“There is something gentle and authentic about a handwritten letter.”
— Emma Mitchell,
Creator of The Handwritten Letter Project & Elfster exchange organizer
In these times of hustling and bustling through each and every day, there never seems to be enough time to stop and reflect on the beauty of life and the world around us. It takes a special person to be able to “turn it off” and sacrifice precious time to nurture a relationship with a complete stranger, like perhaps someone who shares a common interest in enjoying the simple things in life. But members of one lucky group have made the time, as they have decided to press “pause” and take part in “The Handwritten Letter Project,” a pen pal letter exchange created by the multi-talented Emma Mitchell — a UK-based jewellry designer, craft teacher, writer and mum.
“Last summer I had an idea to write some of my blog posts by hand and exchange letters with fellow bloggers and creative folk,” says Emma. “It had struck me that in this age of emails, DM’s, Facebook notifications and texts we hardly ever pick up a pen and write a note to someone, except perhaps if it’s their birthday or we need to tell them that we’ve put the bins out. I was rather overwhelmed with requests to exchange letters with my readers. It seems that I’d hit on something — a desire to return to writing letters by hand as many of us did when we were children, and receiving envelopes in the post containing pieces of paper on which someone has written to you.”
This concept of taking life back to a simpler time, if only for a short while, has caught on and “The Handwritten Letter Project” continues to grow, day by day. This unique Elfster exchange boasts nearly 800 creative pen pals from all over the world and will remain open to new participants throughout the year.
“I was keen to link the keen letter writers up with one another and at first was not sure how I could do it without a huge amount of admin,” Emma explains. “Then just before Christmas 2015 Sara Tasker of the beautiful Instagram feed and blog meandorla set up a gift exchange using Elfster. I’d never heard of the website before, but it made me wonder whether I could use the exchange system to build the letter writing group.”
And though the Elfster website is handling the “technical side” of this lovely exchange, the elves at Elfster certainly can appreciate the generosity and spirit of giving that is being promoted by the participants in this letter writing mission that is changing hearts and minds for all those who join.
“I set up the exchange and spoke about the idea on my blog, Instagram and Twitter in mid January,” Emma says. “The launch happened to coincide with National Handwriting Day (January 23) and the response on social media was phenomenal. I was interviewed twice for BBC radio about helping to revive letter writing by setting up the Elfster letter exchange.”
For those not in the know, National Handwriting Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the birth of John Hancock. It was chosen as he was the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence with a flourish.
“So far, the Handwritten Letter Exchange has [close to 800] participants,” she adds. “It’s a truly international group and includes letter writers from 10 countries round the world.”
“Those who have signed up for the Letter Exchange all miss writing letters by hand and remember the pen pal partnering projects that took place in the UK in the 1970s and ‘80s,” Emma explains. “They will have received the name of someone to write to and someone else will write to them, resulting in two potential pen pals. I’m hoping (and most of the group are too) that it’s not just a case of a single letter being sent though. The ultimate aim is that I’ve introduced lots of long-term pen pals to one another and the letter writing will continue for a long time yet.”
With a group this large, the task of managing participants from all over the world could seem a challenge, but Elfster is proud to support such a beautiful movement.
“The Elfster system is easy to set up and sign up to,” Emma says. “It’s automated, and it provides a hub for the group to chat and post any problems or enquiries that they might have and where I can answer their requests and draw partners for the latest sign ups.” Group members also have the option to create wish lists, which will give their pen pals more insight into their personal style, and “may provide them with a little information about their pen pals before they reach for their stationery.”
“The Handwritten Letter Exchange” is now open to new members, as Emma has extended the deadline for joining the exchange indefinitely. “Anyone who fancies exchanging slow mail with someone new can sign up here and I will draw partners every few weeks—it is now a rolling, ongoing project,” she explains.
Besides just exchanging letters, pen pals are also taking the opportunity to share some of their creative talents with small tokens of generosity.
“There’s a hashtag on both Twitter and Instagram, #writealetterbyhand, for the letter writers to post images of writing and receiving their old-fashioned correspondence and for them to connect with one another outside the Elfster forum,” Emma says. “Each day beautiful pictures of sketches, drawings, beautiful handwriting, newly rediscovered fountain pens, pressed flowers and even, in one case, a jar of marmalade that were sent by a participant are shared using the hashtag.”
“I have been so thrilled by the response to setting up ‘The Handwritten Letter Project’ Exchange. There is a movement towards slower, less frenetic living and I think letter-writing fits with that very well. Thank you to all who have signed up — I think mailbags are going to be a little heavier in the months to come,” Emma concludes. “Do pop over and join in if you fancy grabbing fountain pen and writing paper and exchanging a little snail mail.”
Want to follow Emma Mitchell and “The Handwritten Letter Project” on social media? Check it out here:
The elves at Elfster are thrilled to lend a helping hand to Emma and her “Handwritten Letter Project.” We share Emma’s passion for generosity and hope this movement continues to grow all over the world. Does your Elfster group share a passion for spreading happiness? We would love to hear how your group is using Elfster, too. You can reach us via Facebook here. Tweet us @elfster or catch us on Instagram at #elfstergram.