Awareness Week: event case study
A network of organisations and individuals working in end of life care and the funeral industry joined forces for an attention-grabbing event in Birmingham during Awareness Week 2015.
'You Only Die Once', held at Kings Heath Village Square on Friday 22 May, brought together a host of organisations, including hospices, NHS bodies, natural burial organisations, funeral directors and caterers, with the aim of breaking down some of the taboos around dying, death and bereavement and offering first-hand advice and information.
The event was the brainchild of Carrie Weekes (pictured, left, with business partner Fran Glover and Good Funeral Guide author Charles Cowling), co-owner of independent funeral directors A Natural Undertaking, which focuses on offering choice and a full range of funeral services to people in Birmingham.
In 2014, Carrie met fellow Kings Heath resident and GP Sarah Mitchell, and the two stayed in touch through their mutual acquaintance Sharon Hudson, the Lead Palliative Care Nurse for Solihull.
Carrie, Sarah and Sharon, together with A Natural Undertaking co-owner Fran Glover, who also hails from Kings Heath, decided to host an event in the area for Dying Matters Awareness Week 2015. The obvious choice of location was the village square: an open, park-like space in the heart of the community which benefits from high footfall due to the nearby shops and bus stops.
Lively and positive conversations
With Carrie and Fran at the helm, the group set about organising the day. They approached their respective contacts to ask them to support the event, which included asking local businesses if they would like to make a small contribution to the cost of hiring Kings Heath Village Square for the day. Sarah asked local hospices and hospitals if they wanted to run a stall. Carrie and Fran sourced flyers and used social media to promote the day. Local film-maker Sarah Chaundler offered to film the event for free.
With little idea of what the public's reaction would be, the stall-holders set up in the square on the morning of Friday 22 May 2015. They wanted to create an uplifting and informative space where people would feel comfortable discussing plans around what they wanted at the end of their lives. Visitors could find out about natural burials and organ donation, speak to undertakers, solicitors, health and social care staff, learn about digital autopsies and add their wishes to a Before I Die wall. In addition, there was funeral food tasting, discussions about funeral music, coffin decoration and funeral flower arranging.
"The reaction from people was brilliant," said Fran Glover. "Conversations were lively and positive, not at all how you might imagine. One lady felt that with all the myths, pre-conceptions and false expectations about what people should do when a loved one dies, building awareness and understanding about the art of the possible would bring hope to people they might not have imagined possible."
Simon Chapman, Director of Policy Intelligence and Public Affairs for Dying Matters, was there on the day. He said: “This was a terrific event. When I arrived there was a huge buzz, with passers-by stopping and talking at stalls, children and adults decorating coffins and doing flower-arranging, and free funeral cookies being sampled. It was a really lively community occasion, with lots of people having important conversations about their past experiences, good and bad, as well as future plans.
"This was a great example of how to engage your local community. I was delighted to be able to go. Thank you everyone who helped make this happen.”
Get Fran Glover of a Natural Undertaking's top tips for hosting an Awareness Week event.
Organisations that supported the event
The Good Funeral Guide author Charles Cowling
And a number of wonderful individuals including Simon Chapman, Director of Policy, Intelligence & Public Affairs for Dying Matters
Filmmaker Sarah Chaundler's website, jigsawpictures.co.uk