Penpals and the Royal Mail’s Hola! Club

TAKING part in #LetterforPop before Christmas got me thinking about penpals.

I had quite a few when I was younger, although there’s only one that I still keep in touch with.

penpals hola badgesSo, I headed into the loft to rescue a shoebox full of letters that I’ve kept.

It’s strange to think that some of them have been in there for 20 years!

They’re all from a penpal club I joined as a teenager called Hola!

I specifically remember a friend telling me about it on the bus on the way to school.

I’m not sure it still exists – I couldn’t find anything online apart from a press release from 1998 – but it was run by Royal Mail.

So far I’ve read the first and last letters from each person, but I’m determined to re-read them all.

I’ll keep you posted on the various 1990s references!

My first penpal was Naomi, from Australia.

I think I specifically asked for an Australian penfriend – I think it had a lot to do with the popularity of Home and Away and Neighbours at the time!

It also seemed so far away and different in the days before the internet was so widely available.

penpals naomi

A letter and a postcard from Naomi

Naomi wrote her first letter to me in August 1995 and mentions some of her hobbies, school, Australian boys and PJ and Duncan.

She was on her way to Sydney from her home in Yass, New South Wales, to perform with her school band in a competition at the Sydney Opera House.

I bet she still remembers that day, although she wrote later that they didn’t win anything!

We wrote to each other until May 1997.

I started writing to my French penpals Priscillia and Christie in 1996.

I think I wanted to test out my GCSE French skills, and I definitely remember writing to them both in French.

penpals priscillia

Letters from Priscillia

I kept in touch with Priscillia until March 1999 and Christie until October 1998.

I also tested out my secondary school language skills on Stefanie, from Germany, from 1997 to 2000.

In her last letter, she asked if I had a mobile phone!

I laughed when I re-read the first letter I received from my American penpal, Ellen, in October 1996.

“Have you ever met Queen Elizabeth’s grandson?” she asked, aged 14.

Yep, the UK is so small we bump into the Royals all the time!

I was fortunate enough to get to meet Ellen when she visited the UK and remember taking her to the National Glass Centre in Sunderland.

She and her family actually moved over from America in August 1999 and we kept in touch until April 2000.

I wonder if she’s met either Prince William or Harry yet?

penpals ellen

A letter and a doodle from Ellen

It’s telling that most of the relationships I had with my penpals ended around the time I was leaving school and moving on to college and then work.

The penpal I am still in touch with is Elisabeth, who lives in Austria.

I immediately loved her handwriting and her name (which probably has a lot to do with my daughter’s middle name being Elizabeth).

We bonded over a mutual love of the Backstreet Boys and our correspondence progressed from letters to e-mail to Facebook.

In the spirit of #LetterforPop though, I’m going to be sending her something in the mail very soon!


  1. Babyfoote on January 19, 2017 at 8:16 am

    I had penpals through the hola club too! I’m still in touch with one all these years later, though now we have less colourful handwritten letters and more quick Facebook messages!

    • Angela Reed on January 19, 2017 at 9:12 am

      Same here Helena, although I’d really like to get back to writing! Just need to find some more hours in the day…

  2. Shelley May on April 28, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    I used to have 2 Hola! Penpals ! Just found your post as my daughter is 12 and looking for a penpal from Germany x

    • Angela Reed on April 28, 2017 at 6:24 pm

      I wish it was still going! Couldn’t find any evidence of it online. I hope your daughter manages to find a penpal. Try the InCoWriMo website – they had an address swap on their blog and there may be something there.

  3. Le on September 23, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    I remember Hola! I signed up in my teens and found great people all over the world to write to.

  4. Elly on September 27, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    I joined hola too in the 90s as i think i got introduced to it via school. It was so exciting choosing which country to write to someone from and really exciting getting a letter. I chose Brazil as it seemed so exotic! I wrote to Biancia from Brazil a couple of times and remember she was besotted with Jacques villeneuve the formula one driver, who i hadn’t heard of!
    I don’t remember anything about the one in India except the paper and envelope was so different to ours!
    I was curious as to whether hola still existed (as a child i called it hola not ola!) and its a shame it doesn’t, as i think it would benefit children today.
    I write to my 8 year old niece and another 2 people and even though its hard to find the time its so exciting when a letter drops on the mat!

  5. Charlotte Collier on October 28, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    I think royal mail should restart Hola penpals.

  6. helen on October 31, 2018 at 10:40 am

    hi i remember this i wrote to people in Australia but no one ever replied to me

  7. Samantha hamilton on May 31, 2019 at 6:03 am

    I loved hola i had a pen pal from america called jessica and brent, it was a magical dream wish it was still going. I think kids would benefit from it.

  8. Joanna Greenough on October 27, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    Hello I would like a penpals from the lakes please

  9. Allison Roberts on November 8, 2020 at 12:43 pm

    Hello! reading this post was so reminiscent of my own experience! i too signed up through Hola and had a few pen pals.. I have recently pulled my shoebox out to show my daughters and it has gotten me wishing i could somehow find or reconnect with them.. especially one with whom we had a very long penpal relationship and were actually pretty great friends. Anyone have any ideas of how to reconnect with these friends.. other than Facebook as i have tried that but so many post come up and none seemed to be the right one. 🙁

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