good life, good death, good grief

Truacanta

The Truacanta Project is supporting local communities across Scotland who are interested in taking community action to improve people’s experiences of death, dying, loss and care. On this blog, you'll hear from time to time from people associated with the project who wish to share their experiences.

The Truacanta Project: how we've coddiwompled our way through a pandemic

In March 2020, our five Truacanta groups had been selected and we were all looking forward to working together over the following two years on laying the foundations for compassionate communities in Scotland. The local projects were due to launch in April 2020. By mid-March, the project was on hold as we wrapped our heads around the emerging situation which, as we all know now, was going to last a lot longer than the initial three months we suggested.

As time ticked on and the reality became…well, real, we realised that the Truacanta Project was not going to happen, at least not the way we’d all envisaged it over the previous few months. The visions for change that each group had worked on had been based on face to face contact, the ability to go out and meet people, get to know and work with local communities and – importantly – on the group having capacity to do these things. All of this had changed, almost overnight.

We know that compassionate community activity can make a real difference to people facing difficult times around death, dying, loss and care. And we knew that from March 2020, difficult times were all around and ahead for communities and individuals. So what could we do? How could we continue with a project that we were no longer able to take forward as planned? How do you do a thing when you can’t do the thing?

Well, in true community development tradition, we coddiwompled. And that looked a bit like this.

What the local groups have been doing:

Truacanta Perthshire

In Perth they grew some Selfie Wings, giving local people a place and space to reflect and share their experiences, and to mark To Absent Friendsv week they created a remembrance trail using QR codes.

North Berwick Compassionate Community

North Berwick invited local people to a series of Online Armchair Chats, with speakers, music and poetry. They also organised in-person events at their local Fringe by the Sea.

Two of the North Berwick volunteers have trained as EASE Online Facilitators and have since delivered two courses locally with another coming up. They are working with St Columba’s Hospice to build a local pool of Compassionate Neighbours, and now have a paid member of staff to take this forward.

Say Something Dundee

Dundee have organised several online Conversation Cafes, as well as Information Sessions in partnership with a local solicitor. They have an active Facebook page, and have hosted Facebook Live events. They are looking at the possibility of funding a development post.

Highland Truacanta

In Highland they have held lots of online events for local people, including regular Virtual Tea Breaks and Creative Conversations where they’ve looked at ways of celebrating and remembering people who have died, including using poetry and arts and crafts activities. They were recently able to continue with these conversations in person as face to face events started back up.

One of the group has also trained as an EASE Online volunteer facilitator and is aiming to deliver a course to local people.

Ayrshire

In Ayrshire, they have only recently been able to regroup and have opened up the steering group back up to include people from the third sector and the local hospice. They have started mapping activity to identify gaps and recently held a face to face engagement event, to get input from the local community.

What else the project has been doing:

Toward the end of 2021, we held events for the Truacanta and wider GLGDGG community.

We organised online Truacanta Death Clubs.

We have held three Truacanta networking events, giving our groups the chance to gather together and share experiences, successes and challenges and to inspire each other going forward.

We will be offering regular EASE Online courses as well as EASE Online Facilitator training; and offer priority places to Truacanta groups looking to participate in the course and go on to train as facilitators.

Meanwhile, our Evaluation Coordinators have been working with the local groups and evaluating local and national activity.

So, we have been focusing on small steps and embracing change. At one of our networking events, our guest speaker Anne Connor from Outside the Box offered this quote which felt very apt:

“All great innovations feel like a mess in the middle.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter

We are very fortunate that Macmillan have extended our funding for another year, to allow us to support the Truacanta groups for a bit longer as they start to build their local activity.

At our last networking event, our guest speaker Emer O’Leary invited us to create new visions for the next and final year. There was a real sense of pride from the groups at what they have achieved in the last two years, under very difficult circumstances. And, despite all the setbacks and challenges, there was still enthusiasm, passion and drive to push forward in this final year and to really set solid foundations in improving local experiences of death, dying, loss and care. We may not know exactly where our destination is, and the path there may keep changing direction, but we’ll keep coddiwompling along knowing that it is worth it.

Truacanta in action – conversations about celebrating and remembering

Anne McDonald updates us on recent Highland Truacanta activity

“They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time”

We had a lovely afternoon in Cromarty with the youth cafe and some older members of the community talking about ways to celebrate and remember those we have known, and eating Cromarty Youth Cafe’s wonderful afternoon tea. Thanks so much to Wanda Mackay, Fraser, Creativity In Care and all those who came along. What beautiful works of art you created. We will be back to talk more about a memory bench.

The next day we were talking again about remembering and celebrating, this time with the HSCN Virtual Tea-break. Creativity in Care supplied everyone with their own craft kit, and then guided us through the process of making paper roses and poppies. We wrote some beautiful haiku - particularly impressive for those who had only just learned what a haiku is. Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that consists of three lines, five syllables in the first line, seven in the second and five in the third.

Your leaf falls too soon

But seeds you set in our hearts

Grow strong shoots of joy


The end of October saw us finally holding our first Highland Truacanta Creative Community Conversation in Kinlochleven. The Leven Centre not only provided a safe environment but also a warm welcome and much encouragement. Karrie and Chris from Creativity in Care supported us in sharing thoughts around remembrance as we made our beautiful paper poppies and roses. Our group of 13 shared ideas for personal and community “ways of remembering”, particularly in these unusual times.

The group included local older people and participants from local organisations: High Life Highland staff from the Centre, Libraries and Adult Learning, Kinlochlovin’ (a local creative organisation for both young people and adults), Action for Seniors in Kinlochleven, the Salvation Army and Kinlochleven Community Trust.

People were bubbling with ideas and keen to take some away to discuss further in their groups and in the wider community. It will be really interesting to see if any of these ideas, or indeed completely different ones, are taken forward, generating conversations about death, dying, loss, grief and remembrance in the community. It was just so lovely to be back holding a face-to-face event!

If you live in the Highlands and would like to know more about Highland Truacanta or get involved, get in touch with Anne: anne-hscn@outlook.com

Summertime in North Berwick

Deborah from Truacanta Group North Berwick Compassionate Community tells us about their busy 2021

2021 has been a very busy year for the North Berwick Compassionate Community project. The pandemic had disrupted many of our plans last year, but we decided as a small core group that we would adapt and experiment with what could work during this time of zoom and isolation. If you remember our project had two key threads: the Big Conversation Thread and the Support Thread.

The Big Conversation Thread

At the end of last year we decided to experiment with Armchair Chats on zoom with the intention of creating a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere whereby people could chat from their armchairs during the winter evenings.

We arranged for four chats once a month. In February we provided the community with an update on the project and entertained people with poetry and music. The use of poetry and prose and music was really effective in creating an atmosphere that supported the deep chats about difficult issues by providing some light relief. Although, often the readings and poetry also focused on the topics of death and dying and grief, but it was uplifting. Once we had discovered this format we used it for every Armchair Chat. We were keen to involve as many people as possible and we learned how to use subtitles on zoom. The second armchair chat was on legal issues involved in death and dying and a local author Isla Aitken read from her book about breast cancer ‘ Making Pearls from Grit.’ It is a funny, self-deprecating and thoughtful and honest account of coping with breast cancer. A Soul Midwife Jude Meryl who is the coordinator of Soul Midwives in Scotland led our third Armchair Chat. She outlined the philosophy and how they work with people who are dying. We also had readings from a local Death Doula Lucy Ackroyd, who has written a very helpful book called ‘Leaves of Love.’ The fourth Armchair Chat invited Kathryn Mannix to explore with us her book ‘With the End in Mind.’ The armchair chats had about 40 people signed up for each event and usually about 25-30 people turned up on the night.

The armchair Chats led us into the Fringe by the Sea events. We had always planned to have a large event supported by the infrastructure of Fringe by the Sea in terms of advertising, managing the tickets and providing the venue and stewards and sound technicians. This was cancelled in 2020 but we were able to go ahead in August 2021. We kicked off the festival with a book club that discussed Kathryn Mannix’s book ‘With the End in Mind.’ Kathryn Mannix and Richard Holloway followed this in conversation in the Big Top, accompanied by beautiful singing from Ruth Stapleton. Kathryn and Richard covered a vast range of subjects and the audience was spellbound. We continued with our inclusion policy and provided interpreters for the Deaf Community. 130 people attended the Big Top event. We were thrilled by the attendance. Alongside these events we held an emotional and wellbeing master class led by Alan Mclean for young people and youth workers and teachers on ‘Mastery over Mystery.’ About 20 people attended this event.

A local art group pARTicipate supported us by making an art display in the old telephone exchange phone box where people could add the names of loved ones who had died. 70 names were added.

Using the format of the festival enabled us to reach many more people that we would normally reach. Good outcomes were the involvement of the local Nursing Home in the book club and the number of local organisations who attended the Kathryn Mannix in conversation with Richard Holloway event.

Support Thread

This was the part of the project that we felt was going to be the most challenging. But by chance St Columba’s Hospice were developing a Compassionate neighbor project and we negotiated to be one of the pilot areas. Currently six local people have been trained by the hospice and they have also undertaken the EASE training. Two of the core group became EASE training facilitators ad ran the local course for North Berwick. We were concerned about the long-term sustainability of the support thread, so we negotiated with a local social isolation project Community Connections to integrate the Compassionate Neighbours’ objectives into their proposal for funding to the lottery. If this is successful we will have worker hours to support the Compassionate Neighbours and manage all referrals and training for three years. The St Columba’s Hospice will provide transition support for the new worker.

So after a hard summer of work we have completed our objectives set out in our Truacanta proposal. We have almost certainly developed a sustainable model for the future. The pandemic has probably made it a less whole community approach, but we have had a wide reach and involvement from local people and organisations. Not bad work for three volunteers!

If you live in the North Berwick area and would like to know more or get involved, please email Deborah

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