Opinions

We all have a role to play in creating compassionate communities

Written by: Mark Hazelwood, Chief Executive, Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care

Published: 02/12/2019

Mark gives an introduction to the development of compassionate communities in Scotland.

On December 5th the ALLIANCE will bring together a range of people and partners to consider what a ‘compassionate community’ in Glasgow could look like. Ahead of the event, we invited Mark Hazelwood, Chief Executive of the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care to give an introduction to the development of compassionate communities in Scotland.

When faced with the reality of deteriorating health, caring responsibilities, death or bereavement, people need many things from the NHS and other formal services. But we also need many things from our friends, families and communities…

Though health and social care services play an important role at times of increased health need, they are only part of the picture. Other influences on our lives, such as our workplaces, and social networks play a huge role in how we experience ill health, dying and bereavement.

To improve people’s experiences towards the end of life, we need to work towards a society where ordinary people know how to help when someone is dying or grieving. Many people have the desire to provide support, but people also need to have the confidence, knowledge, skills and opportunities to unleash the compassion so many of us feel.

The Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care (this link will take you away from our website) has been working on this area for a number of years. In 2011 we established Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief (GLGDGG) (this link will take you away from our website), and through that have undertaken all kinds of work aimed at making Scotland a place where people feel better equipped to live with and support each other through the difficult times that can come with death, dying and bereavement.

More recently, we’ve begun to explore how we can support communities themselves to take local action to make their own community more compassionate. As part of this, we have published the Scottish Compassionate Communities Toolkit (this link will take you away from our website) – an online collection of practical resources, ideas and information.

With funding from Macmillan, we recently embarked on the Truacanta Project (this link will take you away from our website), through which we’re providing community development support and advice directly to people interested in making their own community more compassionate. We’re currently working with eleven unique communities, each with their own vision and passion for this area. We’ll support four of these communities for a further two years, until 2022.

Often, people talk about creating a more ‘compassionate’ community without having a specific definition in mind, referring loosely to the importance of communities being close-knit and supportive.

However, in our work we’ve drawn on learning and definitions from the field of ‘public health palliative care’, where the term ‘compassionate community’ refers to something specific.

In this context, compassionate communities are formed through a ‘community development approach’. This means that nurturing compassion within a community isn’t about well-meaning outsiders imposing ‘helpful’ change on a community. Rather, it is about communities being supported to themselves decide what they want to change, and take ownership of making the change happen, drawing on the assets that already exist within that community.

For us, a compassionate community is one that:

  • Recognises that care for one another at times of crisis and loss is not simply a task solely for health and social services but is everyone’s responsibility.
  • Encourages, facilitates, supports and celebrates care for one another during life’s most testing moments and experiences, especially those pertaining to life-threatening and life-limiting illness, chronic disability, frail ageing and dementia, grief and bereavement, and the trials and burdens of long term care1

Or, put simply – in a compassionate community “ordinary people help ordinary people”2 through the hard times that can come with death, dying, loss and care.

1. Paraphrased slightly, but based on ideas in Middlesex University, Public Health England and National Council for Palliative Care Public Health Approaches to End of Life: A Toolkit (original definition refers specifically to “compassionate cities”, but we’ve used it here to describe the characteristics of a compassionate community more generally)

2. A helpful phrase coined by Compassionate Inverclyde

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Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care

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