In 1998, I established the world’s first public health palliative care unit at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. To explain what a ‘public health’ approach was in the context of palliative care I publish Health Promoting Palliative Care (Oxford University Press 1999). Much of this book explained the value of public education to increasing literacy around death, dying and grief, the role of ideas such as ‘health & wellbeing’ at the end of life as opposed to ‘illness and disease’, and the importance of social supports especially from interpersonal, policy, and environmental sources. Although most people understood these arguments, others interpreted these suggestions as new roles for palliative care services rather than as ways to reimagine partnerships and community working.

To further sharpen and clarify the importance of community development – the participation of and partnership with of the whole civic sector with health and social services – I subsequently wrote Compassionate Cities: Public health and end of life care (Routledge 2005). This was a book that made the case for social ecology and community development strategies as elemental components of any ‘public health’ approach in palliative care.

Later still (2013) after I came to live and work in England, Catherine Millington Sanders – GP and End-of Life Care lead for Marie Curie and the Royal College of GPs – argued that it remained difficult to know where or how to start ‘community development’/compassionate community. Most people for better or worse, she observed rather wryly at the time, don’t have a clear ‘map’ of what their community or society ‘looked like’ in order to develop ‘it’. Under her prompting and guidance, I wrote a small dot point, one pager ‘map’ called the Compassionate City Charter. This was designed to be a ‘location finder’ that simply described the major places/settings where policies and actions needed to take place to create community-wide supports for aging, dying, caregiving, and grieving. It was my sociological attempt to put a ‘face’ to the often-vague idea of ‘community’. Around the same time, Julian Abel and I began what would later become a long-term friendship and professional collaboration with Catherine, and over the course of one year of rather intense discussion, debate, and questioning, jointly decided we needed to do more than write, lobby, and advocate. We should try ourselves to be the change we wanted to see in the UK. In 2016 this resulted in the legal birth of our national charity, Compassionate Communities UK.

The rest, as they say, is history…!

Allan Kellehear