“It’s all about kindness” - Compassionate Inverclyde

How many of us after hearing an inspirational talk actually go and do something to improve the lives of the people in the community we serve?

Group of people holding certificatesAlison Bunce credits listening to a presentation about Compassionate Communities in 2008 as the catalyst for what inspired her to activate Compassionate Inverclyde.

At the time Alison was the Director of Care at Ardgowan Hospice in Greenock, Inverclyde. Now still within the Hospice she is Compassionate Inverclyde Programme Lead overseeing the various branches of what has become an extensive programme of activities under the banner of Compassionate Inverclyde. She maintains that “It doesn’t feel like a job” but also agrees that it doesn’t fit neatly into a 9-5 framework.

We, at CHEX, feel this flexibility within an NHS role is a good example of how a community development approach to a task within a statutory setting can bring added value to existing services.

The range of activities Alison, in her turn, has inspired is impressive:

No One Dies Alone (NODA):

This work provides Companions who support terminally ill people and their families in the challenging realm of end of life care. To date over 114 people have been trained for this role.

Back Home Boxes

Picture of a food parcel

Under this scheme people, who live alone when discharged from Inverclyde Royal Hospital are given a box to ease their return home. The boxes contain some basic food items, a ‘welcome home’ card, written by local school children, a comforting blanket, knitted or crocheted by local people, along with ‘kindness tokens’ which are also created locally.

 Collecting the contents, filling and distributing the boxes draws on a dedicated band of local Helpers. Local businesses provide the boxes. Around 30 boxes a week make the return home from hospital a much more pleasant process than was previously the case. The majority of recipients are over 80 years old.

Back Home Visitors

Following the delivery of the Back Home Box people are offered visits from Compassionate Inverclyde volunteers who will call in to see how they are progressing. There is no specified time limit to having a visitor and so for some it will end after a relatively short time and for others it develops into a life-long friendship. 

In total Compassionate Inverclyde has developed an impressive 11 new services harnessing local knowledge and skills. The further 8 services are listed here.

"More of a movement than just a project"

While Alison is still involved in the training of those delivering services, the activities themselves are organised and run by a small army of dedicated Inverclyders who give their time and energy for free. In 2016 Alison brought together a Board to manage and direct the current range of activities and it is likely that in the future some branches will themselves become independent organisations ensuring the sustainability of the work.

The basic ethos of all that is done through Compassionate Inverclyde is about kindness and Alison speaks of it as being “more of a movement than just a project”. Her starting point was to ask people “What is it like to live in Inverclyde?” and from the responses she received a strategy was developed to make Inverclyde a place where they promote ‘compassionate citizenship’, develop ‘compassionate organisations’, improve health and wellbeing and raising awareness and provide education/training so that others can become involved and develop similar initiatives elsewhere.

Alison has taken a community development approach to her work, involving people at an early stage, working through local organisations who were in the business of identifying community priorities and connecting community and statutory organisations together.

Compassionate Inverclyde badges

Although, Alison was never trained in community development, when asked why she adopted this approach she said “I just knew instinctively it was the right way to do it. All of us have knowledge and skills taken from the lives we have lived, often people don’t need professionals to tell them what to do. Once they are aware of a problem, they are good at knowing what can be done and how to improve things themselves. We provide the training and then mostly we leave people to get on with it. They don’t always do it the way I would do it but I trust them to do a good job and they always do.”

Driving policy

Alison speaks of Compassionate Inverclyde and its contribution to Government Policy “It’s not being driven by policy but its policy in action.” Certainly, the work of those involved meets some of the nationalobjectives of Scotland’s policy makers. E.g. of the 5 national strategic objectives. Compassionate Inverclyde contributes to at least two.

Healthier: Help people to sustain and improve their health, especially in disadvantaged communities, ensuring better, local and faster access to health care.

Safer and Stronger: Help local communities to flourish, becoming stronger, safer place to live, offering improved opportunities and a better quality of life.

When considering getting her statutory colleagues to reflect on how things might be done differently she says “I think of things in simple terms, I don’t complicate it. How can we get this done? Is a useful question. Sometimes I think I am speaking a foreign language but I’m sure it has helped that I held a senior position and understand the system.”

Food parcelsWhen asked what her final thoughts would be about why Compassionate Inverclyde is so successful Alison says simply “It needs trust and courage, it’s all about relationships, respecting those involved. I don’t micromanage it. The people involved are adults if they think we need a leaflet to encourage people to provide donations for the boxes I just let them go ahead and do it.”

Community development

Here, at CHEX, we feel this is a good illustration of someone within a statutory agency taking the opportunity to use a community development approach to important issues. The impact on people’s lives is impressive, working with those most in need of help and social support.

However as is the case in all community development initiatives it is not only the recipients of help who benefit. The volunteers involved find their own involvement rewarding and the new structures that are being built bring people together in a series of social networks with the shared objective of improving quality of care within the community itself.

Compassionate Inverclyde logoPeople gain knowledge and skills and work together to build not only a Compassionate Inverclyde but overall a healthier, more cohesive, more resilient Inverclyde with increased capacity to respond to present and future needs.

For more information check out the Compassionate Inverclyde website or Facebook page.

Associated sites

 SCDC logo
NHS Scotland logo

       Go straight to our HIIC section:

                HIIC logo


Communities Channel logo