Cruse - supporting people coping with bereavement during COVID-19

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Here at CAN we work with a wide variety of VCSE organisations, and during the COVID-19 pandemic have been busy gathering sector data on the impact on capacity to deliver. You can read more about that here.  

One of the most difficult life experiences any of us ever have to deal with is the loss of family and friends. It is of course most especially traumatic just now, with the impact of COVID-19 meaning people often cannot spend time with their loved ones, and with limitations on attendance at funerals. 

Founded more than sixty years ago, Cruse Bereavement is the leading national charity for supporting the bereaved, and its work is internationally recognised. Cruse’s vision is that all bereaved people should have somewhere to turn to when someone dies. Cruse Bereavement Care Norwich, based in St Augustine’s Street in Norwich, comprises a group of highly committed people who care about and understand the needs associated with bereavement. Cruse is often the only place people have to turn to when someone has died. 

Cruse Bereavement Care offers sympathetic, compassionate and confidential support by selected, highly trained volunteers. The organisation has considerable experience in supporting people going through bereavement, and also providing one-to one-support to those who still need help further down the line, however long ago the bereavement.  

In common with many other charities and community-based organisations, Cruse features one-to-support as the cornerstone of its support work. But the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted very directly upon Cruse’s work because of the rise in mortality rates in past months. It’s the necessary focus on one-to-one engagement that has placed constraints on service delivery and capacity at the same time as demand for the service has increased – both factors brought about by the pandemic.   

Caz Thompson, Chair of Cruse Bereavement Care Norwich explains: 

“Group work has had to stop and cannot resume until regulations and restrictions are lifted. Our mode of delivery is predicated on government advice for the duration, and sadly this means that the very personal one-to-one support we usually provide is on hold.” 

It’s not just service delivery that has been impacted. 

“Fundraising is a major worry for us” added Caz. “The inability to engage with the public at events is a severe constraint – it’s our major source of funding.”    

“Training is another big concern. We have a huge waiting list for training, and it cannot be done in any informal way. The training is accredited in line with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s (BACP) national guidance, and incorporates precise criteria in making sure that each bereavement volunteer is thoroughly equipped to deal with this most sensitive of issues. The training classes are therefore small in number.  It’s important to maintain this very high standard of  for Cruse volunteers and we cannot compromise on this. We are having to reorganise the training by employing alternative methods of presentation and interaction. 

Ninety-seven per-cent of those who work at Cruse Norwich are volunteers. Even the Chair is not paid. The only paid member of staff at the Norwich office is the administrator, who is doing exemplary work during the crisis. 

“The entire team is doing the most amazing work at this time given the volume – but everyone at the charity is reeling under the pressure” says Caz.  “ 

Cruse has had to introduce additional compulsory traumatic death training, and triage COVID-19-related cases.  Social capital is strong in the organisation and the team supports each other. Volunteers are regularly supervised, and they have a robust, rigorous Continuing Professional Development programme, including safeguarding training.  And they adhere to it.   

Bereavement, then, is carrying extra Intensity at this time. Until recently, family and friends were unable to visit loved one dying in hospital or care homes. Funerals are still not practicable in the usual way, with very limited numbers being able to attend. And some individuals are experiencing longer term residual effects of more than one death. 

Digital communication and the telephone have of course proved invaluable, for volunteer training and for client engagement. Some older people are fine with Zoom. With thirty volunteers across Norfolk, Cruse will always need more to come forward, and more donations to support the invaluable work. 

Find out more at Cruse Norwich and Norfolk here.  To donate, hit the button at the top right-hand corner of their main website page.