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Compassionate Neighbours: A community based approach to death and dying

What is the research?

The Compassionate Neighbours project is a community-based approach to supporting people who are coming to the end of their life in their community. It was established at St Joseph’s Hospice in London in 2014. Staff at the hospice worked with Social Action for Health and people from the local community to co-design a volunteer-led approach. The resulting project has growth into a ‘social movement’ – or community – of 300 compassionate neighbours attached to St Joseph’s alone.

A compassionate neighbour is someone who is trained and ‘matched’ with someone in the community who may be socially isolated and approaching the end of life. Compassionate neighbours and their community members then go on to develop a relationship over time that is reciprocal and supportive. Compassionate neighbours also support each other project through regular coffee mornings and development meetings.

The model is underpinned by public health principles, primarily the promotion and protection of health and wellbeing through the organised efforts of society, emphasising the collective responsibility of society and community.

The core aims of the project are:

  • To provide community-focused support to people who may be living with a long term or terminal illness, is elderly or frail, socially isolated or nearing the end of life because of age or illness
  • To build peer networks among compassionate neighbours who may be able to support each other through experiences of loss and bereavement

In 2017 the Compassionate Neighbours team received funding from Nesta to expand this project to seven other hospices in and around London. The McPin Foundation was commissioned to conduct an evaluation of this project during this ‘roll out’ phase.

Why is this research important?

The Compassionate Neighbours project takes a community-focused approach towards people who may be living with a long term or terminal illness, are elderly or frail, socially isolated or nearing the end of life through age or illness. This project recognises that people in this phase of life have a desire to feel connected with their communities and to be socially included, a need which is not best met through medical care. While this peer-based model may feel familiar to those within the mental health sector, in palliative care this is a relatively new approach to supporting people who may be facing the complex emotions that come with thinking about living, death and dying.

It is important for us to understand how a community approach to living, death and dying, similar in many ways to peer support seen in mental health, can be effective and can be successfully established in new environments.

How is McPin Involved?

Over the course of the project, we are helping to collect evidence on the impact of Compassionate Neighbours by:

  1. Co-producing a survey for compassionate neighbours about their experiences with hospice staff and compassionate neighbours
  2. Collecting observational information by spending time with compassionate neighbours and attending trainings, coffee mornings and development meetings
  3. Conducting interviews with staff, compassionate neighbours and community members to understand their experiences of the project
  4. Understanding how reproducing this project at scale in new sites has happened and any impacts on the project
  5. Producing reports based on the analysis of this information and a package of evaluation tools for hospices looking to adopt the Compassionate Neighbours project

How is experiential knowledge contributing to the project?

We have involved compassionate neighbours in the development of evaluation tools within the project, and a compassionate neighbour was part of our working group. We have also spent time talking informally with many compassionate neighbours to understand what the project is about and what kind of information we should be collecting.

What is the current status of the project?

We are currently coming to the end of data collection and are writing up our findings as an evaluation report.

Who do I contact for more information?

For more information about the project, or to speak to a researcher, please contact Rose Thompson by email: rosethompson@mcpin.org