The Kirkwood are working hard to get out into their local communities, educating people about hospice care. Find out how they're widening access to hospice care for everyone.

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The need to improve access to care


It’s widely accepted that only 1 in 4 people are able access hospice and end of life care when they need it. To change that, the UK’s hospices are taking huge leaps forward with their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives. 

The Kirkwood is just one of them. Based in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, they’ve been working hard to get out into their local communities, growing relationships, and educating people about hospice care. It’s all aimed at widening access to hospice care – making sure that everyone who needs it can get it. 

We find out what The Kirkwood are up to from their Programme Development Manager, Kathryn Box, and Fundraising Manager, Altaf Hussain

“We still have a lot to learn,” says Kathryn – acknowledging that like many hospices, The Kirkwood are early on in their plans – “but we’re passionate about getting it right.”

Local diversity


The communities of the Kirklees area represents a wide variety of different cultural backgrounds and faiths. So, it’s important to The Kirkwood that members of all underserved communities, and any community, group or individual currently at risk of missing out on the end of life care they deserve, know that they are welcome there. 

Their new programme is helping them connect with those local communities in ways that previously they wouldn’t have. It goes hand in hand with their focus on delivering person-centred care – finding out what’s important to the person, and then how The Kirkwood can support them in whatever way is right for them.

Awareness and understanding


The awareness and understanding of people with different faiths is presented in many forms at The Kirkwood.

The hospice provides a quiet room for people of all faiths, in addition to prayer mats. The hospice’s catering team can provide for any dietary requirements, including halal diets. The Kirkwood say that they have supported people in the past to provide care after death as guided by the family and what their needs are. And they’re keen to support the families of their patients by giving them family rooms, and letting them know that they can visit any time. 

“Kirklees has a very diverse area ” says Kathryn, “and we believe that everybody – no matter where they’re living or where they’re from, their background, cultural beliefs – deserves access to the very best care. And we know that that will be different for different people.”

“The one key objective that brings all faiths together, including the Islamic faith, is being compassionate and supportive to the ill and vulnerable”, adds Altaf. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be, but we’ve made a start in engaging with the Muslim community…and by putting together a plan to engage with them.”

Altaf says that The Kirkwood believe in representing the entire community that they serve, this includes working with people from different faiths and respecting the views of those who choose not to follow any faith: “it’s about interfaith dialogue – if we’re going to be celebrating Ramadan, then we should also be celebrating Christmas, and Diwali…and all faiths’ celebrations.”

The community outreach work has been in the planning for many months, and The Kirkwood’s leadership team asked Altaf to help increase their engagement with their Muslim communities: 

“I grew up there, I worked with them, I’ve lived in West Yorkshire for the last ten years. I know how the processes and systems work when you're dealing with taboo topics such as hospice care.”

The Kirkwood are engaging their local Muslim communities to change the perception of hospice care

The Kirkwood are working with a range of community organisations to explore how they can truly support people, and make sure that they’re reaching the right audiences to share perception-changing information.

The Ramadan campaign


It’s these traditionally taboo topics that has inspired The Kirkwood’s Ramadan ‘campaign’, which is open to the entire interfaith community – and something that Altaf says is just the start of their engagement process. “It’s saying ‘Welcoming Ramadan with The Kirkwood’ ” adds Altaf, “and we’ve got the local Bishop, the vicar, people from different faiths, people who are coming in just to see some of the work that we do as an organisation.”

The campaign, and engagement with it by community faith leaders, is important to The Kirkwood. It’s a chance for them to showcase the work they’ve delivered, along with its impact – and a chance to get their thoughts and ideas on the services they provide. It’s hoped that the buy-in from the communities on tailored services for them will help get the best impact.

“The Ramadan campaign is split up into three parts” adds Altaf. “We had internal comms which we gave to our staff across the organisation. Then we have an external part – press releases, radio and TV. Finally, the messages that they share with the Muslim community about the services they provide – it’s all trying to change perceptions of what hospice care is.”

Altaf, left, bringing The Kirkwood's Ramadan campaign to TV
Altaf (L) bringing the Ramadan campaign to TV

Changing times, changing needs


Kathryn explains that, as times change, so do the needs of families when a relative is entering the end of their life:

“We are learning that times are changing within the Muslim community. In times gone by, care for sick relatives would have been provided by the family. But the younger generation are increasingly seeing that, to help balance this with work and life commitments, the right support, working alongside the family and not taking away that responsibility, can be a vital part of ensuring their loved ones have the best chance of being cared for in their own home at the end of life.”

According to Altaf, out of the 450,000 people living in the Kirklees area, 26.4% identify as non white – but a much lower proportion are actually seen by The Kirkwood: “it means that there’s a huge pocket of people who either don’t know about our services and don’t use them, and we are working to change that.

Taboos and end of life care


Historically, one of the barriers to this engagement is that end of life care not provided by the person’s family is a topic seen as taboo in the community. It’s a barrier that The Kirkwood is breaking down by aiming to be right at the community’s heart, says Altaf:

“We want to be at round table discussions where decisions are made around hospice care and ethnic minorities, and end of life palliative care from the Islamic perspective…we want to be involved in those discussions and build trust with that community. We also want to show families that we work alongside them without taking away their responsibly, working with their wishes and aspirations for their loved one.

Kathryn explains that upscaling and educating the local workforce about multi-faith communities is also a key part of The Kirkwood’s aims too. So, along with local faith leaders, they’ve developed ‘culture kits’ for their staff: 

“We’re looking at the diversity of our workforce and their cultural backgrounds. Our clinical teams tell us that these culture kits have helped them to really understand the background of lots of different faiths and to look again at how we might be very mindful of the things that are important within the different faiths of our patients.”

Changing perceptions


‘Changing perceptions’ is a common thread across hospices around the UK – and it’s people like Kathryn and Altaf who are helping lead the charge for The Kirkwood. They’re trying to change long-standing, deeply -embedded community perceptions about what a hospice is, and what it does:

“There is that misconception that we are just a building where people come with cancer at the end of life and die. But actually we provide support from diagnosis for a range of life-limiting illnesses for everybody: in the community, in the building at Dalton, in people's own homes. So, we are working really hard to try and change that perception.”

It was to help change that perception – that the hospice is just a building – that the organisation removed the word ‘hospice’ from their name: “it’s allowed us to have conversations, that it's a movement, it encompasses lots of different things…that we’re not just a building.”

Part of the engagement work that The Kirkwood deliver is in the form of their champions

Part of the engagement work that The Kirkwood deliver is in the form of their ‘champions’, who work across a range of different setting and help educate people in their communities about the hospice and their services. The champions advocate for The Kirkwood in places and cultures which ordinarily the organisation would find it hard to reach.

Community champions


In time, Kathryn says, their aim is to start working more with faith leaders to become champions themselves. The trust their communities have in them means that they are well placed to help spread awareness about what The Kirkwood does, and ultimately help everyone access the end of life care they deserve.

But the promotion and outreach isn’t just hyperlocal, it’s going national too. Altaf explains: “We’ve just been on the Islam channel in London – it was one of their talk shows and was literally to do with what hospice care is, what hospices do, and how they deliver the care. It’s the most watched Muslim TV channel in the UK!”

'You've got to start somewhere'


It’s heartwarming to hear hospice staff like Altaf and Kathryn talk passionately about their work, and how it’s helping The Kirkwood achieve its vision. 

Altaf adds some final thoughts: “as Kathryn said, the hospice isn’t a place where people go for the end of their life, to die. It's more than that. It's really about supporting them and their families through any life-limiting illness, whether it's support for dementia or a long-standing issue that they've got that needs managing.

“Changing people’s perceptions is difficult, but you've got to start somewhere. I think we've made incredible steps in the right direction to be in a position where we're engaging with key communities within the Kirklees area.

“We want to make sure that people know that we're here to support them in the way that's right for them. Everybody should have access to the best care – that has no boundaries or limits.”