We recently completed some training around end of life rights to our volunteer Befrienders and Advocates in East London.  There was a varied group of skills and experience which made for some lively discussions especially around religious and cultural attitudes to end of life care. We know that east London is a very diverse area.  Newham has the highest total Asian population in London and claims to be one of the most ethnically diverse areas in Western Europe. Tower Hamlets also has the highest Bangladeshi and Chinese population in London, in Hackney there are also large Black Caribbean and Turkish communities. We are keen for the project to reach out to as many older people in east London as possible and will be working closely with local faith and community groups to ensure the project meets need and is sensitive to individual’s beliefs.

According to the 2011 census, 37% of the London population is foreign born and Polish is now the main spoken language in England after English followed by south Asian Languages. In Newham, 24% of all households have no one who speaks English as a main language. We recently met with a local Roma support group who are interested in supporting their service users to know more about their end of life rights. Polish is the main language for this group, and many do not speak English. To facilitate reaching out to these individuals we are offering the opportunity to train up one of their Polish volunteers in order for them to be a ‘champion’ for end of life rights amongst this community. They will also be translating some of our materials into Polish to ensure that as many people as possible can benefit from the project.

As part of the training we talked generally about approaching the issue of end of life rights with older people. In terms of the feedback we received from volunteers, it seems this is the area they feel least confident in. We discussed how it would be important to allow the opportunity for discussion whilst at the same time not imposing it. It was agreed that use of language is really important with regards to using terms that are familiar to the older person, while obviously being sensitive and respectful to individual’s beliefs and experiences. Advocates and Befrienders will be given ongoing support in their roles by staff from both AgeUK East London and Compassion in Dying and provided additional training where needed. We realise that we have much to learn from our volunteers experiences and are looking forward to hearing how they progress!

Verena Hewat, End of Life Rights Advocacy Project DeveloperSome volunteers from the ELRA trainingTraining materials