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Brighton & Sussex Medical School

Opening up conversations about dying and death

BSMS > About BSMS > News > 2019 > Opening up conversations about dying and death

Opening up conversations about dying and death

Staff from Sussex Health Outcomes Research and Education in Cancer (SHORE-C) at BSMS have taken part in a new campaign, the Departure Lounge, inside Lewisham shopping centre, London. The lounge opened to the public on 7 May with the aim of making death a more acceptable topic of conversation.

The Departure Lounge is the Academy of Medical Sciences' most ambitious public engagement project to date. It is an interactive exhibition space within a Lewisham shopping centre, designed for people to explore personal stories, discover practical advice and consider some of the big questions we all have about death and dying. It has been supported by the Health Foundation, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Wellcome Trust.

As an AcMedSci Fellow, SHORE-C's Director, Professor Dame Lesley Fallowfield, has been instrumental in the Academy's 2019 focus on engaging the public with the topic of death and dying which, with cultural and media interest, is in-line with other national initiatives and was identified by the Academy's own horizon scanning activities.

SHORE-C colleagues Rachel Starkings and Dr Sue Catt were selected to be 'guides' for the project. Guides all have backgrounds connected to the end of life theme be that academic, clinical, or voluntary, thus providing diverse perspectives for visitors. Their role is to listen and encourage conversations about death and dying. This included answering questions, sign-posting the public toward helpful information/resources and discussions about their research. Three experienced actors also play 'hosts', welcoming customers and enabling visitor circulation. Sue and Rachel attended an intensive training day before each spending two days in the space.

Visitors were able to document and share their experiences around death by adding them to an evolving gallery wall for others to view. There was an option to contribute responses to key research questions through a brief interview with a guide and leaving feedback about the project/space is welcomed via mounted iPads. Focus groups were also held, using the space to gather peoples' opinions which, combined with the interviews, will be used to feed into future policy work in this area, ensuring it has been shaped by the views of the public.

Commenting on her involvement, Sue reflected: "The project has allowed me to give something back and has provided an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Having open dialogue in a London shopping centre over the course of a day with an ebb and flow of lots of different people, most of whom hadn't anticipated the encounter, has been very different to my everyday research job. Most of the public were positive, the hosts held the show together, fellow guides have become future contacts and the gallery wall holds an array of personal experiences."

Rachel also felt her time in the lounge was positive and engaging. She said: "It was a real privilege to meet so many diverse people all bringing their own stories into the space. Some of the most meaningful impressions for me didn't stem from the longest or most in-depth conversations, but instead were the moments when someone took the first step in talking about death."

The Lewisham installation opened on 9 May to coincide with Dying Matters Awareness Week 2019. Follow-up opportunities are planned in the form of smaller local pop-up events across the country, and SHORE-C is interested in bringing this to Brighton. Find out more about the Departure Lounge here >