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The launch of the city-wide partnership showed how aspiration is being turned into action across Plymouth, benefitting people at end of life.

Back in May 2018, at the Plymouth: a Compassionate City conference hosted by St Luke’s and attended by organisations ranging from schools and places of worship to solicitors and voluntary groups, keynote speaker Professor Allan Kellehear threw down a challenge to those present, saying: “Every day, people die and hearts are broken. Death and dying are more than medical issues and caring for those affected is not just the role of the doctor and the chaplain. End of life care is everyone’s responsibility and we all have a practical role to play.”

This rallying call to build on the good work already happening across Plymouth to make our city a more compassionate place for people at end of life, and those caring for them, was met with overwhelming support. So, nearly 18 months on, at the launch of the End of Life Compassionate City Charter Professor Kellehear urged Plymouth to adopt, it was an opportunity to see how groups and organisations have been working together, turning aspiration into action so that no-one feels left behind.

Having a city-wide end of life network working in partnership with the City Council, as well as other public bodies and local charities, is already beginning to ensure that Plymouth is a city that does not shy away from the ‘taboo’ subjects of death, dying and bereavement but talks openly about them. In fact, Plymouth has the accolade of being recognised at England’s first Compassionate City, but this is just the beginning.

The Compassionate City initiative is being led and co-ordinated by Gail Wilson, Deputy Director of Clinical Services at St Luke’s. Gail said: “Across the city and the wider communities there are many examples of individuals and groups going the extra mile to support people during times of sickness, bereavement and loss, from providing a listening ear to helping with practical things such as walking the dog and collecting shopping.

“I have been amazed by what various organisations and individuals across the city have achieved in the past 18 months, with the support of the compassionate community team at St Luke’s . This is a really a great start but there is much more to do, so I would encourage anybody who wants to be involved to sign up to the network and join us, so together we can create compassionate networks where we live and work so that no-one at end of life or experiencing bereavement and loss feels isolated or alone.”

Steve Statham, Chief Executive of St Luke’s, said: “We have a key role to play in supporting our community and networks in times of crisis and loss. This charter is about how we can work together towards extending the support we give to people at a most difficult time in their life”.

Ruth Harrell, Director of Public Health for Plymouth, said: “By taking a public health approach to end of life care, we can give a voice to all those affected by death, dying, bereavement and loss and work together to create a city that does not shy away from their needs but provides a compassionate collective response.”

 

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.

Celebrating our tenth anniversary, we have presented the public with some beautiful gardens this year as part of our Open Gardens scheme.

As the season comes to a close, we are pulling out all the stops this Sunday for one final garden before we say goodbye to the summer sun. Bowringsleigh Gardens near Kingsbridge is set in ten acres of private established gardens hidden in a peaceful valley of outstanding natural beauty. The gardens are home to a stunning collection of hydrangeas, and many rare trees are to be found in the two large arboretums which are best viewed in September as the leaves turn colour.

Open Gardens Coordinator at St Luke’s, Wayne Marshall, said: “At this time of year the garden is full of colour with plants that are rare to come by. This is great opportunity to explore not only the gorgeous gardens, but also see the house that looks over the gardens is a 15th century listed building with a rich and significant history. This is an enjoyable and inspiring way for our supporters to raise vital funds for our free unique and compassionate care that is provided to patients and their families at home, at Derriford and at our specialist unit at Turnchapel.”

Refreshments and plant sales are available. There’s also a chance to enter the Open Gardens annual raffle to win a framed original canvas of our brochure cover by local artist, Brian Pollard.

Bowringsleigh Garden will be open on Sunday 15 September between 2pm and 5pm. Admission costs just £5. Parking is available and wheelchair and pushchair access is available although limited in some areas. The garden is located at Bowringsleigh, Kingsbridge, Devon TQ7 3LL. Following the orange arrows from Bantham Cross towards Salcombe. www.stlukes-hospice.org.uk/opengardens

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