Hospice’s online community is helping young people with bereavement

Categories: Care, Community Engagement, and Featured.
YBC founder Emma Boys

When social contact and face-to-face support became severely restricted in the UK due to Covid-19, St Clare Hospice in Essex decided to fast-track their plans to launch an online community for young people facing bereavement. Volunteers Emma Boys and Gemma Marks explain why this work is vital.

St Clare’s Youth Bereavement Café (YBC) was launched to fill a gap in bereavement services caused by the UK lockdown, by facilitating ‘virtual’ social and emotional support for young people.

The YBC is run within a Facebook group, offering a virtual space for people aged 18-30 to meet and connect with others who may share similar experiences.  It is hoped that it will open as a face-to-face service when it is safe to do so.

The virtual cafe is the brainchild of Emma Boys, who was supported by St Clare Hospice’s young person and children’s bereavement service when her mother died at the hospice in September 2017. Now one of the hospice’ volunteers and a facilitator of the YBC, she is passionate about supporting other young people who have experienced loss.

“I’ve found grief to be quite isolating at times” she says.  “When my mum had first died, I struggled to find other people my own age who’d experienced the death of someone close to them. So I was excited to launch the YBC in the hope of connecting young bereaved people, so they can feel less alone whilst navigating their grief.

“Bereavement is already such a difficult experience to go through, but with the added implications of coronavirus impacting both people’s mental wellbeing and ability to connect with their usual support networks, the grieving process becomes all the more difficult to navigate.

“We felt that now, more than ever, it was so important to launch this form of support for local young people who may really wish to reach out to others.”

Gemma Marks, also a St Clare Hospice volunteer and YBC facilitator, described the YBC group as a platform “open for you to use in a way that best suits you. Whether it’s meeting and talking to others, recommending supportive resources that you’ve found useful, sharing your own experiences or simply reading about what others have shared.

“Each person grieves in their own way – and there is no right or wrong way to experience bereavement” she continues. “However, at St Clare, we believe that talking to others with similar experiences can really help and make a difference. When I lost my sister at age 26, unfortunately, there wasn’t this type of group for young people to meet others – which is why I am so passionate about YBC. We hope that the group can offer a friendly, online community to help facilitate this for young, local people.”

The group is open to young people living in West Essex and East Hertfordshire who have experienced bereavement at any point in their lives. It’s part of a network of seven other Bereavement Café events led by St Clare Hospice, which are usually hosted in local venues throughout the hospice’s catchment area.

Community Engagement Manager at St Clare Hospice, Sally Muylders, who instigated the launch of the Bereavement Café initiative in early 2019, explains, “Although it has been the coronavirus situation that has prompted us to take the YBC online, we really feel that this is something that could benefit local people throughout this period and also beyond. In the coming weeks, we are planning to launch several other similar online communities.”

The team are anticipating the time when they’ll be able to run the group in person. “We are really looking forward to our return to normality so that we can bring YBC to a local venue in Harlow” Gemma says. “Our hope is that the connections established on our YBC Facebook group can then grow and materialise into the ‘real world’”

For more information visit St Clare Hospice

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