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Dying to talk

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A project to break down barriers for young people to speak about death and bereavement has received funding.

The ‘Dying to Talk’ project has been making great progress in engaging young people to speak and death and dying.

The project, involving University of Bradford and University of Wolverhampton expertise, was launched in February 2021. It aims to encourage young people to talk about death, dying and bereavement, breaking down taboos and strengthening mental health, something more important than ever in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The £100k project is being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the two universities and will run until December 2021.  It is being run between the two universities and Child Bereavement UK.

The project draws on experiences of the Continuing Bonds project, which used archaeology to open up discussion about death and bereavement.

Dr Karina Croucher, a senior lecturer in archaeology at University of Bradford, said: “The past can be a distanced, safe space from which to open up discussions about challenging topics, including death and bereavement – we can learn from the past about the diversity of experience in dealing with death, and this helps us challenge what we think of as ‘right’ or ‘normal’.

“The project will draw on some of these principles, focusing on engaging young people and building resilience around bereavement.” 

‘Dying to Talk’ focuses on 14- to 19-year-olds in the Bradford and Wolverhampton areas.

Young people have been recruited in each of the cities to work as ambassadors and have been working closely with experts in developing the project. Part of their role is to co-produce the project’s activities and events that will be delivered in secondary schools across both of the areas. One of the events that will be held in November is a ‘Festival of the Dead’, which will engage school children with different cultures and their approaches to death, with strong links to such festivals as Mexico’s ‘Dia de los Muertos’.

Ambassadors in Bradford and Wolverhampton recently came together to discuss the project further, discussing death and dying in an open, accessible manner using archaeological and ethnographic material.

Dr Jane Booth, a senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at University of Wolverhampton, said: “It is great to have been awarded this funding so we can run this project and help encourage young people to talk about these topics. Death, dying and bereavement affect us all; death is a unifying element of life.

“However, the professionalisation of death, the responsibility to deal with death and dying, has been devolved to health and social care workers and other professionals.

“This removal of caring for the dying and dead, away from friends, families and communities, results in a weakening of the local support networks where bereavement support could be more sensitively delivered. It also diminishes the normality of death.

“It is perhaps not surprising then that we rarely speak about death and dying as we are often lacking the experience, language and confidence to do so. However, not being able to talk about the death of our loved ones can lead to mental health issues and other negative outcomes.

“This is especially true of young people, and is implicated in future depression, smoking, drug dependency, risk-taking behaviour, poor educational attainment, unemployment and criminal activity.”

Dying to Talk aims to provide more positive avenues for healthy discussion, building resilience and creating compassionate communities for young people.

‘Dying to Talk’ follows on from the success of the University of Bradford’s project entitled ‘Continuing Bonds: exploring the meaning and legacy of death through past and contemporary practice’ that ran between 2016 and 2018.

Continuing Bonds used archaeological and ethnographic material as an accessible medium to open up conversations about death, dying and bereavement.

The project successfully demonstrated that archaeology allowed for meaningful conversation surrounding the modern taboos associated with death- the project collaborated with bereavement professionals and held a series of successful workshops. 

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