For more than 30 years, a dedicated team of Norfolk volunteers has provided an empathic ear to those struggling following the death of a loved one.

But now, despite helping hundreds navigate their way through grief, the Priscilla Bacon Bereavement Support Volunteers service has disbanded.

Eastern Daily Press: A nurse helps a patient at Priscilla Bacon Lodge. Photo: Priscilla Bacon HospiceA nurse helps a patient at Priscilla Bacon Lodge. Photo: Priscilla Bacon Hospice (Image: Priscilla Bacon Hospice)

The news comes following a review of the provision of both psychological and bereavement services by the Palliative and End of Life Collaborative.

A member of the collaborative, the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust (NCH&C), worked with stakeholders across the Norfolk and Waveney health and care system to review its services.

Part of NCH&C's work includes providing care at the Priscilla Bacon Lodge hospice in Norwich for those who have complex palliative care needs.

And while historically the end-of-life care at Priscilla Bacon Lodge has provided support both before and after a death - with counselling offered following a bereavement - the focus will now be on staff putting efforts into offering all support during the palliative stage.

A spokesperson from Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System said: “Existing volunteers have been asked to join a team of Palliative Support Volunteers to refocus their skills to support this new venture.

"In summary, NCH&C will be focussing on working with patients and families in the palliative phase, working in a more integrated way with our colleagues in the Specialist Palliative Care team and in the wider community.

“This is so that we can offer a more responsive service to patients and families and to colleagues working with them.”

As of April 1, new referrals for the bereavement support service were stopped. Instead, it was agreed that NCH&C would refer the bereaved to a new service. For those who were already accessing the pathway, bereavement support will continue to be provided to them for the next three months.

Eastern Daily Press: An artist's impression of the new Priscilla Bacon HospiceAn artist's impression of the new Priscilla Bacon Hospice (Image: Priscilla Bacon Hospice)

The bereavement service offered now is comprised of a new website, launched by Norfolk County Council, that provides information about grief and loss. It also signposts individuals to other resources if needed and includes contact details for mental ill-health support project REST Norfolk and Samaritans.

The Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System spokesperson added: "We want to emphasise that our volunteers who work with the bereaved are hugely valued. Volunteers have delivered bereavement support for over 30 years at Priscilla Bacon Lodge and have been a very important part of the bereavement service.

"As part of the new work, we will be developing a new palliative volunteer role. We recognise the value of providing a supportive space for patients and relatives. There are other models of this work being developed across the country and so we will be looking to this to understand how our service will develop.

"We would very much welcome our existing volunteers moving to this area of practice and hope that many of them will do."

'You will be missed' - A personal tribute by Derek James

EDP columnist and former Sheriff of Norwich, Derek James, pays a personal tribute to the work of the Priscilla Bacon Bereavement Support Volunteers.

In 1962, when I was 13, a police officer knocked on our front door and told me to put the kettle on as my dad had just died.

My mother was inconsolable, so much so that she could not attend the funeral. I can remember walking behind my father’s coffin flanked by an aunt and uncle I hardly knew.

As an only child with few friends, I returned to boarding school and tried to get on with the rest of my life.

Looking back I cannot remember my mother and I talking much about my father as she found it too upsetting.

I do recall that one day I noticed my father’s clothes put out for the dustmen and I removed one of his jumpers to remind me of him. I kept it under my bed.

Eastern Daily Press: Journalist Derek JamesJournalist Derek James (Image: Archant Library)

The reason for me sharing my memories with you is because I have heard the valuable work of the Priscilla Bacon Bereavement Support Volunteers has ended.

During the past 30 years, the trained volunteers have helped so many people by sharing their grief and helping them to feel less alone, more confident and hopeful for the future.

The skilled team of compassionate, empathetic volunteers has worked tirelessly to support the people of Norfolk who have lost a loved one.

The volunteers have supported and listened to people about how lonely they felt, their anxieties about what their future might hold - and how they would cope with all the burdens of 21st-century life.

They visited the bereaved in their own homes and, during Covid, talked to them on the telephone making a real difference to people’s lives by just listening.

In time people could feel more hopeful about the future and their memories became less painful, bringing smiles rather than tears.

Death affects people in so many different ways. No two experiences are the same. There is no time limit on grief.

When I was young this kind of service was not available. It was more a case of “Just get on with it. Time heals. These things happen.”

Thank you Priscilla Bacon Bereavement Support Volunteers, you will be missed.

A new hospice for Norfolk

The Priscilla Bacon Norfolk Hospice Care charity was set up to fundraise for and build a new hospice on an eight-acre site next to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

This will replace the current facility on Unthank Road, near the city centre.

The fundraising campaign to build the new Priscilla Bacon Lodge was launched in February 2019 and is backed by the EDP and over £10m of the £12.5m needed has been raised.

Once built, the new facility will have the capacity for 24 inpatient beds. It will offer improved daycare facilities, with a wellness centre and gym, as well as the space to host a community hub to provide virtual ward care for people being cared for in their homes. The new hospice will also be a platform for education and research into palliative and end-of-life care.

Eastern Daily Press: Robert Carter, chairman of R G Carter and chair of the Board of Trustees for Priscilla Bacon Hospice and Lady Bacon, patron of Priscilla Bacon Hospice at the gifting of the landRobert Carter, chairman of R G Carter and chair of the Board of Trustees for Priscilla Bacon Hospice and Lady Bacon, patron of Priscilla Bacon Hospice at the gifting of the land (Image: Priscilla Bacon Hospice)

Land to build the new state-of-the-art hospice was donated by Robert and Charlotte Carter to mark the centenary of R G Carter Ltd.