A young girl’s wish to feel a connection to her late grandparents has led to Westerleigh Group installing memorial post boxes at all its crematoria and cemeteries nationwide.
Westerleigh Group is one of the UK’s largest independent owners and operators of crematoria and cemeteries, with 40 sites in England, Scotland and Wales, all set within beautifully-landscaped gardens of remembrance which provide pleasant, peaceful places for people to visit and reflect.
It unveiled its first memorial post box at Gedling Crematorium, near Nottingham, on 8 December 2022.
The Letters to Heaven post box enables the bereaved to write and ‘send’ messages, cards and letters to loved ones they have lost.
Gedling Crematorium’s memorial advisor Leanne Handy, whose father passed away in 2003 and mother passed away in 2017, arranged for the memorial post box to be installed after her daughter, Matilda, then aged nine, spoke about her grandparents and wishing to be able to send them cards on important dates.
Leanne said: “Matilda was always saying she wishes we could send Mamma and Grandad Birthday and Christmas cards for them to read.”
Within weeks of being unveiled, more than 100 messages had been posted in the memorial post box and people said it helped them feel a connection to their lost loved ones and brought them considerable comfort.
The positive feedback prompted Westerleigh Group to commit to installing memorial post boxes at all its sites by the end of the year, which it has now done, just a few weeks before the first anniversary of the Letters to Heaven post box at Gedling Crematorium which started it all.
The idea saw Matilda become something of a media star, with appearances on the BBC One Show, Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, BBC Breakfast and Steph’s Packed Lunch on Channel 4.
She was invited to a special reception at 10 Downing Street by Rishi Sunak, where she was recognised as a ‘Point of Light’; the Prime Minister’s Points of Light award is a daily programme recognising outstanding volunteers, charity leaders and community heroes, for the service they give to others.
She also went to the Palace of Westminster where she was presented with a British Citizen Youth Award Medal of Honour, and was presented with the Dylan Barker Young Person of the Year award at the Pride of Gedling Awards, which celebrates people aged under 21 who make an outstanding contribution to their communities.
In addition to Westerleigh Group installing Letters to Heaven or Letters to Loved Ones post boxes at all its sites, similar memorial boxes have been introduced by other crematorium operators and funeral directors, and even a cat and dogs home.
Leanne has also spoken to people in many other countries, who had heard about the post boxes and wanted to look at installing their own.
Westerleigh Group estimates that around 3,000 letters, cards and messages have been posted in its memorial post boxes over the past year.
Leanne said: “Matilda was the first person to put a message in our first memorial post box, at Gedling last December.
“We had no idea then that, one year later, there would be a memorial post box at every one of Westerleigh Group’s sites, bringing comfort to people all over the country, and we feel very proud.”
Debbie Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Westerleigh Group, said: “The legacy of Matilda’s idea is helping to bring comfort to thousands of bereaved people around the country - and beyond.
“We’ve received so much incredibly positive feedback from people who tell us they have gained therapeutic benefit and comfort through the act of posting cards, letters and messages to loved ones.
“Initially, people thought the post box at Gedling was there just for Christmas, but all our boxes are available all year round, for people to post cards for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day – whenever they wish.
“What’s more, the memorial post boxes are available for absolutely anyone to use – you do not have to have attended a service at a Westerleigh Group crematorium or have your loved one resting in our Gardens of Remembrance to use the post boxes. They are for absolutely anyone who feels they may draw some comfort from using them.
“The fact that other crematorium operators, Funeral Directors and others have adopted the idea that Leanne and Matilda came up with a year ago means that even if there is not a Westerleigh Group crematorium near you, there may well be a memorial post box, which you can use and take comfort from, which we are extremely proud of.”
Matilda said: “I am so thankful that our post boxes are able to help not just me and my friends and family but people all over the UK and as far away as Australia.
“I have written to King Charles to see if he might want to install one at Buckingham Palace, to remember loved ones such as the late Queen, Prince Phillip and Princess Diana.”
To find out more about memorial post boxes installed by Westerleigh Group and their locations, click here.