplifted and joy is sparked. “It was great to see that me, as one person, could make a positive difference to a lot of people and I think that definitely gave me confidence when setting up my next letter-writing project”.
“I always thought it was really important to bridge the intergenerational gap there and I think I’ve found a way to do that through music and communication”
Nina’s next project came in the form of ‘Community Senior Letters’ - a way she that she could still provide communication and connection to care home residents after COVID put the kibosh on musical concerts (for now). Community Senior Letters started by matching primary and secondary school pupils with care homes from around the UK but very rapidly expanded into an initiative which now involves more than 240 schools from around the world. The project has been recognised in The Independent’s Happy List Top 50, by The Telegraph, via the Huffington Post Instagram and with a signed letter from the PM Boris Johnson thanking Nina for her remarkable efforts.
Students from all around the world write letters and creative stories, draw pictures and send photographs to recipients across more than 230 UK care homes. This bridges the communication gap between generations - something Nina has always been passionate about, inspired by her close relationship with her own grandma. In some cases, students and residents have set up a penpal-style scheme, with youngsters learning about historical events such as WW2 and seniors staying in touch with ‘the modern way’.
So what does the future hold for Community Senior Music and Community Senior Letters? Grand plans to transform letter-writing into face-to-face friendships and more intimate concerts on a bigger, wider scale - pandemic permitting. Whatever the future may hold, we’re sure as eggs are eggs that Nina Andersen is going places, or as she articulated so beautifully: “going places for the right causes”. With such drive, such empathy and such tenderness at such a young, impressionable age, it’s clear that Nina Andersen is the kind of girl that can change the world for the better. Mark our words.
“With music there aren’t really any barriers because you don’t have to speak the same language to understand it and form a connection with someone else”
As with all of our ONEOFTHE8 guests, we closed our conversation with Nina by asking her what her main inspirations are for doing what she does. She told us that it was the feedback which she receives from participants involved the projects - writers, recipients and messengers - that fuels her fire and left us with a few touching testimonials to demonstrate:
“Literally happiness in a bundle!”
“Smiles through all of our bleak days”
“An act of kindness, no matter how big or small, is never wasted but has the power to brighten up even the darkest hour” - the wise and powerful words of a care home staff member and a philosophy for us all to live by.
To warm your heart further with just a few examples of the letters that have been written by students and sent to care home residents all across the country, head over to the Community Senior Letters gallery or follow @communityseniorletters on Instagram.
To hear more from the empowering, ambitious and gold-hearted young human that is Nina and her plans for the future of Community Senior Letters and Community Senior Music, catch up with her episode on the ONEOFTHE8 podcast.