Monday, 19 August 2013

Write up of Norwich Death Cafe by Beth Settle

Sunday July 14th saw a drop-in Death Cafe at the Friends Meeting House, Norwich.

Beth Settle (who had also facilitated a Death Cafe in Norwich recently) had joined together with Su Squire and Kayla Bainger of Norwich Death Cafe. We had decided we would like to try out holding fairly regular Death Cafes, and the drop-in was to be the first in a trial series. Our plan was to, over several months, offer a larger drop-in Death Cafe, followed by two smaller, booked Death Cafes, likely with focussed topics of discussion. If this worked well we would repeat the process.

We publicised the drop-in event with posters in varied venues around Norwich, on the events pages of local press, and also on the morning of July 14th, Su appeared on BBC Radio Norfolk's 'Sunday Breakfast' show to discuss and promote the Death Cafe. Kayla had also recently set up a open Norwich Death Cafe group on Facebook.

This was our first Death Cafe at the Friends Meeting House. The wardens were friendly and welcoming from the start. We were able to customise the space and move furniture around, and had full use of a kitchen. We asked for donations towards refreshments, which were (many different sorts of!) tea and coffee, water, and six different types of cake:

We were using the entrance hall space, which was large and light and airy, quite a long rectangular space, though we also had use of the garden (and it wasn't raining either!). We set up our refreshment tables at the far end, with tables and chairs grouped along the hall, and some benches here and there too, as well as garden chairs outside. Our hope was that people would mingle here there and everywhere.

Beth greeted folk at the door while Su and Kayla mingled and chatted to arrivals. Although it was a drop-in, we felt it needed an introduction, so about fifteen minutes after our start time (the event ran from 3-5.30 pm) we gave a short introduction, to Death Cafe, to each of us, and covered the basic 'admin' (e.g. fire exits, photo permission, donations etc), and then Su finished this part by reading a poem, 'Gone From My Sight' by Henry van Dyke.

Everybody then naturally gravitated towards the tables and we all ended up fairly organised, in groups of around 4 or 5 at the tables. One conversation started from the poem we had just heard (with one person looking up and reading Dylan Thomas' 'Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night'). We had put bowls of 'conversation starters', consisting of relevant quotations or discussion statements around death and dying, on each table. One table's conversation flowed almost entirely from these, whereas on a different table they weren't used at all!

There were many many different topics discussed at the various tables - these included: living on after death in memory/through ancestors; looking after dying relatives; arranging your own funeral; living wills; the right to die; quality of life over quantity; what may come beyond the moment of death. There were some truly wonderful, interesting and meaningful conversations.

Despite the drop-in nature of the event, only one other attendee arrived after the introduced 'start' of the Death Cafe. Almost everyone stayed until the very end of the Death Cafe too - we had expected a bit more coming and going, similar to the previous drop-in Death Cafe that Su and Kayla had held at House Cafe in Norwich back in April, where many people popped in for a while rather than staying the whole time. In total there were 14 attendees, which was a slightly smaller number than we'd hoped/expected, leaving us with a bit of a cake surplus at the end! We also found that we received less donations than we'd hoped/expected, meaning we did not break even with our costs.

After the Death Cafe, we distributed the extra cake among us, cleared up (with the generous help of a couple of Meeting House wardens) and then before parting ways stopped in a pub garden to reflect on the day over half a cider. We read out the evaluation forms and discussed what we'd felt had worked and what we might change or improve for the future.

We felt that the venue wasn't quite ideally suited to that type of Death Cafe, and wondered if the long room/our furniture set-up had inhibited the flow of people round the room somewhat. People had remained quite static throughout and stuck to their tables, so the number of different people spoken to ended up being fairly limited for all. We had thought conversations might start at the refreshments table, for example, but in fact people tended to visit individually. Although the garden was used at the very start, before the introduction, it was not used again after this.

This was reflected in some of the feedback, with suggestions for a different room lay-out or location, and the idea to use a bell to encourage people to get up and move about, received on the evaluation forms. Overall the feedback was positive, in some cases very enthusiastic, and gave us some good ideas for the future too.

Some of the feedback received included:

"Such a radical idea, but really wonderful - thank you"

"Really enjoyed the conversation, thought-provoking"

"Very relaxed and informal atmosphere"

When asked to describe the Death Cafe in three words, these included:

"Friendly, liberating, welcoming, important, open, safe, profound, inclusive, positive, caring, sharing, stimulating, informative"

A good number of people added their email addresses to our mailing list for future Death Cafes, which was great. We welcome the next Norwich Death Cafe, which will be a fairly different experience, in a cafe setting and with a fixed number of participants, discussing pre-determined topics. We also hope to invite guest speakers to some future Death Cafes... so watch this space!

Norwich Death Cafe -

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