Malpas Cancer Friends Summary Report

The Malpas Cancer Friends project was funded as part of Brightlife’s ‘Bright Ideas’ strand. This fund encouraged local groups, voluntary organisations and businesses to come forward with ideas to reduce isolation and loneliness for older people within areas or communities of interest.

Malpas Cancer Friends was launched by a local community group with an award of £12,000.

Key learning

  • Participants who join a group expecting to help others can often gain a lot themselves, by feeling less socially isolated and more valued within their community.
  • Simple approaches to marketing and promotion can be most effective in smaller geographic areas, for example leaflet delivery.
  • Formal referral pathways from GPs can be challenging to establish due to time pressures faced by those working within the health service.
  • Establishment and implementation of compliance and safeguarding processes for volunteers can be a lengthy process.

 

Development and delivery

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.

 

Impact and legacy

Feedback from participants suggests that while many members joined the group expecting to help others, they often gained a lot themselves: they felt less socially isolated and more valued within their community.

Delivery of services by the Malpas Cancer Friends project has continued beyond the end of the initial Brightlife funding period, supported by donations from the local community. 

The group has established excellent links with other Brightlife partners, including with Cheshire West Voluntary Action, whose network they have used to identify other funding opportunities.

“I first came in to contact with MCF shortly after my husband was diagnosed with melanoma. I was scared and confused – it was really just somebody to talk to and mostly listen. I was also offered practical help on several occasions when my husband was admitted to hospital. I am unable to drive and MCF provided me with transport to and from the hospital. I am so grateful, as it was one less thing to worry about. I am still getting ongoing support sometimes: it’s just a text or phone call to see how I’m doing, but it means a lot. It’s a great support group.”