Spotlight On: The 'send a hug' project

Posted on: 04 Sept 2020

This week's instalment of the 'Spotlight On' series shines a light on St Helen and St Katharine's 'send a hug' project, designed to spread warmth and cheer to residents of a local care home during lockdown.

St Helen and St Katharine has a longstanding partnership with local Abingdon care home, Stowford House. It is a connection the School is proud to nurture and uphold, believing that an important part of a fully rounded education is for students to create links with the older generation of our shared town, learning something of their amazing resilience and independence.

Traditionally, St Helen’s students engage with Stowford House in many different ways. All sixth form students undertake a form of school or community service and many choose to visit Stowford House as part of this, offering skills such as art or music, or interacting with residents and caregivers and gaining insight into what it means to take on this work. Younger students also visit – Year 7 musicians put on an annual Christmas concert for everyone at Stowford House, helping to build the sense of shared community even at the beginning of their time at St Helen’s.

Out of obvious necessity, our involvement with Stowford House during lockdown has had to be altered. However, St Helen’s Chaplain, Reverend Elizabeth Birch, kickstarted a ‘Send a hug’ project, a way for the St Helen’s community to send a virtual hug by means of a handmade knitted, stitched, crocheted 3D heart with a little personal message of good wishes. The idea was to use existing skills and materials people already had, with an opportunity to share tips and suggestions along the way via Teams meetings and chats.

Recipients included students’ family members and friends as well as the residents of Stowford House. Stowford House was very enthusiastic about the idea and sent Reverend Elizabeth a list of residents’ first names. These were then given out to students who made a heart and wrote a personalised message for each individual. Each heart and message was packaged up by the sender, delayed for 72 hours in order to make sure the package was virus-free, and then posted to Stowford House for distribution.

St Helen’s is very proud of the way our students responded, with generosity and enthusiasm, to the project. They have demonstrated a great deal of creativity as well as spending considerable time and trouble on writing the personal letters. A number of them found the project therapeutic for themselves too in the heart of the lockdown period; being able to reach out to others and provide a source of warmth and cheer to those in very restricted isolation gave a sense of purposeful engagement for the sender, as well as brightening the day of the recipient.

One student had been involved in visiting residents at Stowford House before lockdown, as part of sixth form community service. She painted a Norfolk scene for a resident who she knew had grown up in Norfolk; another who was convinced she could not sew a single stitch made a lovely stitched heart decorated with buttons (each one painstakingly sewn on). She reflected: “I’m really glad we launched this project – the idea of perhaps helping counter someone’s loneliness is far more powerful a source of inspiration than people might expect!”

St Helen’s remains hopeful that visits to Stowford House may be able to resume in the future, but until that time we will continue to offer friendship from across Abingdon, finding new ways to strengthen our partnership and deepen these important bonds.

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About St Helen and St Katharine

St Helen and St Katharine is an independent school for girls in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.