Wear Good Shoes

Categories: Care.

We hope you find this series of articles thought provoking and inspiring, and that you feel encouraged to enter your own innovative projects or nominate any deserved individuals for this year’s awards. (This year’s awards are open until 19 August)

In this article Jane Carpenter, clinical outreach and Orchard Centre manager for St Nicholas Hospice Care, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, and project lead for award winning Stephen Project, tells us about winning the award for Innovation in Clinical Practice. 

Last year I was surprised and delighted to receive the Help the Hospices and National Gardens Scheme Award for Innovation in Clinical Practice for the Stephen Project, which helps homeless people to access end of life care and bereavement support. It is a project that is close to my heart and one that we are continuing to develop.

Winning the award was unexpected; an extraordinary event for something that I considered to be a part of my job. We didn’t set out to win awards with the Stephen Project. We set out to help people who are homeless, vulnerable and in desperate need to access palliative care services, from which they feel excluded.

Since winning the award, people often ask me for advice and my first honest, practical reply is not clever, or clinical, or wise. It is simply this: “Wear good shoes with thick soles.” 

And the answer is both simple and complicated: good shoes will carry you into most dark places without fear, so rather than worrying about what you are standing in, or on, you can focus on who you are with. Stand beside that person, and the people who care for them. But shoes also tell us much about the person, they have meanings that are above and beyond footwear alone.

As I got ready to receive the award, the person that was uppermost in my mind was my cousin Stephen, for whom the project was named. For most of Stephen’s adult life the reality of street homelessness was just daily life. Stephen would have thought a project named after him was quite odd, he never held himself to be of much importance.

As I stood waiting to collect the award, it may sound strange, but I wondered about Stephen’s shoes. He used to be out in all weathers selling The Big Issue. A decent pair of shoes would have been pretty important to him, but they cost money. Good shoes with thick soles to keep out the rain and snow can be quite a luxury item to someone who has almost nothing.

I also thought about the support workers who want more and better for the people they care for and about, and don’t give a damn about what shoes they are wearing.

I thought about the young woman who shouldn’t have to have sturdy shoes, but does because of the loss of a partner and child. She has no way to cope except through chaos and alcohol: she deserves pretty and delicate shoes. She has tough, old, beat-up boots.

I thought about the person who lives in a hostel, who is so frightened of health professionals that we have to support him via other people. We give his trusted support team advice to pass on about end-stage liver failure and how to manage. I will never know what shoes mean to him.

And I thought about the man on a park bench who wants to die there because it feels safer there than in a conventional home. I bet his shoes don’t come off at the end of a long day. I bet his shoes won’t come off until after he is dead.

When Help the Hospices and National Gardens Scheme decided on a winner they may not have understood how much that acknowledgement means for people who don’t have the ordinary things many of us take for granted. The acknowledgement that despite the chaos, the addiction, the learning disability, the mental health problem or the awful bad luck that ends with someone in homelessness, they too deserve to end life with dignity, and have support through bereavement.

So I when I think about the award I am proud of everyone who contributed, but I also hope that the profile it gave the project will help others to think differently about homeless people.

It is an opportunity to say: Thank goodness for good shoes with thick soles: me and my shoes go, without fear, into those dark places and meet inspirational people facing life’s biggest challenges in the most desperate of circumstances.

The Stephen Project received a grant from Help the Hospices and The Burdett Trust in 2012 of £22,500.

You can read more about The Stephen Project on Help the Hospices website.

Would you like to enter this year’s Help the Hospices and National Gardens Scheme Awards?

The award categories this year are:

  • Innovation in Clinical Practice
  • Innovation in Income Generation
  • Innovation in Volunteering
  • Lifetime Achievement
  • Volunteer of the Year.

Award winners will receive a glassware award, a free place at this year’s Hospice Care Conference (21-23 October in Bournemouth), and PR opportunities to publicise their success with support from Help the Hospices media team. Winning will also give them an opportunity to instil pride and morale in staff, volunteers, supporters and the wider community. This year’s awards ceremony is being held at the Hospice Care Conference. Enter before 19 August 2013.

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