Ian Leech

Bereaved people in Lichfield are meeting online to support each other and beat isolation thanks to a digital service.

St Giles Hospice has launched three virtual bereavement help points to provide information, companionship and practical and emotional support.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the hospice ran 14 in-person facilities at centres across the region, but these face-to-face services have had to close temporarily because of coronavirus restrictions.

Community engagement manager Ian Leech said the idea for the virtual help points came about very quickly after the lockdown began – and the first group was up and running within two weeks.

“We knew just how important community-based bereavement help points are in providing an anchor point for people’s weeks in the days, months and years after bereavement.

“Before the closures we were seeing more than 1,000 visits every month, with help points every day of the working week across our catchment area. Offering an online option seemed the next step for existing attendees and newly-bereaved people who wanted some peer support.

“We initially spoke to the volunteers who help run our help points to ask them to help us test the technology and the format of the groups.

“Their willingness to embrace the technology was wonderful, particularly as we have a large number of volunteers who are over 75, and the levels of engagement really challenged people’s perceptions of what older people are capable of when it comes to technology.”

Ian Leech, St Giles Hospice

Ian said that setting up the virtual help points had been a real learning curve for all involved – but added that the initiative had been a real success at a time when bereaved people were feeling more isolated than normal.

“One of the most enthusiastic members of our group is an 89-year-old lady who has never used video conferencing before.

“It’s important to realise that we’re not creating a replica of the traditional help point – we’re creating something different and it won’t be the same. 

“For example, that moment when you come into the non-virtual room and someone makes you a cup to tea, gives you a hug, spends time listening to you, while everyone around you is talking, just can’t be replicated.

“But virtual help points also present a real opportunity for the future which we will explore, particularly around creating evening help points and reaching people who are physically isolated, ill or unable to travel.”

Ian Leech, St Giles Hospice

Founder of Lichfield Live and editor of the site.

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