Demand for more people to receive help before and after a loved one dies has seen the work of Worcestershire’s St Richard’s Hospice Family Support Team rocket in the last year.
During 2016, attendances at support groups run by the independent charity have leapt by 78% from 917 places to 1,636 in just 12 months.
In order to manage the increase in number and complexity in referrals, the Family Support Team has expanded over the years and now has 19 paid members of staff and more than 100 fully trained volunteers. Ten years ago, when the St Richard’s team moved from its London Road, Worcester base to the new hospice at Wildwood Drive there were six staff and 28 volunteers supporting families.
Sarah Popplestone-Helm, head of the Family Support Team said in 2015/16 the team had helped 1,234 people through a range of services, including 80 under 18 year olds.
“We support people in a variety of ways including counselling, social work, citizen’s advice and group work. Many people find that joining a group where members support each other, are listened to and share experiences, fears and concerns has a powerful impact on them,” said Mrs Popplestone-Helm.
Matt Jackson, Family Support Practitioner added, “People can often feel very nervous the first time the come to a group but they soon understand the ethos of St Richard’s of warmth, empathy, compassion and care helps them to feel supported. People with a common experience are able to build up trust and a connection with each other so they feel able to share their feelings in confidence. We can all feel very vulnerable sharing difficult and emotional feelings but at the groups people develop a supportive community where everyone feels safe and understood.”
The groups aim to meet different needs and include a bereavement cookery group for those who want to find motivation and confidence to cook and the opportunity to share a meal with others, led by the hospice chef and a monthly walking group which has been running for just over a year.
Family Support Officer, Alison Cooper, said, “We go walking on a Sunday which is a day that can be particularly isolating for those who have been bereaved. It’s a great way for people to get out in the fresh air in company and walking side by side can make it easier to talk. We walk, chat, stop for something to eat and it is very gentle with no demands on people. They really value the chance for companionship.”
The Sunflower group is for people who have been recently bereaved and is led for eight sessions allowing members to explore their emotions and support each other. Each group focuses on a specific type of loss such as the death of a partner, sibling or parent.
There are currently two ‘Steps’ groups running fortnightly for around 20 bereaved adults with a third group being considered due to its success. People attend 12 sessions and then have the opportunity to join a community support group Next Steps for further socialising and companionship.
Adults who have been bereaved through suicide are supported through the Relatives and Friends Through Trauma (RAFTT) group, the only one of its kind in Worcestershire. A new bereavement group, Inside Out, for children affected by suicide has run for the first time with three families attending.
Gemma Purnell, Child and Family Support practitioner explained, “A bereavement through suicide is different from any other kind of bereavement, bringing an intensity and range of emotions that may be frightening and uncontrollable. Feelings of isolation and abandonment can be over-whelming. The Inside Out group offers a safe place for the families to express their feelings and experiences. We had a range of activities such as pizza making, getting to know one another, work around feelings, sharing their stories, writing letters to lost loved ones and looking towards their future. “
Other groups for children include the Dragonfly group for bereaved children and Waterbugs to support young people and their well parent or carer when a loved one has a life-limiting illness. Families benefit from professional and mutual support, meeting others in a similar situation with similar issues.
The growing number of adult carers are also supported with group sessions which include practical advice as well as mutual support.
People living with a life-limiting illness are also supported by attending group sessions alongside their wider care, including a popular Men’s Space group and a new group for women with secondary breast cancer.
Mrs Popplestone-Helm said, “The key is getting the environment right to give people space to realise they are not alone and they can give and receive support. Empathy, understanding and mutual support can really make a difference to the way people feel. Everyone is individual and has different needs. For example some people might receive one-to-one specialist support from the team before they join a group or may attend more than one group if it’s appropriate for them.”
The Family Support Service also hosts Bereavement Support South Worcestershire which is a bereavement service for anyone one in South Worcestershire who has experienced a sudden, unexpected or traumatic bereavement. It is funded by the South Worcestershire Clinical Commissioning Group and has now been running successfully for 4 years. The service has received more than 1000 referrals since its launch.
The Family Support Team includes the Community Volunteers Service which supports patients and families in the community by providing services such as befriending, sitting, shopping, dog walking and forth.
St Richard’s Hospice provides free specialist palliative care for patients living with life-limiting illnesses and supports their loved ones. Each year the hospice team supports over 2,500 patients and family members in Worcestershire.
The hospice strives to provide the best medical, practical, emotional and social support we can to help people live life to the fullest, as independently as they can, for as long as they can.
St Richard’s is an independent charity and is grateful for all donations to help it continue its work.