Nigel Hartley, Director of Supportive Care at St Christopher’s Hospice, London, UK, explains how the hospice has revolutionised day and outpatient services for people with serious illness and fostered new ways of getting the local community to look at death, dying and bereavement.
In July 2009, we opened the Anniversary Centre at St Christopher’s Hospice in London, a large social hub that offers day and outpatient services including medical and nursing clinics, complementary therapies, social work and welfare support. These services are delivered alongside a comprehensive group work programme of gym classes, support groups and creativity groups.
Since then, alongside developing and providing more accessible services for dying people and their families, we have developed a programme of regular events to bring the local community into the hospice in order to change perceptions about the work that the hospice does, as well as to change attitudes towards death, dying and bereavement. The development of the Anniversary Centre has been key to providing a context where a broad range of individuals can come together with a common purpose. The centre is open 13 hours a day seven days a week. The public education programme has grown in its success and more than 200 people who live in the local area now come in weekly to join dying patients, their carers, staff and volunteers in activities such as a community choir, a pottery group, a quilting group and a professional concert series. Food also plays an important part of this public education initiative and there is a weekly pizza night, a curry night and Sunday lunches with live music every week. The events are designed to attract the diverse communities served by the south-east London hospice.
Talking openly about death and dying
‘Death Chat at St Christopher’s’ will be the latest addition to our weekly programme. Our aim is to offer the opportunity one evening a week for a group of people to come together to talk openly about death and dying. Similar to the rest of our public education programme, this will include members of the local community as well as dying patients, family members, staff and volunteers. Involving dying people as well as the general public is crucial as our aim is to show that dying can be a normal experience and that difficult situations can be managed well. We will offer the opportunity to undertake some advance care planning and to discuss funeral wishes, as well as the chance to talk through the common myths and fears that come up when thinking about the end of life. People will be able to purchase cheese and a glass of wine to enable the conversation to flow more easily within a relaxed atmosphere. ‘Death Chat’ will be facilitated by an experienced member of staff, together with a group of trained volunteers. We know from our experiences to date that talking about such things within a supportive, social context can be a beneficial way of helping people to feel more at ease about difficult things.
We are convinced that hospices and the people who use them have a responsibility to challenge attitudes towards death and dying proactively through offering opportunities that can really make a difference.
As one person who attended our professional concert series recently said:
‘Who would have thought it – a great night out at the local hospice! – I thought it would be all doom and gloom, but everything’s just normal …’
What are your views?
I would love to hear other people’s views and experiences and would be happy to share information as our own plans move forward. Please leave a comment below or contact me at St Christopher’s.
To find out more…
- Click here to find out more about the programme we offer. Choose ‘Media and Gallery’.
- Click here to view some short films highlighting the benefits of the work.