A LETTER writing project inspired by Ricky Gervais' 'Afterlife' series is marking its first anniversary of connecting care home residents with the outer world.

The York-based London North Eastern Railway (LNER) initiative, 'Letter to a Friend’, has created a vital lifeline for thousands of older people living in care homes during the pandemic.

Created by LNER Reserve and volunteer Penny Bond BEM, she was inspired to act after realising many residents would be cut off from their families and friends in the lockdown.

Since Penny and her colleagues started putting pen to paper,‘Letter to a Friend’ has seen 64,000 pieces of post - including

letters, puzzles, postcards, tongue twisters and colourings - delivered to hundreds of homes along the East Coast route.

Penny, who was awarded a British Empire Medal for her achievements said: “The idea came when I watched ’Afterlife’ with Ricky Gervais, as he visited his dad daily in a care home and it was this that got me thinking how it would impact residents and family and friends not being able to do this during lockdown. I thought what if I could send in cheerful bits to keep the residents smiling and occupied.

"The feedback and response have been phenomenal. They love the contact and we’ve gained friends. Once things go back to normal we will hopefully get the chance to meet.”

Many residents still look forward to their special deliveries with almost 20,000 people having received pieces through the post.

Among the many LNER Reserves - set up in April 2020 - taking part in the project are chef Andy Jones and Senior Host Istvan Gilicze. As well as writing notes, Andy has been baking and delivering cakes.

Andy explained: “I started writing letters to residents at a care home where my wife worked to give something back to our community, and as a chef I then thought I’d bake muffins and cupcakes to deliver. They’ve gone down a treat.”

Istvan added: “It has really helped my mental health throughout the pandemic, giving me a purpose every day and seeing how much our letters have meant to people is really special.”

300 LNER calendars, more than 5,000 books and thousands of DVDs and CDs have also been donated and distributed to care homes. The project has also expanded to include positive

notes incorporated in food parcels for those in need and people living alone.

Penny added: ”I am so proud of my fellow LNER Reserves who work have contributed to making ‘Letter to a Friend’ such a success. We all have the same goal, which is helping others, letting them know they are being thought about, and I couldn't imagine not delivering every week to them now. It would feel like something was missing."