Writing Back is an award-winning letter-writing project that pairs students with older Yorkshire residents to tackle loneliness and social isolation in the local community.
Loneliness is an issue for many elderly people, especially those with limited mobility; equally, many young people who attend university are living away from home for the first time.
Established by Dr Georgina Binnie in 2014, Writing Back aims to shed light on this issue and encourage cross-generational friendships by bringing together individuals from these two different demographics.
The project currently involves 200 participants who have either volunteered directly or been put in touch with the project team by a third sector organisation. Many write to their pen pals for several years, forming long-lasting friendships.
Each pair of pen pals is matched up based on their interests and write to each other regularly, as well as meeting in person at Writing Back social events several times a year.
As well as sharing news and stories, the students write to their pen pals about interesting items they have chosen from various local archives, allowing both participants to learn more about their local community and region.
Initially open to undergraduates from our School, the project has since expanded to include international students from across the University, who contribute their diverse perspectives and experiences.
Our student participants bring enormous passion to the project, and act as powerful advocates for effecting positive change in the local area.
Since its inception the project has received national acclaim and the following awards:
- Winner: Positive Partner in Society Award 2016-17 (University of Leeds)
- Finalist: Individual-led Projects, Engage Awards 2016 (National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement)
- Winner: Making a World of Difference campaign grant 2016 (Footsteps Fund, University of Leeds)
- Winner: Public Engagement Award (University of Leeds)
- Winner: Leeds for Life Foundation Award 2015 (University of Leeds)
Using our archives
We have extensive and wide-ranging archives both at the University and in the wider local area, and the students involved in Writing Back are encouraged to make full use of them. These include:
- The Marks and Spencer Company Archive, which showcases the history of the company through more than 70,000 items dating from 1884 to the present day.
- ULITA - an Archive of International Textiles, which contains textiles and related items from Yorkshire and around the world.
- The Liddle Collection, which contains first-hand accounts of individuals who experienced the two World Wars through photographs, drawings, diaries, correspondance and official papers.
- Leodis, which brings together more than 60,000 photographs of Leeds throughout history from various collections from the University and the local area.
- The West Yorkshire Archive Service Collections, which contains items relating to the history of the region from the 12th Century to the present day.
We always welcome expressions of interest in Writing Back. If you are a student or local older person who would like to take part in the project, or a third sector organisation looking to refer someone, please contact Dr Georgina Binnie.
We also have two student intern positions, which allow the post holders to work directly on the project. You can find out more about these opportunities on the School of English internships page.