good life, good death, good grief

Truacanta

The Truacanta Project project will support 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.

Truacanta in the Time of Coronavirus

Truacanta Project Manager Caroline Gibb writes about the impact the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have had on the project.

This week’s virtual team meeting marked the 108th day since we’d all left the office to start working from home, a week before lockdown officially began in Scotland. That’s 108 days since things for our organisation (and beyond) began to change exponentially, and we all tried to adapt the best we could to what many were already calling the ‘new normal’….whatever that was.

We were entering the emergency phase of a crisis. For my colleagues, things were about to get BUSY. SPPC brings together clinicians and care professionals, and the need for this grew, quickly. Rapid response resources were required quickly. Our use of Zoom shot through the roof.

On the Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief side of things, it was equally busy. GLGDGG aims to make Scotland a place where people help each other through the difficult times that can come with death, dying, loss and care. Suddenly, this was

credit: RonAlmog

more relevant than ever. While we already had many resources already available for people, our new focus was to create Covid-19 specific resources, even though information was only just emerging, and changing all the time.

For my part, my workplace was now a small corner of a fold-out dining table in our wee one-bedroom flat, my new colleagues were my partner and my dog. This bit was fairly straightforward; I felt lucky to still be employed and I quickly got into a routine of walking the dog, changing into my work clothes, and walking a few metres to open my laptop and pore over my to-do list while sipping a coffee.

The to-do list was the issue. My role is Project Manager of the Truacanta Project, a community development project that aimed to support five communities across Scotland to improve local experiences of death, dying, loss and care: support that would be provided by me. I’d been working on developing the project from scratch since starting in post last April. Our five communities had been selected, I’d had four out of five meetings to establish next steps, and we were due to launch the national project on the 1st April 2020. Of course, this never happened.

It quickly became clear that we weren’t going to be able to proceed with the project as planned. Most of the planned activity was based around in-person gatherings which could no longer happen. Many of the people leading on the community activity had seen their priorities change dramatically and could no longer commit in the same way for the time being. And, many of the local communities were already being heavily impacted by the pandemic, affecting their ability to be involved, and potentially changing their needs. The project was put on hold for three months, until the end of June.

And then here we were, at the end of June. That three months had passed quickly. Some things we worked on in this time:

Compassionate Communities Week
Covid-19 resources
Recording community responses
End of Life Aid Skills (EASE) learning moved online
Keeping our social media and monthly newsletter going

We passed through the regression phase of a crisis, as we all found ourselves grappling with the enormity of the times we are living through, and adapting to much longer-term changes and effects than we’d planned for. We realised the realities of life – and of death, dying, loss and care – during a pandemic.

The third phase of a crisis is recovery. We begin to reorientate, feel able to revise and to plan ahead. And so it was time to revisit, and rethink, Truacanta. A number of options were laid out to the Truacanta communities. Some of them have chosen to pause until 2021, at which point, I'll be back in touch with them and we'll move forward from there.

Some of them have chosen to continue, revising plans as we go, and they have a number of exciting strands they’re going to start developing – watch this space for more information.

And in the meantime I will be exploring other ways that the Truacanta Project can support and grow compassionate communities in Scotland. This will include seeing what I can do to support members of the Scottish Compassionate Communities Network – a national network for people and organisations who want to get involved in practical work to build compassion in their own community, with a particular focus on improving people's experiences of deteriorating health, death, dying and bereavement.

The aim of the network is to provide opportunities for people to come together and share learning, experience, ideas and motivation. When lockdown hit, we were in the midst of organising a big get-together in May to do just that. That couldn’t happen, but there are lots of other ways we can provide such opportunities and other resources, and we’ve put together a brief survey to assess which of those would be most useful for you – and if there’s anything we haven’t thought of. We’d be very grateful if you could take a couple of minutes to fill this out (link)!

As a community development worker, I know that with community work it is impossible to make concrete plans and stick to them. It’s never a linear process, and an important part of it is adapting to circumstances and changing needs. I’m familiar with the art of coddiwompling. And we are currently coddiwompling more than ever: we are still aiming to improve local experiences of death, dying, loss and care; we are just going to take some more scenic routes along the way.

The Story So Far

Project Manager Caroline Gibb updates us on what's happened since the project was launched in May last year.

In May 2019, we invited expressions of interest from anyone who was interested in being a part of The Truacanta Project, a new compassionate communities initiative being run by the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care and funded by Macmillan. We were looking for groups, individuals, communities or organisations who were interested in improving experiences of death, dying, loss and care in their own communities, using a community development approach. We wanted to hear who they were, what change they’d like to see in their community, and what they thought might help effect that change.

From the expressions of interest, we would shortlist a small number to work on and submit a full application to be a part of the project and receive dedicated community development and advice (from me!) for two years.

We had no idea what to expect – would people even be interested? The resounding answer to this was ‘yes’. We received over forty expressions of interest, which shows that there is definitely an appetite for a change in how we deal with death, dying, loss and care here in Scotland. Reading through them all was inspiring and humbling; so many people, groups and organisations wanting to put the time and energy into developing this kind of work – most of the time on top of existing work or commitments. There was no shortage of ideas and enthusiasm, which made shortlisting a challenge.

In the end, eleven groups were shortlisted to work on full applications, to be submitted in December. The groups were notified of the decisions by the end of June, which meant we had five months to develop what had been in the original expression of interest (and in some cases, when people had been asked to form new partnerships, several expressions of interest) into a fuller vision of change for how their community experiences death, dying, loss and care.

I started this job in April, and by July I was travelling all over Scotland meeting new people, whether in hospitals, offices, cafes or living rooms, and learning all about their communities, and their visions for the future. At this point I was the one doing all the learning and working out how I could support these very different groups to each produce the best application they could. Although each group had an idea of what they wanted to do, together we went back to the very start of the conversation: how does your community experience death, dying, loss and care? How could that be improved?

The answers to these questions would help start to build their overall vision for change. To stop that feeling too broad and overwhelming, we looked at three main areas: people, outreach and activity. People: who would be involved in establishing and developing Truacanta activity, and how would they ensure that members of the community are involved from the outset? Outreach: how did they plan to work to identify and remove barriers that people may be facing; how would they make their process as accessible and inclusive as it could be? And activity: what did they see being the main focus of the project, with the broad aim of improving their community’s experiences of death, dying, loss and care?

The groups were supported to hold community events to hear what change people in their communities would like to see; they were encouraged to write blogs to reflect on the process, and they were invited to come together for a Truacanta networking event, where they could share and learn from each other.

When setting up The Truacanta Project, while inspiration had been taken from other compassionate community work, notably Compassionate Inverclyde and The Groundswell Project, we didn’t want to create carbon copies of other work. It was important that any Truacanta activity was tailored by the communities involved. This is a community development project, after all – and this is why, in the expression of interest, we only asked for a rough idea of what people proposed. And this is why, at this stage, it was important that the shortlisted groups weren’t too attached to any ideas they had and were willing to take it back to their community even if that meant changing direction.

Because that’s the thing about community development – it’s not about having a fixed destination and paving a straight path to take you there. It’s about not knowing where you’re going, it’s about ideas that change shape, and paths that change direction. It can feel wooly, and vague, and unsettling – particularly if you’re used to clear strategies, outcomes and measures. But it is also exciting! There is a chance for communities to really pull together to identify all the skills and experience they already have, and to work out how to use that to create positive change.

This approach has also allowed the groups to think about how they can be inclusive, and make sure that their process, and the change that they’d like to see happen, is as accessible as possible.

We have received ten full applications from communities who would like to be part of The Truacanta Project. The Truacanta Steering Group now have the hard task of selecting who will go through to receive the community development support and advice for two years.

However, although we sadly can’t take everyone through to the next stage, the hope is that through this process, those who don’t make it further will already have a foundation on which they can continue to build their vision for change; their journey needn’t end here. The Compassionate Communities Network will continue to grow and provide access to useful resources and networking opportunities and there will be lots of learning to share from the Truacanta projects.

I hope this has been a valuable process for everyone involved – it’s certainly been a rich learning experience for me, and it’s been a privilege to work with so many different and inspiring – and compassionate - communities. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Truacanta Dundee

The shortlisted team in Dundee tell us more about themselves and their Truacanta vision.

The Dundee Truacanta representatives all hail from different organisations and backgrounds yet have come together with a common aim: to explore how we can create a more compassionate community response to death, dying, bereavement and care in Dundee through working together. Each of us had originally applied individually to work on a Truacanta project but were enthused and excited by the opportunity to form a partnership approach.

Our team comprises:

  • Linda Sterry manages local charity Funeral Link who aim to prevent funeral poverty in Dundee by offering confidential support and helping the bereaved save money on all things related to funerals and in addition promote dialogue in preparation for funeral planning.
  • Nicola Mitchell ‚Äčis the Older Peoples Services Development Officer with Dundee Voluntary Action who's remit is to support the Older Peoples Services Network and to provide older people in Dundee with information and opportunities around end of life planning and care. At a time when 1 in 10 people in Scotland often feel lonely and with 40% percent of Scots Pensioners living alone, she is keen that Dundee can become a Compassionate City to ensure that no one dies alone.
  • Linda McSwiggan teaches at the University of Dundee and has a background in community nursing; she is keen to understand how universities and communities can best work together, on projects such as this one, to have greatest benefits for everyone.

It was clear when we first met that between the three of us we have a huge range of skills, experience and local contacts.

Even more clear was our drive and compassion to ensure that individuals who are dying are treated as compassionately as possible and that those who are bereaved have opportunities to access the sort of support that they may find helpful. From our early discussions, we have also already established that there are many other local organisations and individuals who are interested in joining us on this project.

During our first meeting it became apparent that just by putting our heads together there are lots of things already going on that the three of us are aware of, the toughest part of our application might be distilling down what exactly our proposal will encompass. We are all excited to be part of the Truacanta journey and to have the opportunity to take this initiative further to benefit the community in Dundee.

If you'd like to find out more or get involved, you can contact Linda Sterry at Funeral Link on linda@dfss.org.uk

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