This week, Janet Ross tells us about the recent launch of a new Community Charter in Lancaster for a compassionate community. 

Janet Ross has recently begun as Project Coordinator for My Life, My Decision in Lancashire. She has a background in Special Educational Needs and, following treatment for cancer of the bone marrow, got Janet+EstherStorey240315involved in research at Lancaster University’s International Observatory on End of Life Care. Janet is part of the team that was chosen to be a Pathfinder Community by Public Health England, celebrating and building on community resilience around end of life care. Janet was able to promote the My Life My Decision project at the launch of a Community Charter in Lancaster City.

Last month, myself and Esther Nimmo hosted a stall at the launch of a new Community Charter to launch North Lancashire as a Compassionate Community.

North Lancashire was chosen by the National Council for Palliative Care and Public Health England to be a Pathfinder Community and adopt the Charter as a means of celebrating and building on community resilience around death and dying.The event was opened by the Mayor of Lancaster and Morecambe, Cllr Susie Charles and Dr Rebecca Wagstaff of Public Health England.  

Dr Wagstaff said that when she first qualified as a GP it was normal to withhold information about approaching death from patients and only tell close family members. Nowadays there is a new generation who want to take control over end of life back from the medical profession and the state. She said many people, if asked, would prefer quality life to quantity of years and that it is important to seek patient’s views about their fears and desires as they approach the end of their life.

Shane Johnston's work
Shane Johnston’s work on Morecambe Promenade

Shane Johnstone, a local artist, described how he had created a sculpture of Venus and Cupid (featured on the publicity poster) which is situated at Morecambe Promenade, as a tribute to his former partner after she died of cancer. The sculpture came to be of particular significance locally, at the time of the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers tragedy when 22 people drowned, and has been a focal point for local people who are ill or bereaved for several years now. Shane described how the work of art developed as he was working with young mothers in Lancaster, seeing their interest in art progress from making cards to painting in a variety of media and then sculpture and visiting art galleries. He explained the symbolism of the colours and patterns incorporated in the figure and finished by reminding the audience that love is the most beautiful of natural disasters.
Dr Peter Nightingale , a local GP, spoke about the pressures on the NHS and showed a short film entitled “Bill United” which brought tears to everyone’s eyes. He reminded us that the way we die has a profound effect on the people left behind.

Tony Bonser, from the National Council for Palliative Care, spoke about losing his son to cancer at the age of 34 and the aspects of that experience that went well and badly. He appealed for medical professionals to explain things in words that patients and their loved ones can understand.
Mary Matthieson, from Stories to Change, Cumbria, talked about stimulating discussions between the circles of people we might be surrounded by when we die. She showed a clip from a film she has recently made and talked about using film as a trigger for difficult conversations.

Louie Ingham, Associate Director at the Dukes Theatre, performed a monologue she had written about her Grandparent’s funeral and in a highly amusing way illustrated what can happen when people avoid having difficult conversations. Her Gran was having weekly visits to the hairdresser and the Bingo and as a result of keeping quiet about her health problems Mandy the Mobile Hairdresser almost got the blame for the state of Gran’s hair! Louie appealed for people to join in the community theatrical event to be held at the Dukes Theatre in Dying Matters week.
Professor Katherine Froggatt, from the International Observatory on End of Life Care at Lancaster University and Sue Mc Graw, CEO of St Johns Hospice, closed the event by reminding people about some of the events coming up in Dying Matters Week 18th to 24th May. They thanked all the speakers and stall-holders for making the event such a success.
Our stall generated a lot of interest. We raised awareness of the My Life, My Decision project to over 80 people during the afternoon and recruited some enthusiastic volunteers to help people plan their future care.

After today, Lancaster and the North Lancashire area feels like a good place to live and to die.