18 October 2023

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I am definitely in a better place

I am definitely in a better place

Providing two women with a safe space to talk about the deaths of close family members for the first time after many years, is symptomatic of the success of the Croydon Death Literacy project.

Now entering its third year, the Croydon Death Literacy Project is going from strength to strength under the stewardship of Project Coordinator Malcolm Gill, Community Connector Jarmila Whiteley and colleagues from across the St Christopher’s Community Action team

Malcolm and his colleagues are working closely with community-focused organisations, including the likes of MIND, Purley Masjid, Lives Not Knives, and Croydon BME Forum to provide people who often face multiple health inequalities with the skills and confidence to have important conversations about death, dying and loss, in the project funded by Croydon CCG.

The work with Croydon BME Forum is a great example of how the programme is reaching out to, and engaging with, people who may have not found the opportunity to have these tender conversations before. The Forum recognised the need, has embraced the opportunity and is now hosting regular sessions that are meaningful to the regular participants and are starting to have a lasting and significant impact.

Shelly, Mental Health Community Development Worker for Croydon BME Forum, explains why they wanted to get involved: “There are a lot of people hurting in the community post COVID and there are so many deaths happening all the time, we felt it was important to run something here in the community.”

“The name Compassionate Chats felt right as we knew it was important to show people it’s going to be a warm friendly space where they will be helped and supported with the grief and loss they have experienced.”

The 12-20-strong group meets monthly for two and a half hours and attracts both regulars and newcomers each time. Malcolm welcomes everyone and, after introducing the theme of the session, will facilitate the conversations, allowing everyone to speak if they want to, while respecting the silence of those who don’t. Before saying their goodbyes, Malcolm ensures everyone does some mindfulness and breathing exercises.

Shelly, who has also received training from the Croydon Death Literacy project team, says some people find it a very emotional experience. “Sometimes people come and join the group and they just end up breaking down with their losses.”

As well the opportunity to express their feelings in words, members of the group can use arts-based activities to explore their feelings.

Some people, says Malcolm, speak more than others. One man who attends regularly speaks rarely but is often the first to arrive and benefits from having a safe place to come and occasionally share his thoughts and feelings.

Shelly is delighted with how the project is going. “It’s been going very well. People are blown away by it and just say they wish they’d had it before.”

Malcolm adds: “It’s proving that there was quite an unmet need. We’re also understanding the cultural differences relating to death rituals – what to say, what not to say and the boundaries that exist for some people.”

Malcolm says there are people in the group at all stages of the grief journey and that enables people to see a way ahead and appreciate that they’re not the only one to have been through an experience.

He adds: “The real magic is seeing someone who has been stuck for years, starting to move forward and able to help others. It shows that the group can support itself.”

Two of the group’s members, Faye and Jay, who, having never met before, have become close friends.

Faye heard about Compassionate Chats through Shelly at the Young at Heart group. She really felt the loss of her father when he died in 1986. “I’ve always felt isolated, like I needed him to be there, and his presence had gone, and I’d never really talked about it.

“Listening to other people’s experiences and struggles has opened up my mind, given me a greater sense of acceptance and help put my bereavement and loss into perspective. I am definitely in a better place.”

Jay has suffered a number of bereavements and never trusted anyone enough to share her feelings with. Shelly invited her to try a session.

She adds: “Malcolm was brilliant. Some people don’t really listen. He listened, was patient and never hurried anyone. You can also have a private word with him and he’s just really nice, honest calm and softly spoken.

“I’ve had a real a breakthrough thanks to the group. I was very wary talking to anyone at first. But I soon found that I could trust Faye, Malcolm and Shelly. I’m now sleeping better, feel lighter and have recommended the group to a family member.”

Jay and Faye would encourage others who may have faced similar situations to try the group.

Faye says: “I look forward to it every time as they are genuine, honest people and its nice environment – not at all scary.”

And Jay adds: “I’d say to anyone, come and meet Shelly and Malcolm. They will listen to you, no one will judge you and it’s warm, kind and understanding place.” Please get in touch if your group would like to talk about death, dying and loss in Croydon with us. We’re here to help you and your communities build on your confidence, compassion and care for yourselves and each other around the end of life. Please contact Malcolm Gill on

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