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How seven-year-old Olivia saved her 91-year-old pen pal Una from spending Christmas Day alone

It was a classic Christmas finale to a tale of friendship born out of adversity – an elderly widow who has endured months of solitude, sheltering from a fearful world, swaps yuletide lunch alone for a festive family fun day.

It all started when The Welbeloved Club – the monthly Sunday lunch club which seeks to ease social isolation among senior citizens in Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth – launched a pen pal scheme to link its elderly members with the younger generation during the first coronavirus lockdown.

Seven-year-old Olivia Daly was paired with 90-year-old Una Campbell – and the subsequent stream of letters led to the nonagenerian being invited to Christmas Day at the Dalys' home.

Una with Daly sisters, from right, Olivia, 7, Jenna, 6, and Emilia, 3 (43729435)
Una with Daly sisters, from right, Olivia, 7, Jenna, 6, and Emilia, 3 (43729435)

Una told the Indie: "I got a letter from Olivia and I thought 'What the heck does a 90-year-old write to a seven-year-old'"? But the two corresponded, with Olivia full of questions, and Una was happy to share her photos of her adopted orangutan Tuan from Monkey World.

Before long, the two were chatting on the phone, and the Daly family popped over from their home in Stansted to Una's in Bishop's Stortford for a socially distanced 'hello' – and the friendship blossomed.

The Daly family helped Una celebrate her 91st birthday in August, with Olivia's mum Leanne really pushing the boat out. "Leanne made me the most beautiful cake, which was iced beautifully," said Una, who added that Leanne revealed it was the first fruit cake she had ever made.

Una Campbell at the Daly family Christmas (43729433)
Una Campbell at the Daly family Christmas (43729433)

And when dad Derek was passing Una's house he noticed her drive was full of leaves. After a quick phone call, Derek had cleared it.

Una was facing Christmas on her own, as her family live on the South Coast, so with some prompting from Olivia a plan was hatched.

Leanne said: "We were just chatting and Una said she usually went to the Methodist Church for Christmas dinner [arranged by Company at Christmas], but that was off, so we asked if she'd like to come here."

They had to check whether, with the Covid-19 alert level raised to tier 4, that could be possible and worked out that if they joined with Una in a support bubble it could go ahead. It meant the family made only essential outings before Christmas, and on the big day itself they wore face masks, except when eating dinner, kept their distance and had the windows open as much as possible.

"We had a wonderful Christmas Day together, it was really enjoyable," said Leanne on Monday.

"After lunch, Olivia played some Christmas carols on the piano and Una sang along to them. Una shared some lovely photos of her when she was younger, places she had visited and even one of her late husband, who looked like Santa!"

Leanne added: "The girls drew her some pictures to take home and chatted away to her, asking her lots of questions as children do! Una told us some fascinating stories, and she'd even written out a list of all the airports she'd been to as Derek and I both work in aviation. We look forward to having her over again."

For Una, as an only child and not having had children, spending Christmas Day with Olivia and her sisters Jenna, six, and Emilia, three, was her first with children.

"I really had a lovely time," said Una. "It worked very well and they were very health conscious – we wore masks but it didn't mess things up."

She was given a gift of a "nice fluffy scarf" and a birds' nesting box for her garden in the shape of a pillar box.

Una was impressed with Olivia's piano playing. "She did very well – she also played the Brahms lullaby from memory.

"It was lovely – they made me feel like one of the family."

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