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Museum exhibitions and festivals around death and loss earmarked for Maidstone in 'compassionate borough' bid

Death, loss and care could soon be the subject of specialist museum exhibitions, and even a memorial parade or festival in Maidstone.

Such ideas, as well as working more closely with schools, workplaces and places of worship have been proposed for the County Town as part of a strategy to formally create a 'compassionate borough'.

Maidstone could soon become a compassionate borough
Maidstone could soon become a compassionate borough

The aim of the project is to ensure communities care for one another at times of crisis and loss, and share responsibility among everyone in the area, not just health and social services.

Schemes have been rolled out in a number of cities across the world, including Kozhikode in India, Seville in Spain, and parts of of Vancouver and Toronto in Canada.

A number of areas in the UK including Plymouth, Frome and Northern Ireland's Londonderry have also committed to the project, but bosses are hoping Maidstone will be the first in the south east to achieve the status.

As part of the work, artistic events could be created and supported at the County Town's museum to get people talking about what are often taboo subjects, while there could be an annual Maidstone-wide short story or art competition held to help raise awareness.

A parade or festival may also be held to mark the project, with a memorial stroll, similar to the Bluebell Walks offered by some charities, among the ideas being discussed.

The Heart of Kent Hospice team with the Elmer model
The Heart of Kent Hospice team with the Elmer model

As part of a shake-up in education, schools will have a compassionate buddies, friends and champions scheme, so those involved can easily recognise signs and behaviours associated with grief.

Children will also have access to bereavement ‘time out cards’ and stickers, alerting teachers to the fact their work may be affected as they try to cope with their situation.

The borough council's Policy and Resources Committee has been asked to endorse the ambition to achieve compassionate borough status this week, and support local charity Heart of Kent Hospice, which has already started work on it.

Its chief executive, Sarah Pugh, said: "Other cities have held big artistic or musical event that celebrate conversations about these topics - an event which is positive.

"We've not yet determined exactly what that will look like but we want to work with the community and see what would be best for Maidstone."

Sarah Pugh from the Heart of Kent Hospice with Elmer
Sarah Pugh from the Heart of Kent Hospice with Elmer

Elmer’s Big Heart of Kent Parade, run by the charity, will reach schools, workplaces and the wider community this summer through the delivery of a major public art trail in Maidstone.

The trail will raise awareness and open conversations about dying, death, bereavement and loss, and will create a window of opportunity from which to launch the town as a ‘Compassionate Maidstone’ in 2021.

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