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 Perth & Kinross

Shortlisted community Perth & Kinross tell us about their new partnership, and how they're working together to build their vision to be part of The Truacanta Project.

The wonderful thing about the Truacanta project is how it has already, at this early stage, drawn so many different people and teams together. When the news of the proposed project was shared, notes of interest were being posted from Perth and Kinross, and although we had all met before at conferences, events and followed each other on social media, we weren’t aware of each other’s approaches in thinking about Truacanta, and what being part of the project might bring.

Caroline contacted us with the good news that our collective notes of interest had been accepted, and we began to talk to each other. As we did, it became clear that collectively we really have a shared intent to work with the community to look at how loss, grief and bereavement affects so many individuals, from children, to young people who might be carers, to older people – ‘the third age.’

This has given us a great opportunity for some real partnership working, with Tayside Palliative and End of Life Care Managed Care Network looking at working with schoolchildren to capture their imagination in creating artwork around loss and grief, thinking about how some people are not going to get better, and what this means to them. This will raise awareness and enable people to speak positively into difficult situations. Through the children’s pictures and words, the aim is to promote human relational care and practical kindness as a key asset in compassionate communities. The artwork can then become a resource to be shared widely for people who have been bereaved.

PKAVS carers hub are hoping to establish better ways to support young and adult carers who may be looking after people with life-limiting conditions, through developing individuals to become counsellors who can work with people in exploring feelings of loss, grief and moving on after someone has died. This will be a development of PKAVS existing Bridge Project.

Dalweem is a care home in Aberfeldy, Perthshire and work has already begun there in connecting their largely rural community by creating a hub and drop-in café which will support people going through loss, grief and bereavement, and also those with a terminal diagnosis. Another community based idea is to provide training, workshops and signposting with the support of the District nurse team for those living at home to feel more involved and confident in caring for someone with a palliative or end of life diagnosis.

Perth and Kinross Health and Social care Partnership are hoping to build on existing resources and networks, and are looking at a check-in telephone service for people who live alone, and might be feeling isolated and lonely after a death of a loved one. Another idea to reach out and support people in the community after someone has died is to emulate the Irish tradition of a ‘months mind’, when a card or token gift could be sent four weeks after a death of a loved one.

When we got together to talk about our ideas, we found our shared values of compassion and humanity mirror the translation of Truacanta, and recognise that we all bring different experiences, skills and knowledge around loss, grief, bereavement, death and dying. We’re all really looking forward to taking this forward and working with the community. There is still much to be learned, but it feels like we are finding our way. There is another Scots Gaelic word which might describe this; camhanaich, which means both twilight and dawn, where there are some unknowns, but also much hope and exciting prospects ahead.

The main contact for Perth & Kinross is Emma Oram: EOram@pkc.gov.uk

Shortlisted Community: North Berwick

Deborah Ritchie, co-chair of North Berwick Coastal Health and Wellbeing Association, tells us about their next steps towards applying to be part of The Truacanta Project.

North Berwick Health and Wellbeing Association is delighted to be given the go ahead to develop a proposal to be a Compassionate Community. We have run a number of small events over the past few years. We have focused on public awareness events to enable us to start the conversations about death and dying and grief. We have hosted community days involving our local community choir and writing groups to perform to a ‘death café’. Our Community Council sponsored Remembrance Book in the library for local people to record the lives of their loved ones. We have screened Seven Songs for a Long Life and followed it up with conversation and cake. So we have made a few small steps to raise the issues and have involved a number of local groups. Our local Area partnership has funded some of these events and they are keen to help us to become a Compassionate Community.

We have lots of ideas on how we might take our next steps- probably too many ideas and we will need to be realistic in what we can achieve. We are all volunteers so we need to make sure that we have the capacity to take things forward. We would like to continue with the public awareness strand of our work, but add a strand about supporting people who are dying and the bereaved. We are currently piloting a tackling loneliness project and many lonely people are bereaved and find it difficult to reengage with their lives and community. We think these streams of work should complement each other. Our local GP who leads on palliative care has indicated that she would like to be involved, so we hope to find out what she would think is needed in our community.

We do want to identify our key messages about the need to have the big conversations about death and dying and to develop local networks of support so that nobody should die alone. We believe that the over medicalization of dying has meant that we have lost much community awareness and support. We also live in communities where people can become disconnected and isolated so through this work we would like to develop more community resilience and connection. I guess it is about reminding ourselves that we are human and compassionate and dying is part of all our living.

Introducing The Truacanta Project

Project Manager Caroline Gibb introduces the project...

A few years ago, my mum met a long time neighbour and friend in the street. The friend later told us that when she expressed sympathy at my mum’s terminal prognosis, the response was: “Oh well, c’est la vie...or should I say, c’est la mort!”

It has stayed with me, that brief exchange. It was weighted with humour and compassion, two things that can help us all better deal with death, dying and bereavement. It’s a funny old thing, death – the one inevitability in life, but often so shrouded in awkwardness and denial we don’t really know what to do with it.

Much of The Truacanta Project is about tackling these cultural and social issues around death head on, by supporting local communities to enhance their ability to deal with death, dying, loss and care. It has been designed to take a community development approach; finding ways to catalyse community action to increase open and supportive attitudes and behaviours relating to deteriorating health, dying and bereavement in local communities. When I first read about it, it jumped out as a forward thinking, positive and much needed project; I’m delighted to now be taking on the role of Project Manager, and am really excited to see where it can go from here.

I have worked in the third sector for over fifteen years now. I learned about a community development approach before I realised it had a name. I went from working in community cafes to working in food poverty and health inequalities, to volunteer support and community project development. Most recently, I worked as Development Worker for the Equality and Rights Network (EaRN), a project that was set up to enable individuals, groups, organisations and communities to work in partnership with public services, with the overall aims of advancing equality, promoting human rights, and tackling poverty and inequality. I was responsible for setting up the project from a standing start, and although I was working closely with statutory partners, from the beginning I was very clear that the project should have a grassroots focus – if we were aiming to facilitate dialogue around inequality, we needed to find ways to make sure the voices of those experiencing inequality were being heard. Part of this was going out and about into the community, asking questions, and listening. We would ask people, what does equality mean to you? And often, more broadly, what matters to you?

And this is the foundation of The Truacanta Project - what matters to people. When people are dealing with death, dying and bereavement, what is important to them? Are there barriers in the way of that? If so, how can we work together to remove them? And, overall, how can we better equip our communities to be ready to support each other through difficult times?

The answers to these questions lie with the people offering and needing this support, and within their communities. That’s why taking a community development approach from the outset is so important, to make sure the communities and people have ownership of their journeys through life, death and grief.

The Truacanta Project will shortly be inviting communities to express an interest in being part of the project. I’m really looking forward to getting to know the short-listed communities, and working with them as they identify their own local priorities and come up with potential activities to improve experiences of death, dying, loss and care in their community. I’m already feeling really inspired by the innovative work in this area, and can’t wait to get stuck in.

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