We were recently confronted by a very uncomfortable truth, namely that the majority of the general public does not see hospices as we, on the inside, do. Our messenger – an articulate woman working closely with local community groups who are interested to engage with their hospice – confirmed that, for those who don’t have direct experience of hospice care, hospices are still seen as a place of last resort; somewhere serving people with cancer for whom there is no hope, and that at best they are viewed as the health facility people hope they will never have to use personally. Whilst this view wasn’t new to us it was an uncomfortable reminder that things hadn’t changed, despite our best efforts. “The public simply don’t share your view of hospice care as a menu of welcoming, inclusive services, focused on helping people live well wherever they are, right up until the end and into bereavement” was her challenging comment in a conversation about how to better build bridges between local people and St Christopher’s. “You are going to have to think quite differently about how to introduce people to the notion of hospice” she advised as we pondered on the difference between our aspirational image of the organisation we lead and believe in, and the alternative reality she described.
And so, we at St Christopher’s have been doing just that – considering how we describe our work to the people that we must engage in 2017 and beyond in order to ensure we fulfil our mission and future ambitions. Our overriding priority is to reach people in south east London who have previously had little or no relationship with St Christopher’s. That way, we can start to reduce the gap between the 6,700 individuals who die each year in our catchment area and could arguably benefit from care, along with their families and carers, and the 3,426 patients who currently do.
We also want to connect with a whole variety of other individuals and organisations in the local area who could help us meet the growing demands for care at the end of life, by being part of an improved system and extended network of support. We believe our role as a hospice isn’t just about providing care it’s also about educating, campaigning and changing practice. We also know that we can’t do it all ourselves and we need to work closely with the public and others to improve the experiences of those who are dying or bereaved. We know that many people want to play a part in supporting others at the end of life – whether that’s a neighbour, family member, friend or work colleague and, we believe that, through a participatory programme led by the hospice, we can help people do just that. Some people may want support with the practical skills needed to care for someone whilst others may need advice around how to have difficult conversations about death, dying and loss. Whatever the challenge we know that we, as hospices, are best placed to provide that support and training.
But we know that we will only be able to connect with communities effectively if people learn more about the help and support we can offer, and are challenged in their misconceptions about who can use our services and when. We need to encourage conversations about our work and the impact it has so that people see us differently. We hope this will persuade people to see us as a place that can help them as well as their families, friends and neighbours. We want them to see us somewhere that can help them maximise their offerings to those important to them too.
So our logo for 2017, marking the 50th anniversary of St Christopher’s and the modern hospice movement, seeks to get people talking to us as well as encouraging people to think differently about hospice care. Its focus on “more than just a hospice” enables us to talk about our role beyond cancer, our efforts to be more than just a bit of heaven for the few, the reality of our significant community based service in addition to inpatient beds and our efforts to address the social consequences of terminal illness, in addition to clinical problems. Its intention is to provoke conversation and debate; to encourage people to realise that they may not have seen the best of what we can offer yet and to help them discover their potential contribution to our work in the future.
Will we keep the logo beyond 2017? We will see. For now we want to use our 50th anniversary to reach and influence the many people who know little or nothing about us. We want to find every opportunity in the next 12 months to tell people of the work that we and other hospices do. We are proud of all we achieve, as an organisation and as a sector, and want to maximise our impact so that we can support many more people and for many more years to come.