Setting up a bereavement support group
A case study from St Monica Trust

About the project:

During a networking event, Jan Perry, St Monica Trust’s Community Development Worker for the CDOP Stockwood, was asked if Stockwood had a Bereavement Support Group as a neighbouring community were in the process of setting up such a project with support from a social prescribing project.  

In Jan’s daily role, she was consciously aware that many of the older people she met had been either recently bereaved or knew someone going through bereavement. Jan placed an advert on the social media platform, ‘NextDoor’, asking for people who would be interested in helping to set up and run a bereavement peer support project. 

Through this marketing and speaking to a congregation in a local church, she attracted 13 people, 8 of which became a core group who have worked together, over the past 7 months, to get to the stage of opening the service to the public.  Since the below case study with Debs, the group has run three session (on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month) and have received interest from 5 people, 3 of whom are currently attending the drop-in sessions.

They have a ‘softly-softly’ approach to marketing this service and have received expressions of interest from a number of channels which include social prescribing workers, and the Macmillian Cancer peripatetic  team.

 

A participant’s story:

Debs’ husband died very suddenly in 2002, following a trip to Thailand. “At the time,” Debs says, “There wasn’t very much support, and the waiting lists were very long. It wasn’t easy to deal with.”

Debs retired in 2019 and was looking for something to get involved in when she saw Jan’s advert on the app, Next Door. Jan was looking for volunteers to help her to set up a bereavement support group in the Stockwood area. “I’ve learnt a lot since I lost him and it would be interesting to help out.” Said Debs, “And it just went from there.”

Debs, Jan, and a few others started meeting regularly to discuss how the group would be run. “It was just a couple of us to begin with,” Debs said. “I managed to rope my neighbour and my friend in as well. I did a first aid course recently and talked about the new group, I had two ladies from the course that were interested.”

Different people in the group will have different roles as Debs explains, not everyone wants to facilitate. Some are happy to meet and greet whilst others would prefer to make the teas and coffees. The group aims to be a relaxed space, open to everyone who has gone through bereavement.

Debs describes the group’s aims: “It’s going to be quite informal because we’re not trained counsellors, but we’ll be a place where people can share their experiences. We’ve got a cushion with a star on it and we’ll give the person talking the cushion to hold because it’s quite comforting just to hold something – makes you feel less tense. We’ll talk about how we’re feeling and share our experiences. We’re going to make the room all cosy with candles and background music too.”

Debs has enjoyed the experience so far and looks forward to launching the group in October. “I’ve enjoyed meeting the other volunteers and listening to their experiences. Everyone grieves in different ways and there’s no right or wrong way, just different. I’ve enjoyed giving something back and having something to focus on.”

 

Learning:

Setting up a bereavement support group took more time than previous community projects had and St Monica Trust learnt to invest more time in establishing something new. Jan felt that it had benefited the project to spend a lot of time setting the project up as in the long term this will mean that the project is of a high quality and is sustainable.

Jan said, “The reality is that in most of our community development work we are working to tight deadlines (due to fixed term funding and other constraints) and this does put pressure on the ‘grass roots’ development workers to reach targets in a limited amount of time.   I allotted a lot of my time developing the resources, network links, marketing and training to help build a strong foundation for the project – making sure that I consulted and engaged all the people who had come forward to help collectively run the project.  I gave them a sense of ownership and time to feel confident that they could open the doors to deliver a quality and sustainable project to their local community.”


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