What are Compassionate Communities by Julian Abel

Naturally occurring supportive networks. 

Perhaps the easiest way to conceptualise compassionate communities is to think about them in terms of two major components. The first is the naturally occurring supportive network that surround all of us. If we think about the people who are really close to us, we might count up anywhere between two and 20, or even 50 people, depending on our life circumstances and our personalities. These will be people who are family members, friends, neighbours or work place colleagues. When we think about this in our own life circumstances, it is important not to get lost in thinking this is just about people who can do caring tasks. It is much more about the love, laughter and friendship of those people who are dear to us. Seeing our close friends and family members allows us to remember who we are as human beings and why we matter. Not only do we love and care for these people, we have a place in their hearts as well.  Those people who are close to us are what we have termed the inner network. 

Our outer network is made up from people we may count as friends or are people we may chat to quite informally in our lives. Of course, it is easy to count friends and neighbours in this group. We can forget, however, how much our lives our enhanced by the occasional chats we have with people around us. For example, if we go to a particular shop on a regular basis, we might meet the same people in the shop and simply chat about what is going on. We may come across other parents when we watch our children playing sport. Regular conversations, just simply passing the time of day, can be life enhancing. A clip from Age UK, a charity helping elderly people, shows a woman who regularly checked her answer phone just to hear another human voice saying there are no messages. When we start to add up the numbers of people who make up our outer networks, this might be anything from 10 to 200 people or more. If you sing in a choir of 60 people, then you might include all of these for example. 

Looking at the inner and outer, we may be looking at a community resource of naturally occurring networks of between 10 and 200 people or more. This is an enormously rich resource of support if these networks can be enhanced and mobilised into action. 

Community resource

 The second component of compassionate communities is made up of the communities we live in. I say communities here, because we touch on a number of communities of people we do not know directly but nevertheless surround us. We might have a workplace community, a religious community, a sports club community and others as well as the community of our neighbourhoods. These communities already exist. We do not need to create them. In the context of becoming compassionate, again this already exists. Human beings have a natural capacity for kindness and care. If we see someone we know and love suffering, we naturally want to help them. It is a natural part of our nature. It may be more developed in some people than others. We know that if people become more compassionate in one particular area, this spreads to other parts of their lives. This means it is a human quality that can be developed, rather than something that we either have or do not have. Stimulating and growing the compassionate activity of these communities is an intentional act of developing a compassionate communities programme. 

Mapping of community resource

Development of compassionate communities is where people engaged in a community development programme set out to map as well as stimulate community resource. This is bread and butter for a community development worker. It is a mainstay of how they work. Employment of a community development worker is therefore a key component of compassionate community programmes.

Mapping of community resource is a way of actively engaging in what is going on in our communities. It involves looking in local papers, visiting shop notice boards, going to leisure centres and connecting with statutory bodies such as local or regional councils. We can find out what is going on by visiting community centres or general practice surgeries, both of which offer a wealth of information. Word of mouth conversations also are a great way of finding out what is going on in communities. Community resource is ever changing, as some activities and groups begin and others end. In addition, individual events are part of the plethora and wealth of community activity. Mapping of resources requires constant updating and is a living process. When resources are mapped, it is incredibly useful to place them on a website to make the often vast range of activities easily available to the community. Having an updated website is a task that needs constant attention from someone who really knows and is connected to the community. It is an inherent part of any community development programme. I will talk about why this is so important, and how it can be used in another blog. 

Creating new community resource

Creation of new community resource comes from both listening to the community to see what is needed as well as making specific suggestions to meet particular needs. There are resources which are particularly useful to help meet the demands of caring for those who are undergoing the experiences of death, dying, loss and caregiving, which I will discuss in another blog. It is vitally important to ensure that the principles of participatory development are used when building new community resources and capacities. Community development is best done by the community itself, rather than it being something done to a community. In addition, it is also important to make sure that dependency on professional services and finance is not built into anything that is started. If this happens, when the professional support or finances disappear, so does the community resource. 

The creation of new community resource comes from the heart of the community itself, from those people who are interested and enthusiastic about making the community around them better in a whole variety of ways. It may be that simply providing and suggesting a space is enough to get things moving. Some people might need more support to be able to get a group going. Word of mouth helps, as well as using notice boards, putting adverts in local papers, using stalls outside places where people gather such as supermarkets and speaking at community events. A fantastic example of who community action can grow out of a few committed individuals can be seen at the TED talk given by the women of Todmartin…. This is a really great example of community development formed by the community for the benefit of the community. 


Compassionate communities consist of naturally occurring supportive networks combined with the wealth of community resource to be found in neighbourhoods, workplaces, educational institutions or any place where people gather. Enhancing the compassionate activities of these groups and networks is an intentional act that is part of a compassionate community programme.  Activating these communities can bring immense benefit to the people involved, both those receiving and giving support. Professional health and social care services can work in union and harmony with compassionate communities. If they do so, they will have an enormous resource which will help the people they serve in ways not possible for professional services alone. 

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