‘The Departure Lounge’ engages the public in conversations about death and dying using the metaphor of travel. It coincides with Dying Matters Awareness Week (13-19 May 2019).
‘The Departure Lounge’ is a taboo-busting and free-to-all installation opening for one month on 10 May in Lewisham Shopping Centre. The pop-up shop uses the metaphor of travel, findings from medical science, and personal stories from the end of life to explore what it means to have a ‘good death’. The project has been created by the Academy of Medical Sciences and public engagement specialists The Liminal Space to help empower the public to talk more openly about the inevitable last journey in our lives.
Walking past The Departure Lounge, shoppers will see what appear to be travel posters promoting exotic destinations in the windows. On closer inspection, the slogans are actually common phrases we all use to avoid talking about death.
Inside, visitors find themselves in an airport departure lounge where suitcases tell stories of lives well lived and luggage tags reveal how medical science has changed the way we die. An interactive life-size departures board will help visitors answer pertinent questions about death and explore what matters most at the end of life personally, and for their loved ones. At the departure gates visitors will have the opportunity to talk to a diverse range of experts in end of life care and death and dying research.
Thanks to advances in medical science, we are now living for longer than ever before. However, our aging population has created a demographic challenge where the numbers of UK deaths per year is predicted to rise by an extra 100,000 by 2040. Healthcare costs are also increasing as more people spend more years in ill-health at the end of life, and it’s likely that most of us will end up living with one or more health problems as we age. In order to understand how best to care for our aging population as we near death, we must listen to what is most important to people now and in the future.
Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences said:
“Although one in three of us thinks about death or dying at least once a week, most people find it hard to talk about. Not just with family and friends, but also with the doctors and healthcare professionals who care for us at the end of life. The Departure Lounge has been created to start conversations about the end of life and how medical and health research might support people to have a ‘good death’ in the future.
“People might be apprehensive about coming into a space to talk about death, but we have created a positive place to explore how having conversations about death and dying can help us live our entire lives to the fullest. This shouldn’t just be a conversation we have when faced with the end of life: it’s something we should talk about throughout our lives.”
Lewisham, South London, was chosen as the location for the project because it’s the birthplace of the hospice movement and home to St Christopher’s Hospice, the UK’s first modern hospice. The Academy purposefully brought this project to a neighbourhood outside of London’s central museum district to encourage conversations about dying in an everyday environment.
Amanda Gore, Director at The Liminal Space, commented,
“We chose The Departure Lounge as a concept because death is a journey that we will all make. Just as with travel, the better prepared we are for death, the better our experience is likely to be. We’ve designed the installation to engage the public in this important and under-discussed topic to help everyone better understand and make more informed decisions about this final chapter of life.”
Another important part of the project is to listen carefully to the points of view of the public in order to better understand how to care for our ageing population at the end of life. Visitors to The Departure Lounge will be encouraged to record and share views on what is most important to them at the end of life. This information, along with the findings from eight discussion workshops with people recruited from different ages, faiths and backgrounds conducted by Ipsos MORI, will feed public views into the Academy’s activities to inform research and healthcare policy in end of life care.
Dr Kathryn Mannix, retired palliative physician and author of 'With the End in Mind: how to live and die well.’ said:
“There is so much focus in our society on how to live well – but the one certainty in all our lives is that we will die. Death is often so difficult to think about, that we might not ever get around to deciding what we want most, let alone sharing this with our loved ones. This installation will give people the chance to start finding out more about this still taboo topic. I hope it will help the public feel equipped to go away and start meaningful conversations with those who matter to them.”
Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, added:
“It is essential that we understand what people value when it comes to end of life care, and how medical science can help meet their wishes and needs. We will be listening to what those who visit tell us about their priorities and what they hope for their own death and for those they love.”
Damien Egan, Mayor of Lewisham, said:
“Lewisham’s community is diverse and welcoming, so I’m delighted The Academy of Medical Sciences chose our borough to host The Departure Lounge. The history of Lewisham has great ties with this exhibition, which encourages discussion about death and dying. Sydenham is the proud birthplace of the world’s modern hospice movement, where the pioneering doctor Dame Cicely Saunders founded St Christopher’s Hospice.”
Miss Bambii Nzinga, Lewisham resident and host of The Departure Lounge, said:
“Before getting involved with The Departure Lounge I would have been more likely to talk about sex with my son than ever broach the topic of death with him. As a parent you know the birds and bees conversation is around the corner, but when asked about death by my 4-year-old I was unprepared. Now that I’ve spent time learning about dying and speaking to experts in the field, I understand that having a conversation about death doesn’t have to be morbid. In fact, it can be hugely liberating, and for lots of people it will feel like a relief to finally speak to friends and family members about something so important that we will all have to deal with.
“As a born and bred Lewisham local I’m really proud to see such an exciting installation open its doors in our neighbourhood. It’s refreshing for something like this to be so accessible to people who might not usually have the time to venture to a museum or gallery in town.”
Visitors to The Departure Lounge will be encouraged to record and share views on what is most important to them at the end of life. This information, along with the findings from eight discussion workshops with people recruited from different ages, faiths and backgrounds conducted by Ipsos MORI, will feed public views into the Academy’s activities to inform research and healthcare policy in the area.
Local community groups will also be using The Departure Lounge as a meeting point, including Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum and the Rushey Green Time Bank. The Academy has also organised events linked to the project to be held in Lewisham. On Thursday 16 May, ‘Dead Beats’ will take a light-hearted look at funeral music choices at the Old Tiger's Head pub. At the end of May another event will explore how to have a good digital death.
The Departure Lounge is supported by The Health Foundation and Wellcome Trust and the opening is timed to coincide with Dying Matters Awareness week (13-19 May 2019).
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For more information please contact:
Naomi Clarke, Senior Communications Officer, Academy of Medical Sciences
020 3141 3208, 07903 158979 or 07969 082520, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please contact Naomi if you want to visit the installation, access further photographs and a digital press pack, and request interviews with The Departure Lounge spokespeople.
Please also contact us if you would like to would like to attend the photocall or press preview of the space from 8-10.30 on Thursday 9 May.
Notes for Editors
- The Academy of Medical Sciences is the independent body in the UK representing the diversity of medical science. Our elected Fellows are the UK’s leading medical scientists from hospitals, academia, industry and the public service. Our mission is to advance biomedical and health research and its translation into benefits for society. We are working to secure a future in which:
- UK and global health is improved by the best research.
- The UK leads the world in biomedical and health research, and is renowned for the quality of its research outputs, talent and collaborations.
- Independent, high quality medical science advice informs the decisions that affect society.
- More people have a say in the future of health and research.
Our work focusses on four key objectives, promoting excellence, developing talented researchers, influencing research and policy and engaging patients, the public and professionals.
- The Liminal Space uses art and design to create ground-breaking experiences that transform what people think, feel and do. A unique consultancy that brings together the rigour of a think tank with the creativity of a cross-disciplinary design studio. Their projects translate complex social issues into tangible objects and spaces that people can immerse themselves to deepen their understanding and inspire action.
- The Departure Lounge will be at Unit 4, Lewisham Shopping Centre, Molesworth Street, London SE13 7HB from Friday 10 May until Friday 7 June, open from Tuesday-Saturday: Midday - 5.30pm / Sundays: 11.00am-5.00pm / Closed Mondays.
It is free and open to all.
- Project supporters: The Departure Lounge is supported by The Health Foundation and Wellcome Trust. The Academy is also grateful for funding from a core grant from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy that was also used to support this project.
The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK. For further information contact Grace Everest, External Affairs Manager, Grace.Everest@health.org.uk
Wellcome exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. For further information contact Claire Ryan, Head of Media, email@example.com 020 7611 7262
- Events: The Academy has also organised events linked to the project to be held in Lewisham. On Thursday 16 May, ‘Dead Beats’ will take a light-hearted look at funeral music choices at Old Tigers Head pub, 351 Lee High Road, Blackheath, London SE12 8RU The event is free and tickets are available at Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/dead-beats-tickets-7945973621. Another event at the end of May will explore how to have a good digital death. Local community groups will also be using the space as a meeting point, including Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum and the Rushey Green Time Bank.