The scheme is designed to address short- and medium-term practical problems facing bereaved people in the aftermath of a death. It promotes community engagement and a neighbourly duty of care. It revives, in a 21st century way, the traditions of former times when communities came together to help their bereaved members. It is arguable, now that families tend to be scattered, that the need for community engagement with bereavement is greater than it ever has been.
Community volunteering joins up the specialist care of the bereaved offered by a funeral home to the non-specialist care of the bereaved offered by volunteers.
The attraction to community members was demonstrated on The Fixer by that nice man who said that, when he died, he hoped there would be people willing to give his wife a hand getting adjusted. He signed up. What goes around, comes around.
The attraction of the scheme to a funeral home is immense. Whilst all funeral homes pride themselves on their community engagement, in reality this presently comes down mostly to three sorts of activity: 1) ingratiation (schmoozing care homes), 2) networking (join all the clubs, sit on committees) and 3) charitable works (writing cheques, jumping out of aeroplanes for Macmillan, ). There is reputational value in all this activity, for sure, but it tends to be disparate and unfocused. It is difficult to discern a link between the service of the bereaved and a sponsored roundabout. It is hard not to feel uneasy about a sponsored bowls tournament when the competitors are so close to needing an undertaker. Some funeral directors also sponsor 4) a bereavement group – an excellent initiative. A downside is that, over time, it can morph into a social club.
A community volunteering scheme will never foster dependency. The purpose is to enable bereaved people to live independently as soon as possible. In the event of failing to enable a bereaved person to achieve independence, volunteers will step back and refer the bereaved person to specialist agencies – eg social services or, in the case of complicated grief, appropriate specialist counselling.
A volunteering scheme is perfectly focussed on adding value to the services offered by a funeral director. The volunteers form a human and caring interface between the funeral home and the community, bringing bereavement and funeral professionals into the social mainstream, and reinforcing the naturalness and normality of death. There is immense marketing and news value to be derived from administering a volunteering scheme, whose members will act as a funeral home’s ambassadors.
The scheme is also capable of being adopted by a local funeral consumers’ advocacy group, perhaps in partnership with a simple-funerals business targeting the no-fuss and funeral-poverty markets. It is often said that communities have disintegrated beyond repair, but it is notable that they regroup around enterprises which can make a real contribution to wellbeing and serve self-interest.
Whether sponsored by a funeral director or an autonomous co-operative of local people, volunteers will actively promote, through lectures, debates and other events, healthier, better informed attitudes to, and positive engagement with, death, dying and bereavement, seeking to establish end-of-life issues and awareness of mortality as normal ingredients of everyday discourse.
We are aware of funeral directors who have been attracted to the scheme, but have then been deterred by the risks involved. Sure, if a volunteer makes off with an elderly widow’s jewellery the potential for reputational damage is immense.
Risk cannot be eliminated but it can be managed. In order to do that you have to build safeguards into your policies and procedures. A volunteering enterprise needs a well-designed structure and comprehensive systems of working. This is not something you can do from a few doodles on the back of an envelope while watching Corrie. It is a seriously meaty and specialised task best undertaken by an expert. It costs money.
Well, we’ve done it. We have put together a suite of 18 essential policy and information documents which a funeral director can use as a blueprint for their own volunteering enterprise. They have been double-checked and edited by a human resources consultant. They meet all current legislative requirements.
The scheme is presently being piloted by a funeral director. This will enable us to iron out some bugs. It is not a one-size-fits-all scheme. It is adaptable to local circumstances and the vision of the funeral director or consumer advocacy group running it.
We shall shortly be making it available for anyone who wants it. We’ll throw in consultancy and support, and we’ve established a networking facility for sharing best practice.
If you’re interested, drop us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.