How Cornwall Hospice Care uses storytelling to help make a difference

Categories: Community Engagement.

I spent many of my radio journalist days in Cornwall where stories were often bizarre, intriguing and always told by real people with gorgeous, rolling Cornish accents.

Work eventually took me in to the world of charity communications and fundraising and ultimately to the doors of Cornwall Hospice Care. I had my own story of this Cornish charity, my Mum having been cared for by one of the two hospices we run, but its profile had dropped. Other prominent charities in the county were being talked about but we weren’t.

My brief therefore, was to develop a plan to highlight what we do for the families of Cornwall facing the complex symptoms of life-limiting illnesses.

After the inevitable workshops, discussions and brain storming what became apparent was that it was real stories people wanted to hear. What if we could persuade some of our patients and their families, and some of our staff and volunteers, to share their experiences on camera?

Time to introduce two key people; our consultant Dr Debbie Stevens and the extraordinary Diane. Dr Debbie instantly understood what we wanted to do and believed that we could do it with compassion and understanding. She put her trust in me and made the first approach to Diane.

Diane, mum to two and recent widow of John who had battled with a brain tumour. She was keen to share her experience of time spent with Cornwall Hospice Care and readily agreed (to my astonishment) to make a short film and a radio advert, to feature on billboards and bus stops and to write her story in her own words.

By goodness Diane was brave and I was acutely aware we were asking her to go back over tragic times. I set out from the start determined not to make our storytellers cry. I hate ‘emotional porn’ as a former colleague once called it. But in the end it was the sound in their voices, the looks in their eyes and the honesty with which they all spoke that made this such a powerful idea.

During our year-long #HospiceStories project thirty people readily shared their experiences. No-one said no when asked if they would take part and each had their own theme.

Sara and Nick sat at Godrevy Beach and talked of how the hospices help them and their children live with Sara’s cancer. Jon and his dog rested by their open fire to explain how being able to take Jasmine the Red Setter in to the hospice with his late wife helped them keep a family feel through her treatments. Matt and Becca giggled and laughed as they shared their story of Christmas in the hospice with their very poorly dad.

Each film featured the storyteller and pictures and videos of their family and loved ones – material they readily shared whenever asked.

We also found people who were able to illustrate key fundraising activities; George the London Marathon runner taking part in memory of his gran who we cared for, and Graham, the son who ensured we received the legacy from his dad after we had cared for their wife and mother.

This year we’re continuing with our storytelling theme because we simply can’t beat the words of those who experience our care, people like George who we filmed out sailing in his much loved yacht:

“The hospice is my second home, it’s an amazing place. You feel safe there. The support they give my family is amazing too and they’ve helped me to live with cancer for five years now.”

We’ve had a wonderful reaction to the stories from both inside and outside the charity. It’s reminded us all what we are about.

Our films bring our presentations and talks to life, our doctors share them with future patients and we also share the stories with supporters and the public, via our newsletters, website, the local press and our social media channels.

So here’s to storytelling and the impact it can have and here’s to those, including Dr Debbie and Diane, who have shared their most intimate and personal experiences. They have helped others understand that hospices are #NotDingy, that you don’t necessarily go to one to die and that the truth about palliative care is far more comfortable than the many myths that lurk around us.

Find out more about Cornwall Hospice Care and #HospiceStories on the hospice’s website.

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