During Dying Matters Awareness Week in 2016, people in pubs, clubs, cafes, libraries, shops, health settings, schools and even on the streets of Birmingham were talking about death and dying.
This was all thanks to an ambitious series of events put together by BrumYODO, a community collective of individuals and organisations. BrumYODO brings together undertakers, florists, health professionals, hospices, artists and celebrants – all of whom want to encourage a more open conversation about death and dying.
BrumYODO is a true grass roots community endeavour. It began in 2015 when a group of friends asked the question ‘why don’t people like talking about death?’ From this, the group organised a series of events in 2015 – and the response was so positive they decided to build on that success and go for a large-scale week in 2016.
The group was keen to be part of the national 2016 campaign so adopted the Dying Matters Awareness Week title yodo (you only die once) and the hashtag #BigConversation. It also sourced grant funding from a Birmingham NHS Commissioning Group which covered practical costs such as printing and film.
From children adding their ‘swim with dolphins’ wish to a ‘Before I die…’ wall to pensioners sharing their experiences of losing people they had loved, the #BigConversation took over Birmingham during Dying Matters Awareness Week 2016 in a way that it never had before.
The aim of BrumYODO was to ensure a wide range of different events in a variety of locations. So the week was launched at the Kings Heath Farmers’ Market in Birmingham on Saturday 7 May with a giant sofa. Here people were invited to put their feet up, have a cup of tea and find out more about what would be on offer during the rest of the week.
The centre point was a daily ‘pop-up’ at a Birmingham bar where each afternoon people were invited to take part in art and craft activities, join discussions and find out more. People could drop in for creative writing and coffin decorating, they could meet staff from local hospices, there were information stands from local breast cancer and prostate cancer charities and projects and they could meet palliative care staff, will writers, undertakers and solicitors. Highlights included an interview between philosopher Nigel Warburton and Dr Ros Taylor of Hospice UK, an Ask the Undertaker questions session and a shroud demonstration.
Brum YODO held daily Death Cafes at venues across the city and took ‘Before I die…’ walls into libraries, shops and city streets where people of all ages shared their life ambitions, hopes and dreams. Other events included a themed book display at a local library, an information day at a hospice, a free bus trip to Westall Park Natural Burial Ground and an organised storytelling night Tales of The Grimm Reaper.
The collective visited a local school where children proved they were comfortable talking about death and dying and produced some wonderful artwork as part of the Wellcome Trust funded Corpse Project. And the week ended with a Death Disco in a city pub at which people made contributions to the play list with songs that were important and meaningful to them in their lives.
BrumYODO was also keen to encourage discussion among people who weren’t able to attend events so members were also hugely active online:
A website was hosted by A Natural Undertaking - http://www.anaturalundertaking.co.uk/brumyodo
A Facebook page was launched - https://www.facebook.com/BrumYODO
And a Twitter feed created - @BrumYODO
All these channels proved to be hugely successful in helping continue the #BigConversation.
During May 2016 there were 122,400 Twitter impressions and 1,800 interactions as well as 800 page views of the BrumYODO website. BrumYODO also secured media coverage of its events with articles in local magazines, newspapers and radio shows.
When the film was launched at a screening event with nearly 100 attendees, there was a fantastic response with more people wanting to be involved for 2017. Again, the intention is to grow BrumYODO and Dying Matters Awareness Week with plans including theatre, exhibitions and film.
The beauty of BrumYODO is its diversity – all members of the collective bring their own skills, interests and contacts into the mix. By working together this group is ensuring that Dying Matters Awareness Week is becoming a fixture on Birmingham’s calendar – and more people are talking about death and dying.
BrumYODO collective founder member Fran Glover said: “Each year we’ve seen our events in Birmingham growing and more people and organisations taking part. There is a real enthusiasm to take part in our events and to have an open and honest conversation about death and dying. This year we are organising a mini festival A Matter of Life and Death and we are looking forward to involving as many people as possible.”