28 March 2024

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Collaborating with Communities: Transforming End of Life Experiences Together

Seeing communities and people outside healthcare as having a role to play at the end of life doesn’t mean our clinical colleagues should feel threatened. In fact, we’ll all do better if we collaborate together and learn from each other and what people are already doing in the broader death system.

White woman with blond hair pulled back into one smiling with red lipstick.
Mary Hodgson, Head of Community Action

With St Christopher’s next conference, Collaborating with Communities: Transforming End of Life Experiences Together, fast approaching, our Head of Community Action and Learning, Mary Hodgson, asks colleagues from across the sector to come and find out how to see local people and communities as supportive partners and activists at the end of life.

What’s the aim of the conference?

To help people interested in collaborating more closely with local communities to develop some key skills, understand some proven methods and leave feeling empowered to make it happen.

Don’t hospices already collaborate with their communities?

The Lancet Commission on the ‘Value of Death’ argued that the end of life is over-medicalised, leading to avoidable suffering. This means simply that we tend to see death as a medical event, rather than a social one, something that happens to us all. This can be quite disempowering and our ways of dealing with it are also quite medical and institutional. One of the ways to de-medicalise the end of life and consider it more socially and societally might be to appreciate that the end of life happens to us all, so it should belong to us all. This means recognising that community skillsets and contributions to end of life can be as powerful and sustainable as healthcare contributions, and working more closely with community groups and community members. More than this, the current set up of how we might work in organisations is generally inequitable. We don’t tend to take the time to get to know people and their skills and knowledge in local settings as well as we might. We chose the title collaborating for this conference as we think there are ways we could learn together about doing this work well.

Should people attend from hospices that haven’t yet started community engagement?

Absolutely. I am frequently contacted by hospices that want to make the change but don’t know where to start with moving away from the traditional model. I often encourage them to start somewhere – to look at their assets, identify a small project to start on, evidence that it works and grow from there. And that’s going to be the approach of this conference. We really want to encourage anyone who works in a healthcare setting and is curious to start to join us for this conversation.

So, what can people expect from the day?

It’s going to be all about providing people with the building blocks of practice – how can we do this work, what should we bring to it, what methods and approaches could you use? We want it to be as helpful as possible, so it’s going to be quite practical and focused on skills and experience. We hope it will be a great opportunity to meet other people and really focus on relationship-based working.

Why are you so passionate about community engagement?

I’ve worked in community development and research for a really long time and a really important part of that is listening and relationship building. Over the years I’ve found any conversation I have I learn something new and I am a strong advocate for assuming communities have a wealth of knowledge and skills to share and a contribution to make to many societal challenges.  

I’m also keen to make sure that there is a space to platform and amplify lots of alternative voices on distinctive policy areas or issues in society that are important to us collectively. We call it polyvocality – to hear more voices creates a richer, stronger sound.

Why end of life? End of life happens to us all yet if end of life is seen as medical rather than social we might overlook or ignore community perspectives, which is a disempowering stance.

Seeing communities and people outside healthcare as having a role to play at the end of life doesn’t mean our clinical colleagues should feel threatened. In fact, we’ll all do better if we collaborate together and learn from each other and what people are already doing in the broader death system.

One example of where we can tackle inequalities is that we’re only seeing certain people in hospices because we’re communicating a particular message in a particular way. If we want to tackle inequalities, we have to take a different approach and see things in a new way, realising that our organisations don’t have all the answers and we need to work differently. All too often we’re overlooking or ignoring the knowledge and compassion local communities are already demonstrating.

Who can delegates expect to hear from?

As well as a number of members of the Community Action team here at St Christopher’s, who’ll share the methods that have worked for them, we’ll also hear from community leaders and people who have collaborated successfully in places or about shared interests about what makes a positive community relationship and what they get out of it.

How can you book your place?

If you’re interested in changing the way you work with local communities but not sure where to start and need support in making the case for working differently, book your place at the conference on 2 May now.

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