THERE is nothing quite like the feeling of receiving a handwritten letter. Holding it in your hand, noticing how the personal touch of handwriting stands out against the routine print of the regular post.
In an age where connections can be made instantly, and effortlessly, writing and receiving a handwritten letter is made all the more special.
Not everyone is comfortable with, or has access to, online communication. With this in mind, one Cork organisation has launched Silver Scribblers — an initiative that seeks to keep its offline community members connected through the age-old art of letter-writing.
Community resource centre, LINC (Lesbians in Cork), has been offering support services to lesbian and bisexual women, and their families, for over 20 years. With its drop-in centre on White Street, Cork, currently closed due to Covid restrictions, much of the organisation’s services and activities have moved online.
LINC Project Coordinator, Kate Moynihan, says the move has been largely positive: “Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on LINC service provision; we have transitioned from a vibrant and lively community centre, to a digital space, where the smells and sounds of our drop-in service have been replaced with the background of our kitchens and living rooms. This virtual space means that women from different counties, or women who have children, can access LINC more than ever before.
“LINC also delivers LGBTI+ inclusion and diversity training, this too has moved online, allowing us to extend our reach, engaging multinationals, companies and NGOs in Ireland and internationally.”
Kate notes that while the all important cup of tea or coffee being handed to you with a smile, for now, may be missing, the community is still very much connected. LINC drama and book club meetings now take place via Zoom, while yoga, Pilates, music and language lessons, to name but a few, continue to be available as online classes.
Annual events such as Health Week, which took place in February, are now available to be accessed remotely. Celebrations and social events such as Speed-Friending continue online, allowing members to connect and socialise, but it was noted, however, that this virtual space was not being accessed by all community members.
Kate, and the team at LINC had already been in talks, prior to the pandemic, about the loneliness and isolation often faced by older LGBTI+ people, and ways that the organisation might make connections to combat that loneliness.
“It was clear then, as our online presence replaced our physical centre, that some of our community members were not joining us.
“Outside of restrictions, transportation, mobility, not being ‘out,’ etc, can all be prohibiting factors to older people accessing LGBTI+ community services. Letter-writing is an apt response to those challenges. It offers access to the community, without needing to physically be in the centre, and it allows privacy to those in the community who are not ‘out’.”
Last year, LINC conducted a survey to assess the impact that Covid-19 was having on its community members. Many of the respondents described their experience as isolating, worrying, and unnerving and spoke of feeling trapped.
Kate describes the additional anxieties facing lesbian and bisexual women: “For our community, in particular, there are intersecting challenges — as women, many are in caring roles and, as LGBTI+ people, the isolation and lack of access to their community and regular support structure, has the potential to add another layer of difficulty to the experience, particularly if the individual is not ‘out.’
“Because of this, the LINC team have put every effort into including as many of our community members as possible by hosting events and workshops that appeal to a variety of people and by maintaining our contact time on zoom, over the phone, via email and now, through Silver Scribblers, by letter-writing.”
Aoife Cooke, from Tower, Co Cork, describes LINC as a “safe haven”. The personal trainer, and marathon runner, first became involved with the organisation when she joined their drama group seven years ago.
“I can 100% be myself and there is no judgement. It is amazing to be in the company of so many women who build each other up, celebrate everyone’s achievements, and are there when you are not feeling so good too.”
Aoife feels that Silver Scribblers is a great initiative to ensure this support can be extended to everyone in the community.
When Mary O’Regan returned home to Ireland, just before lockdown last year, life took an unexpected turn.
“What was supposed to be a six-week trip home for a wedding and a return back to Australia, and to my then-girlfriend, turned into an indefinite stay and a relationship break-up.”
Mary works as a senior technical support engineer for a company that supports inclusion and diversity. She first became involved with LINC having heard Kate Moynihan speak at a work event.
Mary hopes to train as a LINC volunteer in the future; “I really would love to give back to the community that has done so much for me. I have met so many new friends through LINC and it really has been a light in this lockdown.”
She believes that a lot of people will benefit from the organisation’s latest endeavour to reach all members of the community.
“Silver Scribblers is a great idea and I have no doubt both the senders and the receivers of letters will benefit greatly.”
Any lesbian or bisexual woman wanting to take part in Silver Scribblers should contact LINC on 021-4808600 or email email@example.com.
Trained volunteers, eager to be involved with the project, will be matched with a pen pal to exchange monthly letters, building friendships and connections to the community.
LINC will also send birthday and Christmas cards to those who sign up and there will be the option of having a printed newsletter posted out.
Kate urges anyone interested to make contact: “For many women who use LINC, their time with us is the only time they can be their authentic selves.
“We are here for the community for whatever life throws their way. Having a secure connection with a supportive group of people is imperative for positive health and well-being.”