With the help of a generous grant from Hospice UK, St Luke’s has been able to kick-start a compassionate community in Kingsbridge, Devon. The initiative ensures that no matter how far out you live, support will be available for those at end of life and those caring for them.

“I’m thrilled so many people have come forward to support me and my partner. The thought alone has made me feel less isolated and alone.”

As an older person living in a rural town, trying to care for your terminally ill partner while living with your own health conditions, you can easily feel forgotten, especially with no family close by to help. But – thanks to the innovative way St Luke’s is using grant funding awarded by Hospice UK – we’ve been making an important difference in the South Hams town of Kingsbridge, including to the 71-year-old lady quoted above.

Steve Statham, CEO at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth said: “Thanks to significant funding from Hospice UK, we are breaking down taboos around death and dying and empowering people local people in the rural town of Kingsbridge, Devon to put compassion at the heart of the community so that no-one feels left behind. In a location like this, where it can be more difficult for people to access all kinds of services, including end of life care, local people, voluntary groups and businesses are coming together to show kindness and give practical support to terminally ill people and those caring for them who would otherwise risk isolation and loneliness.

“It isn’t just the financial help from Hospice UK that makes a difference though. The national platform the charity provides through its campaigns raises awareness of the challenges our sector faces, helps us recruit and retain staff, and highlights the ongoing need for Government investment in our services.”

Earlier this year, we reported on the appointment of Robyn Newport as St Luke’s Community Network Co-ordinator for Kingsbridge and surrounding areas, where our At Home team looks after terminally ill people nearing end of life, and supports their families.

Over the past ten months, Robyn has been busy getting to know residents, local business owners, voluntary groups and healthcare services to get more insight into what matters to them when it comes to terminal illness, looking after someone with a life-limiting diagnosis, and how the community has been impacted by loss.

The listening ears and helping hands of the Compassionate Friends trained have helped shape the Compassionate End of Life Care Community in Kingsbridge, which – being in a rural area – is all the more in need since those living there can find it harder to access services of all kinds, including the expert care that’s so vital when your time is running short.

Robyn said: “St Luke’s is committed to coming alongside the communities we serve to realise the potential of informal networks and develop more effective ways to provide support that enhances wellbeing, prevents loneliness and isolation and increases choice for people at the end of their life, so they can die in familiar surroundings with those they love.”

“It’s a been a real privilege getting to know so many people, and it’s clear there’s so much care and compassion in this area. We now have over 75 Compassionate Friends trained across the town – people who lend a helping hand or listening ear to friends and neighbours who have a terminal illness or are affected by loss. We also have Compassionate Friend Champions running awareness sessions and co-ordinators who can help families to organise additional support from local Compassionate Friends.

“Our training is helping people to talk more openly and honestly, helping to break down the taboos around death, dying and bereavement, and bust the unhelpful myths that surround them. They’re seeing how listening and having more compassionate conversations within their own circles, and doing small things to help people at times of crisis or loss, such as making them a meal or doing their shopping, can make a big difference.”

Local businesses are also stepping up to help customers and clients who might be in need of some support. Among them are HAC Hairdressing, Kingsbridge Youth for Christ, and Blooming Organised, a decluttering service.

Robyn has also come alongside Kingsbridge Community College, which is working towards becoming a Compassionate School. With her input, the school is developing and embedding bereavement policies and procedures, electing sixthformers as Compassionate Buddies, and an additional 220 Year 9 students have attended a Compassionate Buddies awareness session, ensuring no student facing loss feels left behind.

In the coming months, Robyn is looking to train more Compassionate Friends, Champions and Co-ordinators in the South Hams area and will continue to grow Compassionate Networks around those with a terminal diagnosis, as well as their loved ones. In addition, she is also working to launch the first Compassionate Café in the Kingsbridge area.

If you, or someone you know living in the area, could benefit from the support, or you would like to receive training so you can help, please contact St Luke’s Education team at education@stlukes-hospice.org.uk.