Virtual pen pals Grace, 15, and Dorothy, 88, share hopes and memories in lockdown project dreamed up by Edinburgh schoolgirl

FROM sharing memories of life  during apartheid, to winning a Disney art competition, these are just some of the exchanges bringing the generations together in a virtual cafe dreamed up by a 15-year-old Edinburgh schoolgirl.

Thursday, 18th June 2020, 11:29 am
Grace Kean

As lockdown kicked in, Grace Kean, who is a volunteer at Broughton High School’s Bro Cafe, came up with a virtual version of the school’s weekly sessions at which pupils mixed with elderly members of the community.

Depute head teacher Pauline Cumming, explains: “The Virtual Coffee Table is the idea of 15-year-old Grace, in response to a challenge to think of ways to interact with the elderly during lockdown. “Instead of our actual social cafe, which ran every Friday, we now run a virtual cafe where volunteers from the school’s social enterprise write letters to the residents of Carlyle Court, a sheltered accommodation, close to school.”

Grace’s pen pal is 88-year-old Dorothy Butler, a woman with as amazing story to share. In their letters they write of their joint love of literature, poetry, meditation, and travel.

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Dorothy Butler

“In fact, when Grace heard that Dorothy had an Alexa, she introduced her to the music of Sigur Ros. Dorothy is now a firm fan,” reveals Pauline.

The letters tell of a remarkable story of an inter-generational friendship. Introducing herself to Dorothy, Grace wrote: ‘'As I’m writing this I have some hot tea and biscuits, and I hope you have some too. My name is Grace, I’ve just turned 15 and am an S4. I love drawing, being creative in general and like to come up with new and interesting characters for my portfolio. When I leave school I want to go to university, to study character design, to perhaps one day achieve my goal of working alongside the talented artists at Disney Pixar.’

Delighted to receive the letter, Dorothy replied revealing details of her own fascinating life as an educator. She wrote: ‘Most of my adult life has been teaching. At 30 I went to Northern Transvaal as a Missioner. As it was apartheid time, subjects had to be taught through English and half through Afrikaans. Both languages were compulsory for O and A levels as well as Northern Sotho or Zulu.'

In the ongoing exchange, the pen pals have learned much about each other, including the many things that link them despite the generation gap.

Grace says, “After being introduced to Dorothy, I began to investigate topics I’d have never heard of nor dreamed of exploring. This experience has been truly humbling. It always makes my day when I see a letter from Dorothy in my inbox. I am so lucky to be able to converse with such a marvellous and accomplished woman.”

Dorothy too has enjoyed the interaction and says: “This has been a delight for me to meet young minds by email. Truly stimulating too, as I have been revisiting my past I have awakened so much joy, gratitude and memories of lovely people from all walks of life.”

Grace and Dorothy are now just one of seven pen pal pairs supporting each other through lockdown. Other young people taking part include Rosie Brett, 13, Shana Burrell, 17, Naledi Georgeson, 17, and Stevie Gordon, 18.

Rosie says: “My pen pal is Marion, someone that I knew already from Bro cafe, and it has been wonderful to get to know her better.”

Naledi adds: “I enjoyed meeting someone new. It makes the community feel just a little bit more connected.”

And Stevie says, “I have found it really enjoyable... and it has also made me feel less alone during lockdown.”

Pauline, who hopes all the letters may one day be published, concludes: “It’s a remarkable story of an intergenerational relationship during a remarkable time.”

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