A Loughton care home’s pen pal scheme has revealed a resident’s childhood ambitions to be a pilot.

Norma Palmer, 93, who lives at Woodland Grove Care Home in Loughton, has been taking part in the ‘Homes of Hope’ e-pen pal project with Brent Youth Theatre.

She has been writing emails to 11 year old Bethany Sanchia Pereira and the relationship has revealed a shared love of aircraft, plus ambitions – both past and present - of becoming pilots.

“I had childhood dreams of being a pilot,” recalled Norma. “My father had been in the Royal Flying Corps in the Great War and my older brother was part of the Royal Air Force in the Second World War. I was also inspired by Joan Hughes, one of Britain’s first female test pilots.”

Norma grew up in Hertfordshire and remembers seeing fighter planes and bombers flying overhead during her childhood. These experiences combined to motivate Norma to learn to fly.

“I used to go flying on the weekends on ‘joyrides’ as part of the Herts and Essex flying club,” she said. “I flew Tiger Moths which were tiny planes. I was determined if there was another war, I would join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.”

However, life took her down an alternative path. She studied at the London School of Economics but her love of skiing prompted her to join a travel agency so she could indulge her passion every winter.

"I don’t know what I loved about aircraft but they were so new and innovative, in a way it was like being able to go to the moon!” Norma said.

The ‘Homes of Hope’ scheme sees residents paired with a young person from the theatre so they can build relationships while the doors are closed to visitors due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“This project is really giving people here something to look forward to,” said Woodland Grove’s Lifestyles Manager, Elise Woolnough. “They exchange letters on a 1-2-1 basis and it’s really building a sense of anticipation – lots of our residents ask when they will next hear from the young people which is so lovely!

“We are building some wonderful relationships and the letters from the young people leave our residents feeling valued and inspired. The project is entertaining and stimulating, but it’s also building bonds and friendships for the future.”

Bethany, from Perviale, is looking forward to her next letter from Norma.

“I love writing to Norma and hearing all about the Tiger Moths, and the flying her father and brother did. To have someone who is older than me as a friend is quite different. I’ve been travelling on airplanes since I was two and I just think it would be wonderful to be pilot. I’m going to join the Air Cadets when I’m old enough and I know that if I want to follow this as a career I need to study physics, maths and English.

“Norma and I have also written about the different technology in our lives and what she did for entertainment when she was younger. She seems like a really lovely person.”

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