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When I became a Compassionate Neighbour

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Alice Sewell shares her experience of becoming a Compassionate Neighbour, after taking away far more than she expected from the training sessions at St Clare Hospice in Essex. My name is Alice Sewell, and I work locally in the public services sector. This year, I decided to take on a new adventure in my life. I became a Compassionate Neighbour with St Clare Hospice. Earlier this year I found out about the Compassionate Neighbours project from a leaflet I picked up while I was attending a counselling session in my local Community Hub. I decided to volunteer because I wanted to be more involved with my community, and I wanted to have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference to someone’s life. I also thought I might find a benefit for myself, by gaining more experience in spending time with different people, which in turn would have a positive impact within my own career. I didn’t really know what to expect at first. I suppose I thought it would be rather basic and cover the fundamentals – for example, Health and Safety, Safeguarding, etc. In all honesty, I expected to be bored and wanted it to be over quickly so I could get on with being a Neighbour! I certainly didn’t expect to take away as much as I did. After the first session, I was immediately looking forward to the next. Having never visited a hospice myself, I expected a cold, clinical, somewhat depressing environment. However, I could not have been more wrong. The hospice has such a welcoming, warm feeling, with beautiful gardens, therapy rooms and a family room, ensuring every visitor is well looked after. The training covered so much more than just the essentials. In fact we had group discussions and activities. This meant I had the opportunity to engage with people that I perhaps may not have encountered otherwise. Not only did I learn what the role of a Compassionate Neighbour is and what to do with any Safeguarding concerns that may arise, I learnt what it really means to be ‘compassionate’. The training sessions provided an opportunity to explore the concept of a ‘good death’, and we discussed what it means to experience grief and loss. Whilst for many people this is an emotional subject, the sessions felt like a safe place to explore those feelings. I felt comfortable and free to be genuine and honest with others. Being someone who has not experienced the loss of someone close, I felt I didn’t have the personal experience of grief to share with the others. I worried this might mean I wouldn’t be able to relate to the other members. Or perhaps I wouldn’t make a good Compassionate Neighbour. However the training helped me realise my own experiences are just as valuable. I pride myself on being able to take control of my emotions, and yet I felt touched by some of the activities in the sessions. The ‘good death’ activity allowed us to explore the concept of death and what would be important to us as individuals at such a time. By the very nature of the hospice, death is an inevitable subject of conversation. However it can be really difficult to explore it with someone. I felt no pressure to share, but this activity showed us that it’s OK to discuss our own mortality, and actually it’s really important that our loved ones are aware of our priorities around our own death. I found this subject particularly touching and incredibly poignant. The Compassionate Neighbours Manager was incredible during the training sessions. I honestly think that there is no one better suited to the role! She encouraged us all to be ourselves and share our own opinions and experiences. She has the perfect balance of professionalism and fun, allowing her bubbly, caring personality to shine through the activities. Not only do I feel emotionally and intellectually equipped to begin my role as a Compassionate Neighbour; I have never taken away so much from one course, both professionally and personally. I learnt and shared things about myself that I did not expect to, and I am truly grateful to the manager and the hospice for providing such a tailored course. I’d encourage anyone considering becoming a Compassionate Neighbour to call up and chat things through with the manager on the phone. I can’t wait to meet my ‘match’ within the project, and develop a meaningful friendship with someone in the local community. For more information visit St Clare Hospice: Compassionate Neighbours

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