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Compassionate Communities – What They Are and How They Are Created

This World Compassionate Communities Day, hear from Emma Naef, our Compassionate Communities Co-ordinator, who writes about the movement and what we at the Hospice are doing to help create a Compassionate Community.

A lot can be said about the year 2020. We all had no choice but to adapt, many of us suffered loss and a number of us found ourselves in danger of being completely isolated. But a source of optimism during this time came in the form of communities coming together and supporting one another. Whole streets formed WhatsApp groups to stay connected, people checked in on elderly neighbours (even if it was behind a window) and even bought shopping and collected prescriptions where needed. These communities created themselves in response to a crisis. These communities were compassionate.

Back in 2015, before we had ever heard the word Covid, Dr. Alan Kellehear from the University of Bradford released a document named the Compassionate City Charter. It listed 13 social changes to lead communities towards being a Compassionate City. These included things such as schools and workplaces adopting guidance and policies around death, dying and loss, museums and art galleries holding exhibitions around ageing, death, dying and loss, commitment from local government and media to support the initiative, creation and support for initiatives for homeless and imprisoned people around death, dying and loss and demonstrating that the Compassionate City understands how diversity shapes the experience of ageing, dying, death, loss and care.

This charter was in response to research and experience showing that people who are living with a life-limiting illness, their carers and bereaved people were more likely to become isolated from wider society, leading to a range of further emotional and physical problems linked with loneliness. It stated that although healthcare institutions have an important role in caring for people effected by death, dying and loss, care for these people is really everyone’s responsibility. Crucially, it set out to remind readers that these people are still active members of their community with skills, interests and opinions to contribute. Through the creation of a Compassionate City, local people would have the skills, support and confidence to support one another through times of crisis.

Since the Charter, and even for some time before it was written, communities around the world have been adopting the Compassionate Community approach. In the UK, Plymouth became England’s first Compassionate City. There they created a network of local people and organisations all committed to the vision of the charter. Schools developed better processes to support children who were bereaved and improved education around the subject, workplaces attended training of how to support colleagues and customers, they held city-wide memorial events annually to support grieving community members. They also created Compassionate Friends and Champions who attended training and then were available if someone in their local area needed support. In Scotland, Compassionate Inverclyde created local awareness training, ran High Five wellbeing programmes in schools, created a Compassionate Inverclyde board of 13 local organisations, and started the Back Home box initiative, which delivers boxes of essential items and Welcome Home cards from school children to people being discharged from hospital who live alone. Both of these approaches were spearheaded by local hospices but were guided and informed by the needs and ideas of local people.

At Peace Hospice Care, we are excited about playing a part in developing our Compassionate Community. Currently we run our Compassionate Neighbours project, aimed at reducing loneliness and social isolation. We match trained Compassionate Neighbour volunteers with community members who are living with a life-limiting illness or who are bereaved and would benefit from a listening ear and a friend. We are also facilitating training for external organisations in our catchment area to improve their knowledge of end of life issues and their confidence in talking about death dying and loss. We are starting to run training for school teachers and have been training local care homes. We hold an annual memorial event called Lights of Love, this year happening at Watford Colosseum on Monday 29th of November 2021. We also have relationships with local museums and art galleries where we have showcased work created by our hospice community.

Building a Compassionate Community is an ongoing project and we are excited to continue to grow. For example, we hope to have Compassionate Hubs up and running in various locations around our catchment area next year, serving as a space for members of our community to get together and support one another. We know that compassion already exists in our communities, we saw it blossom in many places in 2020, Compassionate Communities are all about helping that compassion thrive.

If you would like to be involved in growing our Compassionate Community in any way, please get in touch with our Compassionate Communities Co-ordinator, Emma Naef, at: or on: 01923 330 330