Foyle Hospice leads Northern Ireland’s first compassionate communities project

Categories: Community Engagement.

This month a group of volunteers from Derry/Londonderry were the first in Northern Ireland to be trained as part of a new compassionate communities pilot project.

These volunteers will help people to remain living independently at home and stay connected with and involved in their community.

Foyle Hospice’s compassionate communities project, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, is being funded by the Western Local Commissioning Group. We asked project manager Linda Morris to tell us more about the project:

What are compassionate communities?

‘Compassionate communities’ is a public health approach to end of life care.

It encourages communities to support people who are finding life difficult due to having chronic or end of life conditions, and their families.

It helps people to remain in their own home, if that is their wish, and to maintain links with their community. It aims to enable all of us to live well within our communities to the very end of our lives.

The concept was developed by Professor Allan Kellehear in his book ‘Compassionate cities’. He reminds us that health is everyone’s responsibility and that this includes death, dying and end of life care. End of life care isn’t only about hospice and palliative care services. End of life care and death and dying are a social as well as a medical issue.

The concept has been interpreted in many different ways by different communities worldwide including in Australia, Canada and India. In the UK and Ireland, the idea has been implemented by St Joseph’s Hospice in East London, Severn Hospice’s Co Co initiative, Cheshire’s Living Well, Dying Well partnership and Milford Care in Limerick.

Why do we need compassionate communities?

People are living for longer with long-term/chronic conditions and, with that, demands on our health and social provisions are changing.

Most people who are at the end of life want to live at home, but as more people live alone and do not have family nearby there is a growing need to support those facing end of life, loss and bereavement. Communities have the skills, knowledge, expertise and a role to play in end of life care.

What is happening in Derry/Londonderry?

Foyle Hospice is initiating a pilot project based in the Waterside area of the city, working with Hillcrest House and Caw/Nelson Drive Community Groups and the three GP practices based in Waterside Health Centre, to be delivered by March 2016.

There are three elements to the project:

  • establishing a compassionate neighbours scheme that links volunteers with those living with advanced illness and frailty to reduce social isolation and enable people to remain independently at home.
  • community engagement which involves building links with interested groups to develop models and resources which allow greater public awareness of and involvement in the care and support of those who are approaching the end of life at home.
  • general awareness raising including a citywide conference on 18 February 2016 and an art exhibition.

Perhaps inevitably, our initial focus has been on getting the volunteer scheme up and running.

What do the volunteers do?

Trained compassionate neighbours provide weekly contact to people who have become isolated as a result of illness.

Volunteer involvement is geared towards encouraging the person out of the house. It might be as simple as going for a cup of tea, enjoying a shared interest, doing a bit of shopping or a trip to the local community centre.

It is a befriending scheme and the role of the compassionate neighbour is to offer companionship not personal social care.

Volunteers keep a record of their visits – including dates of visits, duration of visits and type of activity undertaken – and these are discussed at monthly reflective meetings.

Who can benefit from the scheme?

The service is available to anyone living in the pilot area whose ability to engage in their community is limited by frailty or advanced medical conditions.

A GP or health/social care professional identifies and refers a person to the compassionate communities project facilitator.

Once a referral is received the facilitator visits the person to assess their needs and the type of support required.

Taking into account the personalities and interests of the volunteers and the people referred, geographical location and the volunteers’ availability, the facilitator identifies an appropriate volunteer and contacts them to see if they would like to befriend the person.

If a volunteer is able to take on the person the facilitator will introduce the volunteer to the person.

The person and volunteer agree appointments to suit them both. Once the relationship is established and both people are happy the facilitator steps back but is available for advice and support should either person require it.

Regular discussion will take place to be sure that the person has all the support they need as far as is possible and that the volunteer is comfortable with their role.

What’s next for the project?

The project will be independently evaluated in terms of the health and wellbeing of volunteers, the people who are befriended and carers and the impact on the reduction in the need for primary health care services.

To find out more about the compassionate communities project, you can contact Linda Morris on 02871 351010 or by email

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