A multi-disciplinary steering group in Leeds had already been set up in the late 90s to deliver support to individual children (The ‘Sad Events Team’) and to train Learning Mentors and others in schools in managing bereavement. This group comprised members of the School Nursing Team, Child Health, the Education Psychology Team, and the voluntary sector (part of the local Leeds Bereavement Forum).
An earlier regional audit, promoted by the NCB, had identified a particular absence of bereavement group work. Leeds therefore bid for and won a consultancy to develop area-based support groups around the city. A series of planning meetings took place in Leeds and London, chaired initially by Sarah Willis, then Director of the Childhood Bereavement Network. The initial plan was to use our own training materials, but the Seasons for Growth programme came strongly recommended, and we were provided with contact details for the Notre Dame Centre in Glasgow, who we were informed were the lead trainers for Seasons in the UK. (Sally Morgan from the Leeds Bereavement Forum was also exploring an introductory presentation by Cecilia Finn; but Sally then resigned her post, and the Scottish option was pursued.)
Moira Sugden and David Murray came to Leeds to run an Introductory Information session in January ’06, with Sarah Willis chairing. 54 people came (plus our steering group), participants being from a wide variety of backgrounds including a children’s hospice, the CAMHS 0-16 team, a funeral directors, voluntary sector workers, and schools/ education services. The initial presentation was more than sufficient to persuade us to proceed with Seasons. In June David and Moira returned to Leeds to run the first Companions training workshop which had 26 participants (myself included).
The first children’s groups began in September ’06. Funding (initially £7.5k) to pay for the training and set up the groups was obtained from Leeds’ ‘Vulnerable Children’s Strategy Group’ (which funded work with Travellers, minority ethnic children and pregnant schoolgirls). After one further Companions training delivered from Glasgow, 3 of our own Companions (Sam, Katherine, and Shirley) were trained as trainers – March ’07. Since that date Sam, Katherine and Shirley have organised 2-3 Companions training events annually, and follow-up Reconnectors. Early feedback from pupils, schools and parents has been very positive. Leeds has a school population of some 112,000 children, managed within five geographical areas. Our aim is to establish Seasons for Growth, and have a self-supporting mentoring group for Companions, in each of those 5 areas.