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.

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

Truacanta in the Highlands

One of our Shortlisted Communities is a partnership hoping to develop Truacanta work across the Highlands: Karrie Marshall tells us more.

Truacanta is a beautiful Gaelic word describing a sense of compassion and regard for one another. It is the quality of being humane. This is of particular importance when we are experiencing loss, grief and bereavement.

We all recognise how difficult the loss of a pet or a home or a loved one can be. Sometimes we are not sure how best to support one another during these times, even though we will all experience death and dying. This is why conversations are important… to be able to ask questions, or share ideas, or understand people’s needs as well as to be able to celebrate life.

Anne MacDonald at Highland Senior Citizens Network (HSCN) got in touch with Siobhan Neylon at Highland Hospice and Karrie Marshall at Creativity In Care to discuss how we could work together and be part of the Truacanta Project.

All three organisations are in regular contact with people who are living with long term conditions, or receiving care in their family homes, or in group homes. HSCN have Highland-wide Get-Togethers where various issues are discussed, and beneficial ideas are shared. Creativity In Care support family carers as well as individuals and community groups through the arts in health, expressing what matters most in life and in death. Karrie has also lectured in death and dying for care staff and families. The Hospice delivers sensitive education around practical aspects of planning for death and dying. The three organisations value individual and community resilience and will be linking with other organisations.

Initial talks have centred around the importance of

  • listening to what people think about having these conversations
  • finding out what sorts of questions people might have around death, dying, loss and care
  • thinking about what compassionate communities might mean for each of us
  • asking whether people think events that celebrate what matters in life would be helpful

A recent conversation with some of the members of HSCN showed a range of experiences and desires. Caroline Gibb, (Truacanta Project Manager) was there from Edinburgh. Some people have already created lists of important points about future care wishes. Some people would like to have very practical information that is in physical hard copy (not all on-line). Some people wondered whether any of us were qualified to talk about death and dying. Caroline answered the Truacanta view is that every person in the community is qualified to talk about death and dying.

Our next steps are meeting with people in three rural areas of the Highlands to hear more views.

If you'd like to find out more or get involved, you can contact Anne MacDonald on anne-hscn@outlook.com

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