Building bridges

words: Stewart McRobert

More than 300 people turned up to a highly successful Bereavement and Mental Wellbeing Conference held in the County Hall, Cardiff, on 5 November.

The event was organised by White Rose Funerals, an Independent Funeral Directory in the Welsh capital.

On the day the audience examined the impact on the mental wellbeing of individuals and families who have been affected by a calamity or some form of trauma.

A series of high profile figures came along to give their views and discuss the issues. They included:

  • Judge Mark Lucraft, the UK Chief Coroner
  • Fiona Wilcox, Senior Coroner who dealt with the Grenfell Tower tragedy
  • Nick Sandford, Chaplaincy Manager for Wales prisons
  • Stephen Doughty MP
  • Mark Isherwood AM
  • Neil McEvoy AM

Ahmed Alsisi of White Rose explained his reasons for organising the conference: “We always strive to make a difference. As funeral directors we would like to lead our community and stage events for the betterment of our community.

“There are a lot of issues out there that need to be discussed. We thought we could provide a platform for discussion and allow people to network and build bridges.”

The focus on mental wellbeing sprang from Ahmed’s own observations. As well as being a funeral director he is a chaplain and works in prisons. He is also a boxing coach and involved in training young people. He said: “One thing I’ve found is that poor mental health can be a common link between bereaved people, young people growing up with peer pressure, family problems and so on, as well as prison inmates.

“Sadly, that mental health crisis can lead to suicide – there are hundreds of cases every year. We thought if we can intervene in one way or another and raise awareness of the issues people face then we may be able to help.”

Among those attending were SAIF’s Chief Executive Terry Tennens and National President Alun Tucker. Delegates included funeral directors, parliamentarians, chaplains, Imams, doctors, mental health nurses, police officers and representatives from charities such as Cruse and 2 Wish Upon a Star.

Ahmed added: “The day went better than I expected. The key speakers were extremely impressive. Among other things, it was agreed that mental health support for the emergency services – and funeral directors – who respond to these major events must be improved.

“In terms of topics discussed it was very educational and informative – I think everybody learned something new.”

Terry Tennens agreed. He said: “It was an inspiring conference with high level speakers which addressed some of the pressing issues of our day, bereavement care and mental wellbeing. Congratulations to Ahmed and his team at White Rose Funerals for a superb conference.”

And Alun Tucker added: “I congratulate Ahmed and his colleagues in organising such an interesting conference which attracted nearly 300 people from all walks of professional life. In particular the talk by HM Coroner for Inner West London on her experiences at Grenfell Tower was informative and deeply moving.”

Ahmed believes that the conference illustrated the need for community cohesion and the building of bridges. “We need to work together to help vulnerable people in our community.

“Four out of five people in the BME community feel too shy to discuss mental health problems. We want people to feel comfortable talking about the difficult issues they face.”

The conference has generated a great deal of positive feedback. According to Ahmed he is still receiving congratulations and people are asking how they can be more involved.

“That is encouraging because it suggests our message is getting across and it provides a good starting point for next year’s event, which I am already thinking about.”

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