A Panel on Compassionate Communities with Jessie Williams, Professor Debbie Horsfall, Jenny Briscoe-Hough and Caitlin Scott

What could a compassionate community be? And what role might it play in the dying process and in death? In what ways does the capacity for village-mindedness help us to carry the dead and care for the dying? Join a panel of people who are passionate about re-imagining the role of communities in death and dying in Australia.  

Jessie Williams is Executive Director of the Groundswell Project, a leading social enterprise known for using innovative arts and health programs to create social and cultural change about death and dying. As a learning entrepreneur, she’s facilitated for over 20 years for The School for Social Entrepreneurs, The Centre for Community Welfare Training, the Hunger Project and the Create Foundation. In all of her spare time, she runs learning sessions on grief, ethics and coaching.

After losing her first-born son in 2006, she experienced post-traumatic growth thanks to her community and the practice of death ritual. Her passion with the GroundSwell Project keeps her up at night and she invites everyone to be a part of the collective change around death and dying in Australia.

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Debbie Horsfall is Professor of Sociology at Western Sydney University. She is a passionate leader in the field of inclusive, democratic, qualitative research in health, human services and community development. She has engaged in participation in numerous engaged research projects including work with: Cancer Council NSW; Multicultural Health; The Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, Women’s Housing Services; and the Prime Ministers Youth Action Task Force. Working with informal carers and service providers in end of life care her current research work explores how dying at home develops death literacy, health promoting palliative care, creative partnerships and compassionate communities. She is also researching socio-cultural influences on older Greek carer’s decisions in end of life care. In 2005 Debbie was awarded the Vice Chancellors Award for Excellence in Postgraduate Training and Supervision. She is a post graduate examiner at national and international levels and has successfully supervised over 34 research candidates.

Jenny Briscoe-Hough is a community worker who runs Tender Funerals, one of Australia's first not-for-profit, community-run funeral parlours, offering services at a fraction of the price. With the standard funeral leaving little change from $10,000, it is no surprise that money, more than religion, is often uppermost in the minds of families when a loved one dies. That is particularly true when those families are living on welfare payments.

But the community in Port Kembla, south of Sydney, has taken matters into its own hands. Jenny had her first encounter with the business of death when her mother died seven years ago. "I was shocked by the cost of a funeral," she recalled. "And I said, maybe we should just start a not-for-profit funeral service." Since then, Ms Briscoe-Hough has worked towards getting Tender Funerals off the ground. The organisation became the subject of a 2013 documentary film called Tender. There is a call from the community to actually bring conversations about death to life. "For me, what Tender Funerals is about is saying to people, you've got control over this process, what do you want to do? We'll work with you," she says. "We are trying to say, we are not going to equate the money spent on a funeral with love. "We are trying to say love has got nothing to do with that."

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Caitlin Kensey Scott is Chaplain of Resilient Families and Communities for Uniting and former Chaplain and Chaplaincy Coordinator at Westmead Children's Hospital. Caitlin has experience providing spiritual and pastoral care to young children and their families, those living with Advanced Dementia, and communities facing grief, trauma, and loss. She is a graduate of Yale University with a Master of Divinity, and has a background of study in Indigenous spirituality of the North American first peoples. 

Her passion for feeding people gave rise to Grits to Grace, a community platform and supper club exploring the spirituality of food and the essential joy of eating intentionally with one another. She is enriched by her current work with Aboriginal communities in New South Wales, seeking to serve as an ally in the preservation of culture and the recognition of Aboriginal autonomy and voice in Australian life. She is a member of the Sydney South Uniting Church in Redfern involved in lay preaching and Ministry outreach to the surrounding community of Redfern.