But our experience shows us that if you can be more open and have these conversations, we all feel so much better. That’s why, when we saw an opportunity to work with local community groups and help them feel ready to have these difficult conversations with the people they support, we jumped at the chance.
Entelechy Arts, based in Lewisham, and Age UK Bromley and Greenwich, both support people who are older, potentially frail and isolated. But neither organisation provided training to help their volunteers be better prepared and more willing to listen if someone they were supporting wanted to talk about dying or grief. Often, because of awkwardness, the first instinct can be to shut the conversation down.
Having good existing relationships with Entelechy Arts and Age UK, we offered to provide training for their volunteers, so they felt able to have these conversations and better support others, if the need arose. We are so lucky at St Christopher’s to have many talented volunteers and, six of them with a teaching or training background, helped us develop and deliver the training. From their unique perspective as volunteers they put together information, handouts and a presentation which they then used in training for volunteers at the partner organisations. Over fifteen partner volunteers and staff attended a course and were given the confidence and tools to be able to train volunteers in their organisation and spread the word further.
Topics included: practical information around things like power of attorney and the kinds of services that are available to people if they need more support; how to pick-up the cues which may show if someone wants to talk; and the importance of letting loved ones know your wishes in advance.
We’re really pleased that this project was very well received, with volunteers at Age UK and Entelechy Arts saying, “As a volunteer befriender with Age UK this sort of conversation could be quite likely to arise” and “I now have a lot more of an idea of how to tackle conversations that may be deemed as difficult at first, and work through them, rather than be tempted to close up a conversation.”
I have learnt not to be afraid of the subject.
Another commented, “The training showed me the possible situations where it would be appropriate to engage in discussions about loss, leading possibly to thoughts on dying, and learning about help that might be available. I probably would not have felt it appropriate before the training.”
One volunteer said simply, “I have learnt not to be afraid of the subject.”
We’re really pleased to have supported other organisations to develop expertise of their own around dying and bereavement and helped more people in the local community too. We know that there’s a big appetite for other organisations to learn from our experience which, when our new Learning Hub is up and running, we hope to see fly!