Tina Swani, Chief Executive of Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice reflects on the recent Love your Local Hospice campaign and why community engagement is the key…

2016 is already shaping up to be another year of collaboration for Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice.

So, when we were presented with the opportunity to collaborate with 15 other local hospices across the West Midlands to raise awareness and dispel myths around Hospice care, we were delighted. Although individually we are all different, we all share the same challenges and rewards in providing palliative care.

Joining forces for the ‘Love your Local Hospice’ campaign can only benefit us all in our primary aim; to raise awareness of the varied services hospices have to offer the local community and, cutting to the chase, that we are not scary places where people go to die! At Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice we have an inpatient unit with a family centre where relatives can stay, but also offer day hospice, care in patients’ homes, support and bereavement counselling for families and carers, and a very active education and research programme which sits at the heart of all we do.

The campaign launched on Valentine’s Day with our first ever television advert on ITV which ran for 10 days (and with continue to run for another two weeks on the ITV digital hub). It was a brilliant opportunity and provided a platform to start the conversations. Working collaboratively with the other 15 hospices meant we could really make some noise through an array of social media and PR channels.

Each Hospice also ran individual and innovative awareness activities with one mutual aim - raising awareness. Our own Hospice took to the streets and railway stations of Birmingham City Centre handing out hospice branded Love Hearts to morning commuters to encourage them to spread the love and ‘tweet their sweet’. The stunt received great interaction on social media and aroused curiosity as commuters stopped to ask questions to find out more. A charity fashion show in our Dorridge Boutique drew in new shoppers as another way that supporters could love their local hospice.

So what else have we been doing to strengthen collaboration within the community?

We started 2016 with our record-breaking ‘Treecycling’ initiative, part of our ‘Care at Christmas’ campaign series. It was great to experience the community spirit towards the initiative, from the local companies volunteering to collect the Christmas trees, to the people of Birmingham spreading the word through social media – the support really was phenomenal. The Care at Christmas campaign also brought home the fact that there is still a lack of awareness of hospice care and our reliance on fundraising. Many people were unaware that it costs £8 million each year to run Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice and that we truly do rely on the generosity of our supporters.

A February 2016 workshop to embrace “Hospice Care for All” engaged our Compassionate Communities representatives and a wide range of diverse community and BME groups to continue to raise awareness and shape our services in line with what communities want.

The ‘Love your Local Hospice’ campaign has been another incredible building block to strengthen collaboration, to educate and reach out to our local communities. More significantly, it demonstrates the benefit of a unified effort across our 16 hospices. Without the generous support of local people we couldn’t offer the free end of life care and support for patients and their families 24/7. We are here for them whenever they need us, and increasingly wherever they need us.

Although individually we are all different, we all share the same challenges and rewards in providing palliative care.

Whilst the television campaign is now over it has demonstrated that a collective voice is stronger than one. I look forward to continued cohesive effort and influence to spread the word and encourage all of our communities and partner organisations to love their local hospice.

It’s no coincidence that the theme of our 4-year plan is “Hospice Care for All” within which collaboration and partnerships are central to ensuring patients, families and carers come first.