Newham Bereavement Service: on the ‘crest of a wave’

Categories: Community Engagement.

The Newham Bereavement Service offers bereavement support and a befriending service for people in Newham and aims to:

  • help bereaved people adapt to their situation
  • facilitate grieving
  • prevent the detrimental consequences of bereavement.

The service was commissioned by the NHS in 2012 to provide access to befriending bereavement support in a variety of forms including practical, emotional and group work. Newham Talking Therapies were subcontracted by St Joseph’s Hospice as a partner to triage referrals and publicise the service throughout the borough.

The service is volunteer-led, with trained local people who reflect the area – a borough where 68% of the population are from black and minority ethnic groups and cultural attitudes to death and grieving vary, affecting access, uptake, and what individuals expect from bereavement services.

Since being set up, the service has trained 81 volunteers and provided over 1,000 befriending sessions to adults living in Newham.

Group work for the service has included an award winning gardening group at West Ham Cemetery, a Forget me Not arts group and most recently a Bereavement and Beauty group at Newham College.

Which? reports

The Newham Bereavement Service has been the subject of research conducted by Which?, the charity and consumer’s association.

St Joseph’s Hospice approached Which? to conduct this study to gather evidence on the impact of the service. Which? agreed to complete the study in order to inform wider research into the consumer issues that people face at the end of life and following bereavement.

The study found significant value from the service for both the volunteers and service users, as well as stronger communities created through befriending and, most importantly, a psychological and emotional benefit emerging from a social rather than a clinical response to bereavement.

The service is described as on the ‘crest of a wave’ in an area where people are realising that joint partnerships between public service providers and local communities can have a significant impact on complex psycho-social issues.

This report places the service within a policy context, illustrating a new approach to service delivery where budget constraints and cuts in health and social care have required a community based solution.

Volunteers at the heart of the service 

As hospice care moves into a more community-based approach, the Newham Bereavement Service has modelled a service providing bereavement support for and by local people. Volunteers are trained and supported to deal with complex bereavement referrals in one of the most deprived areas in the UK.   

The service is defined by its volunteers, their creativity and capacity to build relationships with vulnerable and bereaved people in their local area.

The Which? report describes some powerful case studies illustrating the impact of the service on marginalised people who are economically powerless, often unable to negotiate the systems around them to access care and have lost their social networks.

This has been exacerbated by grief and loss, however, service users referred have found solace, support and companionship, not through a paid professional, but from a local person with a similar background whose qualifications are not paper based but centred on intuition, honesty and reliability.

As one volunteer said: “I didn’t do anything special, I just listened and I was there for her.”

This approach has had a significant impact on the service users and volunteers involved.

Volunteers are trained to a high standard, supported through supervision and are able to increase their skills by training to conduct assessments and being involved in group work. Many volunteers have become more job ready, developed their CV or gained the confidence to change careers or start new courses.

The framework for offering befriending services is changing and so must the professionals providing these services. Supervision in its traditional sense is one area which needs exploring and developing for the Newham Bereavement Service, as it does not seem flexible enough or appropriate for  this new style of community intervention.   

This is a new and exciting time for community development and befriending programmes where local people are finding their own solutions through a joint partnership between public service providers and communities. Let’s make partnership a possibility, where communities are given opportunity, control and ownership of services that affect them.

You can read the full Which? report here. If you would like further information about the Newham Bereavement Service please contact Lourdes Colclough at or on 020 7540 0277. 

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