How to create a Before I Die board
Before I Die is a project started by artist Candy Chang on an abandoned house in New Orleans following her own experience of bereavement, writes Maggie Fay, Practice Educator at LOROS Hospice in Leicester.
After receiving permission, Candy painted the side of an abandoned house in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stencilled it with a grid of the sentence, “Before I die I want to _______.” Passers-by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations or bucket list.
Since then, over 1,000 Before I Die walls have been created in over 35 languages and over 70 countries, including Kazakhstan, Iraq, Haiti, China, Ukraine, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Argentina, and South Africa. You can find out more at candychang.com
In the UK and Ireland, boards have appeared in High Wycombe, Liverpool, Hebden Bridge, Leeds, London, Peterborough, Leamington Spa, Wolverhampton, Dublin, Cork, Galway, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Building your own board
These are the materials that were used to make the board in the photograph below. A volunteer carpenter constructed the board, which is designed to be put together on site and taken apart for storage. The sides and base were made from chipboard with wooden batons and coach bolts used to secure them together. The boards were painted using two coats of black blackboard paint. We allowed two hours drying time between coats. Local artists made our stencils for us and spray painted them onto the painted boards. If you wish, you could also add the Dying Matters Week Twitter hashtag: #DyingToBeHeard?
4 x 8' (2.44m) by 4' (1.22m) chip board
1 x 4’ (1.22m) by 4’ (1.22) chip board
4 x 60mm² x 5' (1.52m) + plain wood
4 x 60mm² x 8' (2.44) plain wood
8 x coach bolts approx. 90mm in length
Blackboard paint (we used approx. 1 litre)
Stencil White spray paint (for your stencil)
4 x sandbags (to weigh you board down)
Choosing a site
Dying Matters is a public engagement event so anywhere which has a high public footfall is ideal - market places, city squares etc.
You will need to contact your local council for permission to use the area. They will generally require you to complete a risk assessment and will want to see a copy of your organisation’s public liability insurance. If you have a fundraising team with experience of organising public events, they can be a useful source of advice.
Here are some examples of what may be included in a risk assessment and how to overcome potential issues:
Injury through lifting, carrying and moving during set up and pack down. Train staff in the moving and handling of inanimate objects.
Weather conditions – particularly wind. Provide sand bags for additional stability.
General public bumping into or walking into wall. Two staff to remain with the wall at all times whilst it is on display. It is then moved at the end of the day. You will require a storage area for the board when it is not in use. The board that we built was designed to be dismantled.
Public using wall and pushing it over. Sandbags and two staff present at all times.
The board in Cathedral Square, Peterborough
Unless you want your hands to be covered in chalk dust (and have to include this in your risk assessment), the best materials for writing on the board are chalk pens. These are water-based chalk marker pens that come in an array of colours including white. They are rainproof and can be rubbed off with a damp cloth.
Expect to do some editing. You may well get the odd inappropriate comment. Be prepared with a water mist sprayer or bottle of water and some disposable cloths.
Some of the people who come to write their aspirations will have experienced bereavement or be facing bereavement. Others may have survived serious illnesses or accidents or be newly diagnosed or in the middle of treatment. It is important that the people who are facilitating the boards are confident and experienced in having what can be difficult conversations with people about death, dying and bereavement. The facilitators may also need to support each other, for example in extricating each other from conversations. You will also need meal and toilet breaks so a minimum of three facilitators are required. Four is ideal.
Dying Matters Chief Executive Claire Henry, second right, and Simon Chapman, Director of Public and Parliamentary Engagement at Dying Matters, right, helped with facilitating the Peterborough board during Dying Matters Awareness Week 2015.
Written information is useful to signpost people to sources of help and support e.g leaflets for local bereavement services. These could be cards which the facilitator has in their pocket. Your own business cards are also useful plus a biro to write down additional contact information. You may also wish to have a supply of the Dying Matters Big Conversation cards and be prepared to take pictures of the board.
A word about the UK weather in May. We have experienced being stung by hail, leaflets being blown away by the wind, downpours of rain and sunburn. Be prepared. Sunscreen, a brolly, a supply of water and layers of clothing are essential.
You may want to make sure that your board is accessible. We would recommend a board that is at adult head height. Standing on stools, a stepladder or a bicycle would require a risk assessment!
Spreading the word
The majority of people who choose to write on the boards are aged 16-30. Encourage them to use social media to publicise the board and to capture images of the board for the future.
Dying Matters Awareness Week is from 13th-19th May 2019.
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