Harry Potter author J K Rowling, footballer Lionel Messi and actress Angelina Jolie featured among the public figures singled out for thanks in a school letter-writing competition run by the University of Birmingham. 

However, the majority of youngsters aged five to 16 looked closer to home for inspirational groups and individuals, choosing to thank their mums, teachers and the emergency services. 

Pupils expressed their gratitude in the Thank You Letter Awards, which attracted 41,000 entries. Now the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, based at the University, is launching the 2016-17 awards and hopes to involve more than 70,000 pupils in a national outpouring of thanks. 

Academics say the awards represent the first time many primary and secondary pupils will have put pen to paper to express their gratitude. It is hoped the project will revive the dying art of letter writing and boost children’s sense of well-being. 

One of the winning letters last year was dedicated to US civil rights campaigner Dr Martin Luther King. Other prominent figures included child education activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, British astronaut Tim Peake, TV adventurer Bear Grylls, Premier League all-time leading scorer Alan Shearer – and a pet dog called Flynn. 

In one particularly poignant letter, Santi Campo Arbolés - pictured above - wrote to his two-year-old adopted brother, who has Down’s Syndrome, saying “you have brought more light between the people that are around you and especially to us, your family”. 

Jubilee letter 2016-17

The letter-writing competition is timely as a previous study by the Jubilee Centre found that more than 60% of 10,000 research participants believed gratitude is lacking in schools. 

The positive benefits of gratitude include improvements to well-being, satisfaction with life and mental health. 

Dr Tom Harrison, Director of Education at the Jubilee Centre, said the tradition of writing letters still had an important part to play in the digital, online age.

Dr Harrison said: “The proliferation of electronic communication, such as email and text, as well as social media platforms like Snapchat and Facebook, means letter writing has become a dying art. There will be young people at school who have never composed a handwritten letter, let alone a letter expressing thanks. 

“Yet anyone who has received a thank you letter will know how powerful and enriching it can be. Saying ‘thank you’ to someone is a simple act but it can have a profoundly positive effect on both the recipient and the person giving thanks. 

“Gratitude is one of the key virtues. When a young person understands what it means to give thanks, it also encourages them to start to thinking about what they might do to ‘give back.’ It is therefore associated with being an active citizen, someone who pro-actively seeks opportunities to help other people.” 

Jubilee Centre Development Officer Vicci Hogan, who co-ordinates the awards, has read hundreds of children’s thank you letters and is always impressed by the dedication of the young scribes. 

Miss Hogan said: “It is important that children understand the importance of gratitude over social status, and understand that a kind gesture should be recognised and appreciated rather than just taken for granted.” 

The deadline for entries for the Thank You Letter Awards is February 28, 2017. For details of how to enter, go to: www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/thankyouletters

For more information, please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0) 121 414 8254 or +44 (0) 782 783 2312. For out of hours media enquiries, call: +44 (0) 7789 921 165. 

Notes to Editors:

Here are some extracts of pupils’ thank you letters from 2016: 

Santi Campo Arbolés wrote a letter to his two-year-old brother, Juan Pablo, who has Down’s Syndrome and was adopted by his family. 

“First, I would like to thank you for this year and a half that I have lived next to you, you have opened my heart and you have made things seem better than they are. Now my life has changed in so many ways that I cannot describe how better it’s now in comparison to the past. 

“I want to add that you have brought more light between the people that are around you and especially to us, your family. 

“I think that Down’s Syndrome is not an illness or a bad thing, in my opinion it is a God’s blessing because you are able to love people better than people that seem to have an incredible life, but remember, a life without love is an empty life.” 

Zaara Zamam (10) wrote a letter to Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and concluded her letter with a poem dedicate to the education campaigner: 

Once upon a time, I found out about a girl,

who had courage and perseverance,

she inspired me, she helped me, she encouraged me,

she helped a lot of girls see

the light of education, which is her ambition,

she is much more interesting than girls like

Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty waiting for

a knight in shining armour to rescue

them from a tall tower,

she took the power

in her hands, and fought and fought

until they agreed with her thought

on women’s education and they

all lived


Vlad-Gabriel Tiboaca (12), a foreign student, wrote to his teachers to thank them for supporting him as he settled into unfamiliar surroundings at his new school and overcame his fears: 

“Thank you for helping me with my homework. Thank you for staying behind to help me, even when I know there are lots of other places you’d rather be. Thank you for keeping me company on camp when no one else was there. Thank you for not embarrassing me in front of my friends. Thank you for explaining things until I understand. Thank you for making me do my best. Thank you for being my teachers.” 

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The Jubilee Centre is a pioneering interdisciplinary research centre focussing on character, virtues and values in the interest of human flourishing. The Centre promotes a moral concept of character in order to explore the importance of virtue for public and professional life. It is a leading informant on policy and practice in this area. More information can be found at: http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/