Putting Hearts into Community

This is the text of an article about community well being. It draws mainly on a longstanding initiative in Frome, Somerset concerning the Compassionate Community and a similar one in Fleetwood which featured on BBC news in mid September 2019.

These projects (and others now in the making) take the pressure off front line health services by filtering out promptly concerns that can be met or administered by trained volunteers in the case of lonely or isolated people. No treatment is involved just being part of an accessible team of 450 “Community Connectors”. Being a good neighbour to people across the town.

Patrick Abrahams of Frome Men’s Shed has provided links to background material. The Frome Shed was founded 6 years ago encouraged by the then fledgling Frome Compassionate Community initiative launched by GP Helen Kingston and managed into a flourishing, stimulating, productive, cost saving, practical, distributed, caring, volunteer-enabled service.

It does good for those helped and those helping.  Why not Whitby?

Putting Hearts into Community

One simple act of compassion

We are an increasingly divided society. Brexit has polarised us in a political football match – winner, loser and no apparent wish for a draw either on the pitch or in the crowd. A tribal game with consequences.
This millennium we’ve faced multifaceted change at an unprecedented rate and the danger is we are losing the collective stabilising experience of the past.
I’ve been privileged to work with organisations like Totally Socially and NYCC Stronger Communities in their aims to build cohesive communities.
The banner text “Stronger Communities” has served well but does not in itself say how that is achieved. I want to propose another word that has helped transform notable communities in UK already. Compassion. Thus, the Compassionate Community.
Does it sound just sentimental? Far from it! Sympathy for a needy neighbour isn’t enough, but it’s a start. Empathy, standing in the shoes of a person with understanding, still isn’t enough.
It is individual compassion that takes the big stride into an action to help a person. Organisations, structures and policies offer some scaffolding to support acts of “effective kindness” but doing it always comes down to individuals.
This is the experience in the Sheds. Their strength lies in compassion member to member and particularly to newcomers, not in the DIY skills exhibited or the organisation. It’s experience in all successful people facing initiatives in Whitby.
The Compassionate Community evidenced in Frome and Fleetwood emphasises compassion at the 1:1 level. There are things going on in Frome (equivalent to our Sheds, beach sweeps, family support and children’s work) but Frome’s simple device is so-called Community Connectors – 300 suitable volunteers with some basic initial training.
They will befriend but their role is to compassionately do something – maybe sometimes just responsibly passing on a need for others to handle. Community Connectors are Frome’s success and they do it willingly.
So, who took the first step? A Frome GP with others supporting. She perceived the growing difficulty of health services coping without some radical change. The result from bottom level, small, manageable compassionate interventions has been a 30% reduction in emergency ambulance admissions over 3 years, against a regional increase of a similar scale! Think what that means to health service budgets.
Two weeks ago BBC news featured Fleetwood with a very similar story to Frome. You may have seen it. I believe that Whitby, with some similarities to Frome, could and should assess the evidence.  Two or three of us plan to visit Frome very shortly to speak to movers and shakers there face to face. It seems a heart-filled game changer.
The good news is that some of the infrastructure Frome had to put in place already exists for Whitby such as a directory of agency and voluntary services and clubs. We’ve a strong trust network between many volunteer-led initiatives and point-of-delivery agency services. There’s glue!
Please Google ‘Frome Compassionate Community’ to find links or you can access on www.whitbysheds.co.uk in a recent post.

Here are Patrick’s background information references. Click on!

Subject: Social Prescribing & Compassionate Communities – Frome

Graham – Here is some background on Compassionate Communities.

First a website dedicated to Compassionate Communities

See this article from the Guardian:

See the attached extract of the article, plus details on the measurement metric.  The NHS Consultant leading the project is Dr Julian Abel.

The sources for the two attached extracts are:


The key people who initiated this were:

Dr Helen Kingston – See a presentation from Helen http://www.swscn.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Community-development-in-Frome-the-GP-perspective-Dr-Helen-Kingston.pdf

Jenny Hartnoll – Service Lead for Health Connections Mendip

Dr Julian Abel – He is publishing a book on Compassionate Communities in April 2020

See attached for their profiles. We featured this project on the Frome Shed Radio show – See details at:  http://www.fromeshed.org.uk/community/frome-men-s-shed-12888/shed-happens-8th-march-2018/

You  listen to the Show at:
Scroll down to “5. Shed Happens (08/03/18)”

Patrick Abrahams
Frome Men’s Shed 

This is the forward by Professor Allan Kellehear to a 2013 report on then current UK Compassionate Communities projects. They are very varied examples and need probably to be distinguished from Frome and Fleetwood a little. The highlighted text is our emphasis.

I am delighted and honored to introduce this first national report on the adoption and spread of Compassionate Communities. For decades now, most people have embraced the 1980s call for communities to take more responsibility for their own health. Since that time, most people have become aware and committed to responsible and balanced lifestyles incorporating better nutrition, eating habits and exercise, the control, reduction and even elimination of drug and alcohol use, the importance of balancing work and recreation, and an awareness and avoidance of harmful environments and substances.
However, the application of prevention, harm-reduction and early intervention ideas in matters to do with death, dying, loss and care is new. Compassionate Community programs help us make just  these kinds of connections and shifts in thinking by enhancing a community’s capacity to reach out to each other and learn more about these mortal verities. Families, neighbours, friends, workplaces, schools, businesses, and places of worship then become sites for genuine support, care, information, networking, and greater learning about end of life care. This is the fundamental meaning of a Compassionate Community.
This report reveals that Compassionate Communities come in a wide variety of shapes and sources. They are united by their desire to increase their community’s resilience, support, and openness toward those affected by death, dying, and loss. This report describes not only how Compassionate Communities as an idea and as a community practice are rapidly spreading in England, but also how the enthusiasm for these communities are a logical development of the worldwide health promotion movement.
This is a movement that has reminded us that good health services are only one small part in the development and maintenance of individual, family and community health and wellbeing. Individuals, families and communities can (and now do) play major roles in their own health care. We now look toward a time when our communities will play similar roles in the physical, psychological, social and spiritual challenges at the end of life itself.
I commend this report and its recommendations to all readers.

Professor Allan Kellehear, PhD., AcSS,
Department of Community Health & Epidemiology
Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada.


Here is a link to the full report to browse  http://www.compassionatecommunities.org.uk/files/PDF/CC_Report_Final_July_2013-2.pdf 

Here is one of several stories in the report that help explain compassion. See the community in this! Compare the work of Sheds to this.

Jean Jones

Jean’s husband had cancer for five years, and once he became really ill, Jean gave up her job to become a full time carer. She had some support from the local cancer support scheme.

Neighbours in Jean’s street rallied round her and offered support, popping in, offering to do the shopping, ironing…everyday tasks to make life easier, and to support them both. ‘Compassion was found in the street, and they came to me and supported me when I needed it most.’

‘One neighbour came round, and said ‘Do you need any help?’ and I said, ‘No’, but she said ‘I’m coming in anyway’ and came in and took the ironing away to do. The street rallied round when I was at my lowest ebb.’

Jean now hopes to give back what she received…she makes effort to connect and support others, and counter the feeling of isolation. ‘We are all responsible, it’s everyone’s business…it’s in everyone’s grasp to get to know their neighbours, and there is nothing like saying “Good Morning.’’’ Jean organised a street party to bring  everyone together, and help people to get to know one another.

She has since made two films, one with Compassionate Communities Sandwell, telling her story, and another which she uses to start dialogue with nursing staff in the local hospital. Through the film she helps, as a lay person, to raise a


ness in training sessions with nurses, telling the story of how she experienced care for her husband at the time in hospital. She hopes to raise awareness of the need for more compassionate care.

‘Every time I watch it, I think it has such an impact because it’s about the knock on effects of what they did.’
‘A touch of the hand, a smile, is worth a million to that person, we’ve lost the art of communication – fancy having to train people to be compassionate! I cared for my husband 24 hours a day, and each day I asked myself ‘How would I like to be treated
myself in this situation?’ and this helped me through it.’

Jean sees that she has a legacy to leave, ‘When you’ve lost someone you love, you begin to think ‘Why am I here?’ and what better way than to change something that needs changing? That’s got to be my legacy- compassion. We can all make a change,
but we need to do it together.’  

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