Compassionate Neighbours In Hackney

compassionate-neighbours-thumbThe English/Scottish Province has been reflecting on how we can implement our Chapter document ‘Companions at a New Table’. In our discussions one concern that has emerged quite strongly for us is that of people who are isolated in our society. That is why it was particularly relevant for us to attend the launch of a new initiative at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, entitled ‘Compassionate Neighbours’. The project’s remit is to support people who are ill and isolated in the community through members of the local community visiting them in their homes and offering them support, companionship and practical help. Here Sr Nuala McGinley tells us about the launch of the project

On Wednesday 25th June a group of about 40 people met in the Finding Space area of St. Joseph’s Hospice for the launch of a group called ‘Compassionate Neighbours in Hackney’. Sisters from St Joseph’s community were also invited to attend. Thirteen of those attending had completed training to become ‘Good neighbours’ in their local area. Hopefully these men and women will become good leaders helping to address the issue of loneliness in communities.

compassionate-neighbours1This is not about providing another service but rather a movement, grassroots neighbourliness. It is not a project with specific boundaries. It is really an old idea, something with which we all grew up, knowing who our neighbours are and being ready to lend a hand when necessary. Unfortunately today so many people have moved away from their own locality and the modern attitude of keeping oneself to oneself has caused many people to live very much in isolation. This lifestyle has caused and is causing dreadful loneliness particularly for the elderly. In his welcoming speech, Mr Michael Kerin, the Chief Executive of St Joseph’s made reference to the Sisters of Charity founding the hospice in 1905, reaching out in love and kindness to those who needed help. Elizabeth Bayliss, the Chief Executive of a group entitled ‘Social Action for Health’ which has been functioning since l985 also addressed the group who had gathered and said “We are privileged to have the Hospice now involved.” It is really carrying on the charism of Mary Aikenhead. While the sisters don’t have a monopoly of skills in this area we have a great deal of experience and expertise to share in a spirit of partnership and collaboration as Mr Kerin reminded us in his speech. Medical people particularly are becoming more aware of how detrimental to health both mental and physical, loneliness can be. Heather Thomas who works in the hospice welcomed everyone and congratulated those who have generously volunteered to go through a process of training before launching out to be compassionate neighbours where they live.

compassionate-neighbours2In small groups of about six we discussed how we might approach a person or a family where a member has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. We talked about the necessity of being sensitive to the needs of the individual or family, not imposing our ideas on them, but listening and becoming aware of how best to help. The importance of building trust so that the individual or family will feel at ease in opening their heart to the visitor was stressed. Confidentiality is also important – the sick person and the family need to know that whatever arises in the conversation will not be divulged outside the home. In this way we are building a compassionate atmosphere where the individuals can feel at ease and are able to relax in our company. That is compassion in action, loving, warm and caring. This is more than a service it’s a personal relationship. It is easy to observe when you are being a compassionate neighbour when you see a genuine smile on the face of the sick person. The aim of those who are trying to build a compassionate neighbourhood is to create such areas in every corner of Hackney and hopefully beyond. A place in India named Kerala was cited as being one such place where local people took matters into their own hands and have founded a hospice for those in their community with a terminal illness. The words of Jesus are being put into action, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.

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