Staff Spotlight on Rebecca Richardson, Family Support Worker
The tireless work of our family support workers has never been more paramount than during the last year. Families dealing with demanding caring roles, life-limiting illness and bereavement also having to contend with the isolation caused by Covid.
Keeping in touch has been a challenging task for Rebecca Richardson and her colleagues. But, out of the pressures brought by the pandemic, they have seen the indomitable human spirit emerge. Groups who used to meet face to face started to reach out to each other in other ways. Many call each other, some have set up WhatsApp groups and others meet in pairs for walks as part of their daily exercise. Some met in small groups of 6 when that was allowed.
Before Covid, our family support workers were running three Bereavement Cuppas, weekly at the Glentworth Ex-Service Club in Dartford and at our hospice in Northfleet, and monthly in Swanley.
Rebecca said: “They met for support, to have a cup of tea and a chat, to make new friends who could understand what they were going through and to support each other through a very difficult period in their lives. Supporting them while they readjust to life without their loved ones is a real privilege. Working with and supporting those bereaved is such a rewarding part of my job.”
The pandemic put a sudden stop to these get-togethers last spring and since then Rebecca, fellow family support worker Terrie May and a team of volunteers have been regularly phoning group members and those more recently bereaved to offer support, listen and talk about how they are managing life during the restrictions the Covid pandemic put on them.
Rebecca said: “We knew they were already dealing with a very difficult period in their lives and that the isolation of the pandemic could make things so much more difficult for them.
“It’s great to know that many from the Dartford and Northfleet bereavement group set up WhatsApp groups between themselves, where they text each other to say, ‘good morning’ and ‘hope you are having a good day’. This contact is so important for people on their own, especially if they are grieving.” This has helped many of them through the last year.
Bereavement group support meetings were allowed, so we trialled a get-together at the hospice the Sunday between Christmas and New Year. The response was positive, so we have run bookable sessions on the last Sunday of each month since then. These have been well attended and have offered important face to face support for many.
Our regular bereavement Cuppas will be starting again early June in Dartford and Northfleet and in Swanley after the 21st of June.
“As more have had their vaccinations, they are becoming more confident about the idea of socialising again,” Many are saying they can’t wait to get back to the Cuppas when they feel safe to do so” said Rebecca.
Before Covid, she and Linda Rush, a volunteer also set up a successful twice-monthly walk and talk group for bereaved family members in Gravesend, run by Linda and other volunteers. Some members have met in pairs for their daily exercise and were supported with a regular calls by a volunteer. Rebecca hopes that once restrictions are lifted, ellenor will be able to set up more of these groups.
Support for carers
Our Carers Cuppa held fortnightly on a Saturday morning at the hospice had been on hold during the pandemic, but Rebecca has been amazed by the support network members have set up.
She said: “Sue Gray, a long-term volunteer, has been a huge help, making regular calls to members of the group, they were all meeting for a Messenger video call once a fortnight. They have all managed really well.” The carers Cuppa is now meeting back fortnightly at the Hospice for face to face Cuppas, which is great. Due to restrictions still in place, this is a bookable session.
It was Rebecca’s own role as a carer for her father that inspired her to join the hospice.
She said: “I used to work with children at Southampton General Hospital, but in 2012 I took a sabbatical to go to Wales and look after my Dad and support my mum.”
Following her father’s death at home, Rebecca moved to Kent and became a healthcare assistant here, later moving into her current role.
She said: “Before being a carer for my Dad I would have said absolutely ‘no’ to a job in palliative care. Looking after him was a real-life changer for me. Being able to support people and knowing you have made a difference during the most difficult time of their lives is so rewarding.”
A friend in need
Our befriending face to face service where volunteer befrienders visit patients, carers and the bereaved in their homes, was put on hold and support was given by phone and video calls.
Our face-to-face support is opening up but we will continue to also offer support calls as part of our ongoing befriender support.
As well as the difficulties faced by our patients and carers, Rebecca is very aware of the pressures our volunteers are under.
“Without them we wouldn’t be able to offer the services we do, we have a monthly Zoom call and I have been keeping in regular contact with them to make sure they are coping okay,” she said.
“As well as dealing with their own hardships and tragedies brought about by Covid, they have continued to reach out and offer support to others.
“The volunteers have been amazing and I’m so grateful to them. They give their time to support us and our patients, they work as hard as we do. They all need to know how valued they are.”