Alison Colclough

Homelessness and end of life care: how a pioneering spirit led the way for change in the UK

Alison began nursing in 1983 and by 2007 had discovered her passion for palliative care nursing and nursing in the community. Whilst volunteering at a homeless shelter she witnessed first-hand the difficulties people with a deteriorating health or a palliative diagnosis faced.

A campaigner for change, her frustrations and compassionate nature led her to initiate a palliative and end of life care homelessness service at local level back in 2013. Her initiative subsequently featured on BBC Radio 4’s File on 4: Dying on the Streets, which aired on 13 February 2018.

Alison’s story

“I’ve been lucky as I love what I do. I see it as my place to encourage and inspire if at all possible.”

Many of the people Alison encounters are highly vulnerable with heavily deteriorating health conditions – these individuals have their own life stories to tell yet are often at risk of being forgotten and ignored, existing only on the fringes of society. These individuals are deprived of health care support with little to no access meaning they often have an undignified death after living through tragic life circumstances and events.

To start work on her idea, Alison collaborated with the Matron of her local hospice to begin applications for funding the palliative and end of life care homelessness initiative she began back in 2013. Seven years on and many working hours later, she grew the initiative to support people living on the streets as well as those in temporary or insecure accommodation. Alison continues to support this work on a part voluntary basis alongside her paid employment. 

Alison saw and continues to see possibilities and opportunities where others do not. She works across numerous organisations persuading people to pay attention to the problem and to care about making this a service. Her team advocates for people and the barriers faced by those experiencing homelessness and perceived discrimination, giving a voice to those who are often left unheard.

What drives you to make a difference?

Alison cannot stand the discrimination and injustice faced by any marginalised group day after day. It was something she was always aware of and motivated by, both as a nurse and a human being. But for a variety of reasons, she has found her deepest vocation and vision has emerged around the diverse and marginalised group that ends up homeless – contributing factors often include issues related to childhood traumas, substance misuse, severe mental health issues and out of work immigrants.

Her passion fuels her courage which often takes her outside of her comfort zone. She has a great ability to speak from the heart and with the authenticity of her expertise and compassion.

The combination of passion, authenticity and courage leads her to communicate the needs of these vulnerable people to those within her sector who can really start to affect change. She believes that a ‘one size fits all’ system is out-dated and unacceptable – that professionals set people up to fail. For all our sakes we must keep pushing for change.

Alison is aware of a few hospices across the country who are involved in this important outreach work, but would want to encourage more hospices to actively invest in services to ensure this often invisible, but vital need is met. This continues to be a complex issue in the UK in desperate need of support.

Her well-established programme of education is for staff from a variety of settings, including hostel staff; as well as health and social care professionals working in different settings across the sector.

How do you inspire others to do their best?

“I think I have become a leader by default! I never wanted to be one, it just happened. I’ve been lucky as I love what I do and cannot NOT do it! I’m convinced that the way we treat certain groups is utterly disgraceful and if we sit back and do nothing then what are we all? I talk about what we (her homeless initiative) do in as many places as possible, not because I want a pat on the back, but because we ALL need to be doing something. I see it as my place to encourage and inspire if at all possible. I’m nothing special which means others can look at me and say ‘if she can do that then so can we.’ I stay in practice as I know I need to remain congruent and I need to keep learning.”

How do you encourage person centred care?

Relationship building is Alison’s key to success. When care isn’t good enough, she will always ask or challenge for something better. She has the perspective of those she is caring for at the core of her efforts, she explains, “how can I possibly know what’s better for them than they do?”

Maintaining a non-judgemental attitude, she treats every person who accesses the services with the dignity and care they deserve. As Service Lead, her role can be ethically very challenging, and she understands the great need for collaborative and informed decision making when dealing with and navigating the complexity of issues and lack of resources often present.

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Alison Colclough
St Luke’s Cheshire Hospice
Winsford Cheshire CW7 1BH
United Kingdom