#ComComUK - From Birmingham to Leeds
We made it! After a killer 30 hours of flights and delays we stepped off the plane and straight into it, driving up to Birmingham (Brum as the locals know it!).
We met Shannon Hudson who kindly offered us to bunk in with her and her gorgeous family. Shannon is a community lead nurse at St Mary's Hospice and a proud member of BRUM YODO - a collective of Brum community members that work together:
"aiming to encourage and support the people of Birmingham to have open and honest conversations about death and dying and mortality. Through creative and cultural events, festivals, debates, workshops and social media.."
Sounds right up out alley, right? We were lucky enough to meet a few of them for dinner on our first night. Brum Yodo is a mix of people from all walks of life ranging from lawyers to artists to health professionals and undertakers. We talked community engagement, arts practice, natural funeral and burial practices. We mused over the pro's and cons of being an independent group - the struggles for sustainability and the freedom and agency of being able to tread cross-sector.
Brum Yodo act to amplify their individual talents as this only adds to their collaborative strength. Their annual festival; Matter of Life and Death Festival brings together pioneering arts practice with practical workshops and takes over ordinary city spaces to reach and connect community members and offer a safe space to spark conversations and personal actions around end of life.
We were invited to check out the new shopfront of 2 of the Brum Yodo members, Carrie and Fran who have a funeral business called A Natural Undertaking. The new shopfront was amazing! Right on a main road inbetween a tyre shop and a supermarket. Completely visible and warm and inviting - not stark or corporate or confronting. Inside it is a beautiful, light and warm space with a vigil room where family members can say goodbye to their loved one in a calming, gentle space.
They also have an eco-hearse! An electric car that is fitted out to have the coffin along the side of the driver, not way off in the back.
We also spent time with Sharon at St Mary's Hospice. Her role there will be shifting to more of a community development focus which is very exciting. Whilst there we had the opportunity to meet with a number of Community Engagement workers from hospices across the midlands. We discovered that the community development and engagement roles are reasonably new in the sector and aren't clearly defined, more learnt and developed on the job. It was great to hear about different initiatives they have started and hear stories of the impact of these initiatives on community members.
We had dinner that night with Manjula Patel, CEO of Murray Hall Trust and learnt more about Compassionate Communities in the UK on a wider scale and shared some reflections on the Pathfinders project which was great to chat through. It's been so encouraging meeting and reconnecting with like minded people working towards a similar vision.
On Friday we met with the St Giles Hospice team. First we met the Nikki Archer, Supportive Care Manager, at Tamworth (a very different Tamworth to the Australian one!) at the Sacred Heart Church to check out an example of their Bereavement Help Point. This is an initiative that St Giles Hospice supports where they partner with existing community groups and services to create a very open, inclusive community support for people who are bereaved. By partnering with other groups and orgs they allow collective ownership and investment. We went in there thinking we'd just observe from the door but we were welcomed right in and were part of the group for 2 hours! It was a great experience, about 25 people sitting in a large circle all chatting in groups or pairs, getting up and moving around and talking some more. From the conversations we had we noticed themes of connection, lifeline, huge support, new and enduring friendships and feeling less alone, knowing that there were people with a shared experience was a healing thing. We noticed there were a high number of men (maybe 8 of the 25 or so) which we thought would be hard to match in Australia. And everyone came to be at the group in a different way from professional referrals to being nudged along by a wife or daughter. We were very lucky to be welcomed in such a way and to have such rich conversations, the people there were so gracious and generous with their stories.
Nikki then took us to the St Giles Hospice in Lichfield. We met with Emma Hodges, CEO and got lost in great conversation for a couple of hours. It was great to be in that space, to walk around get a feel for the work that happens there and the incredibly valuable asset to the community that the hospice is, connecting with the community takes away the fear of hospice. We talked a lot about the ethos of community development, the need to forget the set strategy and get out there and connect and go from there. And the kind of people that do good CD work usually have a strong instinct for it, it's part of their character and that has more of an impact than whether or not they have a degree in it. We mused over the institutionalisation of community, that providing a service can sometimes undermine the natural human instincts we all have to jump in and help each other.
It's been a huge few days with brains and hearts full of inspiration and connection. Next stop is Bradford University to meet with Professor Allan Kellehear and then onwards to Scotland for the conference: Everyday Compassion: Supportive responses to dying and bereavement by schools, neighbourhoods and workplaces.
If you have any questions, suggestions, inspirations for us along the way or anything you'd like us to ask the people we meet, email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Holly and Kerrie xx