Westerleigh Group’s Memorial Post Boxes by Debbie Smith

Matilda Handy with a Westerleigh Group memorial post box.

We are delighted to bring you this touching Guest Blog from Debbie Smith, CEO of Westerleigh Group, about memorial post boxes at its cemeteries and crematoria across the country.

Thinking about our memorial post boxes gives me a real sense of pride for Matilda Handy, who came up with the idea and achieved so much more than she’d imagined, for her mother and my colleague Leanne, who made Matilda’s wish come true, for Westerleigh colleagues across the UK who care for the memorial post boxes, and for Westerleigh Group as a whole for making this happen and bringing memorial post boxes to bereaved people nationwide.  

It all started when nine-year-old Matilda wished to feel a connection with her late grandparents by sending them birthday and Christmas cards.

Leanne a memorial advisor at Gedling Crematorium, made Matilda’s wish come true by arranging to install a white ‘Letters to Heaven’ post box at the crematorium in December 2022.

The idea was simple; in the run-up to Christmas, the bereaved could post notes, letters or cards to loved ones they had lost.

In less than a month, nearly 100 letters had been posted and some of the people who had used the post box said that they had gained great comfort and emotional benefit from doing so.

Matilda and Leanne Handy with a Westerleigh post box
Matilda and Leanne with a Memorial Post Box

Gedling Crematorium is part of Westerleigh Group, one of the UK’s largest independent owners and operators of cemeteries and crematoria, with 40 sites in England, Scotland, and Wales.

Having heard how people had gained so much from using the Letters to Heaven box – comments  were flooding in  from all parts of the UK (and abroad!) – we knew we had to install similar memorial post boxes at every one of our sites.

It took almost a year, but we achieved it shortly before the first anniversary of that initial box being installed at Gedling.

During that time, at least 3,000 items were posted in the Letters to Heaven/Letters to Loved Ones memorial boxes.

It was a whirlwind year for Matilda and Leanne, who found themselves in great demand from the media, from radio and TV stations all over the country, resulting in appearances on the BBC One Show, BBC Breakfast News, Steph’s Packed Lunch on Channel Four, and Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, which ended with Matilda being given a holiday in Florida.

She was also invited to 10 Downing Street, where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recognised her as part of his ‘Points of Light’ initiative, a daily programme recognising outstanding volunteers, charity leaders and community heroes, and then went to the Palace of Westminster to receive a British Citizen Youth Award Medal of Honour.

Matilda and Leanne Handy at Downing Street
Matilda and her parents at 10 Downing Street

Hollywood actress Drew Barrymore even referred to the memorial post boxes in the news section of her US TV show.

It’s one of those ideas which, with hindsight, makes you ask, “why hasn’t anyone done this before?”

Over the past year, other crematorium operators, funeral directors, and even an animal charity have installed similar memorial boxes, and Leanne has spoken to people in many other countries, in Europe and as far afield as Australia, who wanted to find out more about the boxes and how they work.

Since we installed the memorial post boxes, one of the most frequently asked questions concerns what happens to the cards and messages.

We gave this a lot of consideration because we always strive to do things with exceptional care. This starts with the fact that all letters are treated with complete confidentiality and sensitivity. They are never opened or read.

We spent some time researching the most appropriate and respectful way of managing the letters long-term, which resulted in us making an investment in a solution for each of our crematoria/cemeteries.

Using an innovative and eco-friendly method, we turn the letters into compost which is used in our memorial gardens. Whilst it is understandable we are unable to keep the letters indefinitely, our thoughtful and sensitive process ensures they never leave the site where they were posted and the very special soil which is created from them helps enhance the ecosystem of our beautiful grounds for all to enjoy. 

Initially, people thought the Letters to Heaven post box at Gedling Crematorium was there just for Christmas, but all our memorial boxes are available all year round for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s and Father’s Day – whenever people feel a need to write something.

What’s more, the memorial post boxes are available for absolutely anyone to use – you do not have to have attended a service at any of our sites or have a loved one resting in our grounds.

The legacy of Matilda’s wish to feel a connection to her grandparents is helping to bring solace to thousands of bereaved people around the country, and beyond, something that she, her mother, and all of us at Westerleigh Group are immensely proud of.

Debbie Smith, CEO of Westerleigh Group

To find out more about Westerleigh Group’s memorial post boxes, visit: www.westerleighgroup.co.uk/letters-to-heaven

May 2024

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