Friends of the Bereaved (FoB) is an as-yet untested community volunteering project designed by the GFG and offered to you to adopt for your local community.
The purpose of the scheme is to meet the short- and medium-term practical problems confronting bereaved people in the aftermath of a death if those needs are not presently being met by any other agency.
A Friends of the Bereaved group is inspired, above all, by this statement: The death of one of us touches all of us.
A Friends of the Bereaved group will promote community engagement and revive, 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 ever.
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What do Friends of the Bereaved do?
Friends of the Bereaved (FoB) is a community volunteering project designed to meet the short- and medium-term practical problems confronting bereaved people in the aftermath of a death if those needs are not presently being met by any other agency.
Any FoB project will be inspired, above all, by this statement: The death of one of us touches all of us.
A FoB will promote community engagement and revive, 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.
In this way, a FoB promotes community engagement.
What needs does a FoB serve?
Some of the particular needs addressed by a FoB are identified in the Case Studies will be identified as the scheme evolves in any particular locality.
The goal of a FoB
In addressing the needs above a FoB seeks to enable bereaved people to live independently as soon as possible.
In the event of failing to enable a bereaved person to achieve independence, a FoB will step back and refer the bereaved person to other agencies – eg social services or, in the case of complicated grief, appropriate specialist grief counselling.
A FoB will never foster dependency.
It is unlikely that a FoB will address the needs of children because their needs are likely to be emotional, not practical and, therefore, the province of either family members or bereavement experts.
Who needs you?
In order to determine whether the needs of bereaved people are already being met in this practical way, those wishing to establish a FoB should liaise with and consult other local volunteering organisations and charities before proceeding.
If a FoB is established it ought, as a matter of good policy and practice, to establish partnerships with local charities and volunteering organisations.
What’s in it for the volunteers?
For any altruistic enterprise to be attractive to its stakeholders it must appeal to the self-interest of all those involved in it.
The appeal to bereaved people is obvious. In the case of volunteers, it is in their interest to help others because, in addition to the satisfaction they will gain from altruistic activity, they may, in time, need other community members to help people closest to them – their spouse or partner, for example.
All not some
A FoB will draw volunteers from the entire community without regard to age, sex, faith or lifestyle.
It will not serve exclusively the needs of ‘people like us’. A FoB will do well to establish good relations with all faith groups in the community because faith groups hold funerals.
From these faith groups a FoB is likely to recruit excellent volunteers. In its work, of course, a FoB is belief-neutral and must never be used as a vehicle for proselytising.
A FoB has a mission of care to all bereaved people.
Emotional support no, comfort and companionship yes.
It is not the purpose of a FoB to offer emotional support; there are others who do this specialised work.
But an incidental – it must be incidental – and very valuable aspect of the work of a FoB will be the emotional comfort it affords a bereaved person.
An educational remit
Any FoB is encouraged to take upon itself an educational remit in order to promote healthy attitudes towards, and positive engagement with, death, dying and bereavement.
Undertakers are specialists whose professional life centres exclusively on the care of the dead.
Funeral homes are no-go except when needed. As a consequence, the work of undertakers is swathed in mystery and misconception, and funeral homes are the stuff of dread and giggles. Death once happened in the community and was dealt with by community members.
Today, the dead, the bereaved and those who serve them have been marginalised. Death has become a taboo.
By joining up the specialist care of the bereaved offered by a funeral home to the non–specialist care of the bereaved offered by a FoB, volunteers can transform negative perceptions and help their funeral home to become more integrated with its community – more normal.
By becoming familiar with the way undertakers operate, a FoB may undertake a consumer advocacy role, guiding community members to funeral homes which will look after them best and requiring high standards of their local undertakers, whose commercial activity will be sensitive to such scrutiny.
A FoB can thereby form a human and caring interface between the funeral home and the community, bringing the bereaved and funeral professionals into the social mainstream, and reinforcing the naturalness and normality of death.
Assessing and managing risk
Before undertaking a FoB scheme its founders should conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis.
There is a rich complexity of risk attached to such a scheme and, with that, the potential for fatal reputational damage if a volunteer misbehaves.
Before proceeding, ask yourself: what is the worst that could happen? Can this be prevented?
It is, of course, impossible to eliminate all risks incurred by establishing a FoB.
The purpose of the policies to enable you to manage risk in the most effective way possible.
When the local TV station rings to ask you how you could possibly have allowed something awful to have happened, you must be able to demonstrate that you took every reasonable precaution.
When things go wrong, you need the best possible mitigation.
Conduct risk assessments
For every role played by your volunteers you would be advised to conduct a risk assessment for 1) the proper management of risk and also 2) the purpose of demonstrating that potential problems were anticipated and steps taken to reduce risk.
A risk assessment using this template is recommended:
Look for the hazards.
Decide who might be harmed, and for each hazard, evaluate the chance, big or small, of harm actually being done and decide whether existing precautions are adequate or whether more should be done.
Record the significant findings of risk assessment, such as the main risks and the measures you have taken to deal with the.
Review your assessment from time to time, and revise if necessary.
Do volunteers need DBS checks?
Yes. The DBS say that volunteers who from time to time offer ‘counsel and services’ to ‘vulnerable adults’ are eligible. In all likelihood, this would cover all volunteers because, while not all service users will be vulnerable adults, some service users will have children and, while those children will not be service users, volunteers may well come into contact with them.
Furthermore, if a FoB is to undertake an educational role, volunteers may well be called in to talk to school students.
The definition of a vulnerable adult is:
A vulnerable adult is a person aged 18 years or over who may be unable to take care of themselves; protect themselves from harm; or prevent themselves from being exploited.
An adult may be vulnerable because they:
Have a physical disability
Have learning difficulties.
Have mental health problems.
Are old, frail or ill.
Are sometimes unable to take care of themselves or protect themselves without help.
A person may also be vulnerable because of a temporary illness or difficulty.
A vulnerable adult may have difficulty in making their wishes and feelings known and this may make them vulnerable to abuse. It may also mean that they are not able to make their own decisions or choices.
If you want to make further checks for information or peace of mind, contact the DBS here: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone their helpline here: 0870 90 90 811.
If you want to apply for DBS checks for volunteers you will have to use an umbrella body to forward your application.
Find your nearest DBS umbrella body here.
What will it cost?
There are cost implications of setting up a FoB group.
Will the FoB pay volunteers’ travel expenses?
Will the FoB purchase certain items of equipment or rely on volunteers to use their own?
How will the FoB show its appreciation of its volunteers? How will the FoB raise funds?
Do we need a constitution?
A good idea. Find out more here.
While you’re at it, it’s well worth joining the NCVO for advice and support.
Any FoB will evolve according to the needs of its service users and the particular nature of its locality in terms of demographics, traditions and culture. The best advice, therefore, is probably to:
Start informally and develop more formal and structured approaches as you go.
Be aware that people tend to get involved gradually, so don’t expect too much, too soon.
Target people you know who are, or who are likely to be, interested.
Make involvement as easy and enjoyable as possible.
The world’s first-ever FoB was born on television in Alex Polizzi’s show, The Fixer.
The Good Funeral Guide was a consultant to the programme’s researchers and proposed that the undertaker whom Alex was trying to turn around would score a hit by establishing a FoB.
The researchers loved the idea,
Alex was lukewarm and the undertaker and his sons hated it.
On a rainy day they set out into the community with a big blackboard and plenty of reluctance under orders to recruit volunteers.
They reckoned it would bellyflop.
But the public loved it. Huge success!
It is no longer available on YouTube but information about the programme can be viewed here.
Probably the best way to see how a FoB works is through fictitious case studies.
If these case studies seem plausible, then a FoB enterprise would seem to be both credible and desirable.
Outlines and general principles:
The range of tasks undertaken by volunteers comprises:
Routine, non-specialist, practical tasks which support day-to-day living of the client.
Volunteers will never support a client in responding to a contingency which falls within a specialist competency – eg, a leaky tap, a broken gutter, a fallen fence – nor will a volunteer recommend the services of a particular tradesperson.
Volunteers will never seek to impose their own values on a client or offer advice on any matter which could involve the client in financial loss, injury to health or emotional distress.
Routine, non-specialist tasks might include:
Driving a client to appointments.
Routine ‘getting-back-on-top’ housekeeping tasks – eg, vacuuming, washing, etc.
Tasks related to the organisation of a funeral – eg, telephoning friends and relatives and informing them of the event of the death, and the time and place of the funeral.
Cooking and feeding.
Practical support with specific life skills which were the exclusive preserve of the one who has died
Lessons in basic cookery everyday financial management (paying the bills).
A volunteer would never offer speculative investment advice nor seek access to computer passwords.
In all conversations about money matters a third person, nominated if at all possible by the bereaved person, will be present.
Norah Baines died at home from cancer at the age of 76. She had been married to Ron for 54 years. Her death happened faster than expected. Their only daughter, Holly, was working abroad as a nanny.
Ron called the FoB. When they arrived, they saw that the events of the past few days had caught up with him. He was exhausted and hadn’t eaten.
Ron and Norah had always been a close couple.
Their friends in the village were mostly their own age and not very mobile.
Ron and Norah hadn’t felt they had much in common with their, mostly, much younger immediate neighbours.
Always cheery when they were out, they had nevertheless tended to keep themselves to themselves.
But they were known and respected and liked.
In order to tide Ron over the next 24 hours a FoB volunteer came in to help him tidy up and make him a decent meal.
The following day, another volunteer came to drive him to the registrar to register Norah’s death.
Further short term help was found: one volunteer came in for an afternoon and rang everyone in Ron and Norah’s address book to tell them of Norah’s death (Ron couldn’t face endlessly repeating the news).
By the time Holly arrived four days later someone had even popped in to tidy up the garden, which had been neglected during Norah’s illness.
Ron will be supported in the coming weeks and months.
Norah had always done the cooking and washing.
A FoB volunteer is going to give Ron cookery lessons over the next few weeks so that he can learn to make himself basic, nourishing meals.
We hope that Ron is going to be able, slowly but surely, to go on living independently without his Norah.
Sarah is a fiercely independent lady brought up in the hard school of stoical self-reliance.
She refused any offer of help from the FoB volunteers at first, but we were able to help her out as best we could.
Roger Parkin, a volunteer, drove her to the registrar.
As he dropped her off he noticed that the lawn needed mowing – and she didn’t resist too hard when he suggested doing it because, as she said, she had so many other things to do.
While he was there he fixed a hinge on the garden gate.
She made him a cup of tea and they chatted about her husband, Richard.
It seemed to do her good to talk.
She didn’t need us after that – but she knew we were there for her.
The death of Michelle’s husband Steve was traumatic enough (car accident) but when she came in to arrange the funeral she became very panicky about money.
It turned out that Steve had handled the bank account, bills, insurance policies, etc and she simply didn’t know what to do or even where to start.
We fixed her up with our very nice Mr Baines, who used to be headteacher of the local middle school.
He was able to help her out, show her how and offer her a lot of reassurance. For about 6-8 weeks after the funeral he went to see her once or twice a week to make sure she was coping with her daily money management.
She’s fine, now, and even says she would like to help people like her in the same situation.
At all times, a close friend of Michelle was present in order to minimise the risk of Mr Baines making off with her money – not that he ever would! But we believe it’s vital to manage risk in a proactive and perhaps seemingly overactive way rather than expose ourselves to suspicion – you know how people talk.
In any case, Michelle’s friend could often remember things that Mr Baines had told Michelle, which she had forgotten, so it turned out to be more efficient, too.
Like a lot of men of his generation, Henry’s loss of his wife of 43 years left him without visible means of feeding himself.
In short, Maggie had always done the cooking,
Bert could just about make himself a cup of tea.
Our FoB cooking specialist, Mary Parkin, gave Henry a series of cookery lessons over a period of 12 weeks. She noted the recipes that Henry especially enjoyed, so she put them together into a booklet which she printed off from her computer.
In the course of these lessons, Bert learned to create a shopping list and to buy everything he wanted for the week in one shop.
This was something he also had to learn, and he did so in the company of Brian Webster, who ran him down to Tesco on a Friday afternoon, showed him where things were, showed him how to identify value brands – and resist offers!
Henry says he still misses Maggie’s cooking, especially her baking, but there’s no mistaking his pride in his achievement.
It’s given him a feeling of control which we feel has gone a long way to reducing his acute sense of loss.
Here at the Darley Dale FoB we have had our educational outreach project running for just six months.
Last Thursday we held a showing of the film Departures.
We have held 2 end-of-life planning events and find that people are far less suspicious of us than if we were a bunch of funeral directors, IFAs and local solicitors.
We have joined forces with the local credit union to enable people to save for their funeral.
Once they have lodged the funds they get a voucher which their executor can use to buy a funeral anywhere they wish — and keep the change. It’s such a simple idea you wonder why the commercial funeral planners never thought of it.
We have begun to contribute to the PSHE syllabus in our local comprehensive school with a series of lessons based on the film Beyond Goodbye: http://beyondgoodbye.co.uk/
Our experience is that neighbours, ie community members, relish the opportunity to support the bereaved when we ask them to roll up their sleeves and do stuff for them.
Makes a change from crossing the street, doesn’t it?
We find that the bereaved can help themselves a lot by getting stuck in as best they can, too.
We reckon that our FoB has created a very dynamic, 21st century congregation.
Our funeral director, Mike, has been brilliant.
He’s given us the use of a small room which we are going to convert into a drop-in resource centre where people can come off the street to read and think, and where we can hold small meetings and consultations.
Incidentally, Mike says all this has made a difference to the way people greet him when he’s out and about.
I like to say to him, “Mike, together we’re bringing death to life”!
If you’d like to explore the possibility of setting up a Friends of the Bereaved group, here are some documents you will find useful. They have been checked by a senior human resources consultant but will need to be adapted to your circumstances and then checked again so that they meet all legal requirements and enable you to manage risk as effectively as you can.
If you go ahead, please let us know and tell us how you get on. We’ll put you in touch with any other FoBs out there.
Download and read: Volunteering policy and procedure