While all of us struggle to adapt to the changes we face in our ‘new normal’ as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, many people are also dealing with the loss of a loved one and learning to cope with their grief alone, socially distanced from those around them.
Over the last year, BCP Council has taken an innovative approach towards helping residents in mourning through the introduction of a bereavement support group that uses nature as a form of therapy.
The weekly support group – which has been running since summer 2019 at the Hengistbury Head Nature Reserve and at Bournemouth’s North Cemetery – encourages attendees to connect with the environment and other people by participating in a range of natural craft activities in a friendly, informal setting.
In the current climate the group has converted to online support, with virtual ‘Wellness Wednesday’ sessions involving activities such as growing plants; taking part in ‘wildlife bingo’; and photographing garden wildlife. A virtual group has the added benefit of reaching individuals who would not normally attend, but the official programme is anticipated to resume when it is safe to do so.
As well as promoting mental health and wellbeing amongst the participants, the group also supports other bereaved individuals who visit our cemeteries by enhancing the environment in which they find themselves, creating and introducing decorations and wildlife-encouraging habitats such as bird boxes and bug hotels. Visitor consultations prior to Covid-19 had established that cemeteries are an important haven for wildlife and that its presence could be of significant benefit to visitors.
Following successful funding bids, Bournemouth’s North Cemetery and Crematorium has also benefitted from bird feeders and visitor bags that contain wildlife ID guides, allowing mourners to experience their visit to their loved one’s graveside in a different light.
In addition to natural crafts, the bereavement support group’s activities have included plant life drawings, rock painting, wildlife surveys, gardening, bird watching, and communicating. One participant commented: “I feel loads better, it’s just magical and healing and puts things in perspective; you can be distracted by what's around you rather than what’s in your head.”
With the mantra of the group being to ‘connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give’, these Council-run sessions, whether online or in person, are creating a positive alternative experience to the grieving process.
Councillor Felicity Rice, Portfolio Holder for Environment and Climate Change, commented:
‘’This idea is great. It’s really inspiring to see this project being offered to our residents. Coming from a medical background, talking about death is always difficult and providing different ways of helping that conversation to happen is so beneficial in so many different ways.
"Our cemeteries have the ability to be natural havens for wildlife, and to be able to really contribute to this through this project is inspiring in the amount of benefit it can bring to our residents and wildlife.
“We look forward to seeing how this project develops and how residents’ views on cemeteries can help to inform and shape future services.”
Those interested in finding out more about joining the bereavement support group should email email@example.com for details.