Matilda earns Prime Minister award after memorial post box success

Matilda earns Prime Minister award after memorial post box success

by Jana Smidkova Westerleigh News

A nine-year-old girl whose idea for a ‘Letters to Heaven’ post box has attracted national and international attention has been honoured by the Prime Minister.

Matilda Handy was invited to 10 Downing Street to attend a reception to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March. 

While there, she learned she had been recognised as a Point of Light; the Prime Minister’s Point of Light award is a daily programme recognising outstanding volunteers, charity leaders and community heroes for the service they give to others.

Matilda became the UK’s 2003rd Point of Light and was named the daily award winner for Thursday 9 March in recognition of her role in creating the Letters to Heaven initiative.

She will receive a letter from the Prime Minister in the next few days and has already received a framed certificate, personally thanking her.

Matilda’s mother, Leanne, is a Memorial Advisor at Gedling Crematorium. Leanne’s father passed away in 2003 and mother passed away in 2017.

Leanne said: “Matilda was always saying she wished we could send Mamma and Grandad Birthday and Christmas cards for them to read. She was four when my mum died, and never met my dad.”

That led to the idea of the ‘Letters to Heaven’ post box, which was unveiled at Gedling Crematorium just before Christmas.

Within the first few weeks of it being installed, more than 100 letters, cards and messages had been posted through it.

Gedling Crematorium is part of Westerleigh Group, the UK’s largest independent owner and operator of crematoria and cemeteries, with 37 sites in England, Scotland, and Wales, all set within beautifully landscaped gardens of remembrance which provide pleasant, tranquil places for people to visit and reflect.

The response to the memorial post box has been so positive that Westerleigh Group has decided that all of its crematoria will have one and the programme of installation has already started.

Matilda and Leanne are now no strangers to the limelight having been featured on the BBC One Show, BBC Breakfast News, Steph’s Packed Lunch on Channel 4, and many newspapers, magazines and websites.

On Saturday 4 March Matilda was surprised when the prime-time Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway Show suddenly switched to a secret camera in the lounge of her home, where the popular presenters announced she had been given seats on a plane to Universal Studios in Orlando in recognition of the Letters to Heaven project.

Leanne said: “I am incredibly proud of Matilda and all that she has achieved through the Letters to Heaven post box.

“Spending the afternoon at Number 10 and meeting the Prime Minister and his wife is something we will never forget.”

Matilda said: “I can’t believe that my idea is now helping so many people across England, Scotland and Wales.

“I feel very proud and loved going to Number 10 to meet the Prime Minister. I loved looking at the photos of all the past Prime Ministers and all the different people from our history that were all around Number 10.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “I know how writing letters to your much-loved grandma and grandad has brought you comfort. So it is wonderful to hear how you created a special post box where anyone could post a card in memory of a loved one.

“Through your ‘post box to Heaven’ scheme there are now hundreds of letters being posted in dozens of cemeteries across our United Kingdom.”

Debbie Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Westerleigh Group, said: “We’re all so proud of Matilda and Leanne and everything they have achieved over the past few months.

“When the positive feedback started coming in, quickly after we unveiled the first memorial post box we realised we had struck a chord with people and knew immediately that we needed to install Letters to Heaven post boxes at all our sites.

“I’m thrilled that Matilda and Leanne have been recognised for creating something which is already bringing comfort to many people, which will only increase as we introduce more of the post boxes across our other 36 crematoria.

“Meeting the Prime Minister in Downing Street, appearing live on national TV and being given a trip to Orlando by Ant and Dec are wonderful and very special memories they will never forget.

“At Westerleigh Group, we are always looking for new ways to support the bereaved and help them remember their loved ones. The Letters to Heaven post boxes epitomise that thinking and is something which we believe people will find beneficial for many years to come.”