Research shows that for people with chronic health conditions, sharing experiences can significantly reduce anxiety and depression. After identifying a need for non-medical cancer support in the local area, a group of local people with personal experience of cancer set up Malpas Cancer Friends (MCF) as a peer support group for others in a similar position.
The aim of the group was to deliver regular social meetings and events, provide (and signpost to) information and advice about living with cancer, and to offer informal peer befriending support for those who were newly-diagnosed or unable to leave their homes.
Members of the group obtained guidance and training on “Setting up a Support Group”,
“Loss and Bereavement” and “Listening and Responding”. This training, along with the establishment and implementation of compliance and safeguarding processes for volunteers (including DBS checks), took longer than had initially been anticipated.
The group developed a recognisable brand identity and promoted its events and services through a targeted publicity campaign, including local distribution of display advertising and the delivery of an information leaflet to every home in the Malpas area – an approach that led to the recruitment of several participants for the group’s first community meeting.
Ongoing efforts were made to engage patients at local GP surgeries through on-site promotion (including digital display assets for waiting rooms) and via direct referral from medical staff. Very low numbers of referrals were received into the project, which the project team acknowledged was likely a result of time pressures on NHS staff during consultations.
Access to transport for participants to attend MCF events and meetings was facilitated by the group’s membership of the Malpas Community Minibus Service.
While several regular events and services were provided as part of the Malpas Cancer Friends project, the group retained some flexibility to offer bespoke support where required. For example, they were able to provide home cleaning and garden maintenance where appropriate for members who had been hospitalised for treatment, as well as providing volunteer transport to and from hospital appointments for some of the more vulnerable members of the group.