Austerity hit public services hard in Manchester, leaving many vulnerable people without the support they need. The Covid crisis has compounded the damage done and just like austerity it hits disadvantaged and vulnerable people the hardest.
Many community groups and volunteers are stepping up to help fill the void created by the deficit in public services. The charity Manchester Cruse Bereavement Care is one of these organisations, helping people grieving the death of someone close to them, extremely important work in the midst of this deadly pandemic. They provide free support by fully trained bereavement support volunteers, across Greater Manchester and the UK.
“Bereavement is a stigmatised and often hidden suffering which affects almost everyone over the passage of time”, says Barry Besbrode, Chair Greater Manchester Cruse Bereavement. He added, “Grieving affects many people, resulting in loss of sleep, health problems, inability to work, alcoholism, drugs, breakdown of family life, suicide. This also places significant demands on GP surgery time, Mental Health Services and Social Services in supporting people who just cannot cope with their grief.”
With 13,596 deaths due to the Covid pandemic registered in the North West alone, Cruse have a lot on their plate with the many more grieving family members left behind and limited in how they can share their grief with friends and family – Cruse have a steadily growing mountain of grief to climb.
Founder Margaret Torrie started Cruse over 60 years ago, with the objective to provide practical, emotional and social support for widows and children left to cope alone. Today Cruse in the U.K. has over 5,000 volunteers from all walks of life who are trained in active listening and who understand the impact of loss and bereavement on an individual. The volunteers create a safe non-judgemental space for clients to explore and understand and cope with their grief.
Cruse receives around 100,000 requests for support and information annually and this year received 300,000 visits to their dedicated children and young person’s website, Hope Again.
Cruse in Greater Manchester closed in 2012 due to loss of funding. Fresh funding allowed them to re-start here in 2015, and there work in the region has continued to gain ground since then.
Austerity, Brexit and Covid
Cruse Bereavement Care is a national charity, but each Cruse area is required to source their own funds. In Manchester they have received funds from private companies, The National Lottery, donations from clients, and are currently in part of a Co-op funding scheme in which Manchester Co-op customers can nominate Cruse as a charity of choice to receive funds from Co-op purchases. They also raise funds with organised events, though Covid-19 has stopped them from running these fundraisers lately.
Austerity before Covid, created a reduction in support for Mental Health Services which significantly increased Cruse referrals, according to. There is also a concern at Cruse about the possibility of shortages caused by Brexit in food or medicine, which will exacerbate the effects of grief on people and will increase the demand for their services.
Besbrode says, “Demand for support has significantly increased as a direct result of death from Covid, and the effects of isolation on those already bereaved since they cannot mourn and attendance at funerals is severely restricted.”
Yolanda Clarke, a supervisor, support group facilitator and part time administrator for Manchester Cruse, points out that:
“The lockdown has forced people to self-reflect, so we have lots of new clients with historic bereavements who are facing their grief and need help.
“The charity has moved from offering face to face support and home visits to delivering a service via telephone and Zoom support . Our volunteers and clients have all had to adapt to this new way of support. It’s also important to remember that our volunteers have also been affected by illness, bereavements and job losses, but despite this, they continue to offer support to bereaved people.”
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One of the biggest challenges, Yolanda says, has been the waiting list. At one point clients had to wait for 6 months but at the moment it is approximately 3 months.
Professional counsellor, therapist, and trainer for Cruse, Barbara Rosenthal believes that Covid-19 has produced a ripple effect by exacerbating problems caused by cuts to mental health services. Unsupported people dealing with mental health issues combined with a significant bereavement and then combined with the challenges of Covid have made things worse, with a larger overlap of people with both mental health and bereavement issues.
She feels that some of the Covid stresses include not being able to be with someone when they died, funerals not what you would normally expect, along with the lack of hospital places and postponement of treatments for other illnesses all add to the complexity of the combined mental health/Covid issue. Rosenthal believes that they could overcome some of the problems people are carrying due to this situation by having sufficient funding to allow councilling beyond the current standard of six sessions.
Manchester Arena bombing
On 22 May 2017, Cruse were one of the first responders for the Manchester Arena bombing and are still involved in providing support for the families of those lost or affected by that tragedy.
Manchester Cruse is present at the current enquiry and have a specially trained team of major incident support responders.
Cruse only works with loss of life, but in regard to the bombing, Rosenthal feels that there are other co-occurring losses that people sometimes forget about, for example, life changing injuries, relationship breakdowns, and inability to work.
Rosenthal says that Cruse “provides a listening ear when people most need it” and points out that all cultures deal with death, but many cultures find it difficult to talk to family and “want to protect their family from their feelings of anger or rage or guilt”. Rosenthal, as well as being a counsellor, also coordinates training for Cruse and works with the volunteers.
Studying the different ways that grief manifests Rosenthal came to the conclusion that the “original linear models are changing” and the ones that show grief slowly disappearing, are being replaced by a model which describes life eventually growing around the grief, allowing the person to live with it and move on.
Though there are models of grief to be considered, Rosenthal says that “every client I have seen over the past 25 years is unique” and says that her work is “not depressing, but a privilege to be trusted” and be able to “see the light start to come back behind their eyes.”
When asked about future needs for Cruse, Besbrode replied. “Once Covid has retreated and we can again resume face to face support for individuals and groups, we will require small consulting rooms in locations throughout Greater Manchester, either provided free by various agencies, or have the funding to pay rent for them.” Cruse would also like to provide, art, craft, music and other therapy sessions to support grieving people.
To overcome the growing mountain of grief Besbrode would like to train, “more volunteers to serve more Manchester bereaved, develop service points in many localities to operate as a drop-in centre for immediate access to bereavement support, and train volunteers to be able to support children and young adults.”
This important charity in Manchester is not very well known but is becoming increasingly important to a growing number of people grieving due to the loss of loved ones during the pandemic. Barry Besbrode concluded, “Whilst death is inevitable, suffering from the results of grief can be mitigated by the support of specially trained persons who can take the bereaved through their suffering to a better place so that they can resume a life within the community.”
If you think that you could benefit from seeking help at Cruse Bereavement Care or would like to help out by donating or volunteering, contact them at:Manchester Cruse Bereavement Care:
email – Manchester@cruse.org.uk
Phone number – 07377 710382
National Cruse Website – click here
Helpline 0808 808 1677
Hope Again – dedicated Cruse website for young people – click here
This article is part of the Mancunians Going the Extra Mile to Help Those in Need series, focusing on the essential work charities are doing in Manchester. Other articles in the series:
42nd Street is helping children with poor mental health through the covid crisis
Wood Street Mission: helping families in poverty since 1869
Back on Track: empowering people to make positive changes to their lives
Feature image: Cruse Bereavement Care (gathering in Longford Park, Stretford, pre-Covid)