Caring Collaboration: Exploring the Pioneering Coach4Care Project

CoachCare blog image

16th December 2019

Last year Animas began an exciting partnership with St Christopher’s Hospice and Innovation Unit on a brilliant project called Coach4Care (C4C), around training ex-carers to coach current carers through their difficult times. We created a unique training programme to support the model created by Innovation Unit through their research.

I sat down with project lead Anna Warhurst to find out more about the programme, the impact that it has had, and what it has been like to work in collaboration with Animas. I also spoke with one of the Animas C4C trainers Lilian Flynn on her experience of being involved in the project, as well as some of the participants that were part of the training to hear just how impactful it has really been…


Sam: Hi Anna, so to start us off, give me a little bit of background to this pioneering project…


Anna: So Coach4Care is a peer-led coaching service for carers of people with progressive and terminal illnesses; to help and improve their health and well-being, and sustain their energy whilst they’re caring for somebody that they love. The idea for the project came out of a year-long piece of research that was done with an organisation called the Innovation Unit who basically found that within end-of-life care, there was a real gap in terms of our understanding of carers’ experiences in that journey, and what value they bring. So it was very underexplored.

They did lots and lots of research with carers themselves and professionals and found that carers need a lot more support than they were getting. And that caring for somebody that you love can be incredibly stressful emotionally, physically, financially — in all sorts of ways — it could be a really challenging time. And it could also lead to people’s energy being completely drained and carers feeling like they even lost their identity in some cases. So out of this and out of lots of conversations with carers came the idea…

It initially started with peer support, and speaking to others who understood what it was like was really, really valuable for them, but sometimes these kinds of peer support groups could end up dwelling on the negative aspects of caring as opposed to helping them to think through what positive changes they could make, or even learn about tips and tricks and things that might help the situation. It tended to be a kind of space for people to just talk about the challenges — which is understandable — but what both Innovation Unit and carers themselves thought, was that actually building in a more structured conversation which would allow carers the space to reflect on their experiences, but then also make positive changes would be really valuable for them.

They tried a few approaches and it turned out that coaching as a kind of method and approach in this instance of peer support actually worked really well and carers really responded to it well in the prototypes. So then it eventually was included in our funding bid and it was successful. We trialled it from October 2018, before starting officially with St Christopher’s Hospice earlier this year.

S: Amazing, I know that you are project lead, what does your role entail?


A: My role is primarily to oversee the management of the projects, coordinate the meet-ups, coordinate introducing people to the program, recruiting people, I do quite a lot of partnership work, just going out and meeting different care organisations in our five boroughs across London telling them about the projects, building partnerships with new channels of referrals and recruiting for ex-carers.

I also facilitate part of the training which we do with Animas, which has been absolutely fantastic. Having Animas running the coaching training sessions for the two days, we’ve had just an absolutely overwhelmingly good response from people on the program about the training.

It’s been run really professionally and to such a high standard. The rapport that’s been created in the group has been really great and then there’s been people who have developed friendships and relationships during the training that have continued post-training and they continue to support each other now.

I feel we’ve had some brilliant experiences with Animas. And I feel like I’ve developed some really good relationships with people from Animas that have helped along the way, and  not just helped tokenistically — they’ve really given full energy and advice and support all the way through. The ongoing supervision that continues the learning for the participants for example, was so beneficial. So we can’t thank Animas enough for that.

S: That’s great to hear! And so, I just wanted some examples of what sort of things that those who were part of the program learned/took away from it?


A: I think what has been one of the most standout themes has been the participants own personal development and transition from a grieving ex-carer who feels sort of a bit like they are floating around and not really having a sense of grounding, to someone that is more assured and confident in this role, and has more of a sense of purpose. I feel too that they learned the value of just being present with somebody and not giving advice and not telling someone what to do but holding back and just listening. I think that really, really had a powerful impact on the people that have done the training themselves. I think they’ve become a lot more self-aware and able to manage their own stuff and things within their own networks and friends and family.

I think the tools have been really useful as well for a lot of them in their sessions. Just really simple tools like “The Wheel of Life” and looking at the whole week and getting an overview of someone’s whole week and mapping where the highs and lows are — some of the simplest tools actually seem to be the most popular amongst the group in just giving people a kind of pictorial representation of how they can self-evaluate and reflect on their week and reflect on how things are going. So those have definitely been really useful.

S: And so, for you, personally, what are some things that you took from the project or particularly enjoyed?


A: Well, I think number one is just having access to the training delivered by Animas. I’ve gained so much from being in those sessions and being able to experience that training for myself and being able to then guide the group in different ways, and I found by the end I was able to apply that knowledge to guide people a bit more than I was able to at the beginning. So I think I’ve definitely picked up a huge amount from that personally and have applied it in my own life. I’ve been sort of coaching friends informally.

I also think it’s been really helpful for me being in those training sessions because it meant that in between times when I am supporting the group and the ex-carers when they come to me, I have got that grounding to kind of be able to reflect back to people and at least reassure them when I think that they are on the right track. I do feel like it’s opened up a whole new realm to me which I didn’t know much about before.

S: And talk to me about the Animas trainers that were involved, Lilian and Ken.


A: Lilian just did a tremendous job at building that sense of community amongst the members. And I think from the get-go, given that we were running something completely new, she was able to confidently deliver it and really lead the way which was so impressive and I’m so grateful for it because it was new and she got everyone on board and did a great job of leading it. So it was brilliant having her and her style and her energy and her ability to kind of keep the group on track. And the vigilance I think as well to some extent of reminding people that it’s not about giving advice — that it is about listening and really calling people out when they weren’t doing that. It was so useful to have that kind of standard set from the beginning.

Ken as well. Ken was fantastic. He was really great at just picking everything up and being really clear and straightforward with people. And he gave a few brilliant demonstrations that were really useful to the group. I really appreciated actually watching someone, a professional, doing a whole session. It was so helpful and valuable having somebody else in a way as well because it allowed us to see what difference could be made, what iterations could be made, what might be useful, what might not be so useful, that kind of thing. So that was really, really great.

S: How beneficial has the partnership with and support from Animas been?


A: As a partnership it’s just been amazing the whole way through. Really personal, really just a genuinely authentic desire to help. It hasn’t felt like a kind of working partnership in that sort of sense of business-business. It’s been really, really lovely and organic and just really special to have Animas on board. It just couldn’t have been the project it is without Animas.

It has really added colour to something that actually has been tried to some extent before in other settings. And I think that it’s interesting that this time around it has worked, and I think having Animas’ input has given it a professional edge in a really important way and given it a slightly more focused element. There are lots of things that have been done in the past around supporting carers — mentoring, guiding them — but there hasn’t been ex-carers doing it and it hasn’t had the coaching element in such a purposeful and structured way and bringing that in has really helped this to take off with its own identity and be appealing to lots of people as well. People who have come from all sorts of backgrounds and really want to do the training, really want to get involved, I think that’s really a large part due to the professionalism we’ve had from Animas and the support we’ve had from them.

Robert has also been amazing as has his support. So you have this professional wisdom and knowledge on so many different things that has really been inspiring to the participants. And it’s just been amazing to have him on board all the way through and be so committed it’s fantastic.

S: That’s so nice to hear. And so finally, just to sort of summarise, what do you feel the Coach4Care program offers? How can it help people to deal with the difficulties of caring from the coachee perspective and also those people like the ones that you were mentioning that do feel a bit lost but have something to offer as a coach?


A: Yeah. I think the idea of equipping people who have something to offer, whether that they want to help people, and they’ve got a lot of value to bring but giving them coaching tools to be able to help others I think that idea in itself is just so, so valuable and I would like to see it happening more often. I know that it has been so, so meaningful to a lot of ex-carers, and it’s been so, so great feeling like they have a purpose again and the development is continuing. One lady even signed up for one of the Animas CPD courses in emotional intelligence because she was so interested in learning more about coaching.

Many of the others have bought lots of coaching books and they are really throwing themselves into it and really want to kind of personally develop. And I think it’s really credited to the fact that many of them are people who have really given a lot in their lives to look after other people — really empathetic, really caring people who’ve learned a lot and very mature emotionally. And this has just given them that kind of stepping stone or like a springboard from which to grow even more as people. And they’re the people in our communities that we actually really want to harness the energies of and support and help them to grow.

I think it’s great giving people coaching tool regardless in any situation but I think especially for people who are ex-carers and have so much to offer in that regard and are so willing to just giving them the tools and equipping them and giving them a bit of training. And so many of them are just flying; like they’re really making such a big difference. So I think it’s the kind of thing if it was scaled I think could have a tremendous impact on our society and on our communities.

And some words from Animas Trainer, Coach, and Coach4Care facilitator Lilian Flynn…

Sam: What sort of things were you teaching or training the participants?


Lilian: So there was the core coaching skills like the open questions, listening, and holding space — all of those tools and skills. It might be just something simple like how to plan the day, the circle of control etc. and there was also some creative exercises like drawing a picture of the current reality on one side of the page and on the other side of the page drawing what you would like the future to look like using drawings rather than words.

Other tools like the wheel of life were also to really help someone really zone in on particular areas they would like to work on. There was lots of different planning tools that we used. The first day was on those kind of basic coaching skills and then the second day we explored the more specific Coach4Care tools that they can use. And so they were taught lots of different tools and techniques that they felt that might be useful if something came up from one of the carers.

S: And so how did you feel that the training was received? How did it help particular individuals with some of the things that they had experienced?

L: I thought it was amazing because I think not only did we help them that they were able to cope better, and have those skills to be able to help coach carers. A lot of them gave feedback that they also felt it helped them in their own relationships and their own lives, not only the skills they were equipped with after the two days but also even the camaraderie and what they learnt about themselves within the workshop and the training itself.

I thought it was lovely to see how they grew over the two days. It might be something like when we started there’ll be a bit of advising and a lot of people had the perception that coaching is that you’re going and saying “No, don’t worry, you can get through this.” So this kind of cheerleading champion. And not that there is no place for that anywhere, but there was unlearning as well as learning. So, unlearning about actually that’s not what coaching is about and just kind of suspend some of the beliefs around it, and just try these things on and after the two days if you don’t like coaching and if you don’t want to give it a try that’s absolutely fine. It was just kind of this invitation to try these coaching skills as they are, taking a step back, using the silence, and all of those things you do as coaches. And it was really amazing to see everyone after the second day talk about why this stuff is so powerful.

S: Of course. And what are some of the things that you took from it or that really enjoyed about the training?


L: I loved to see the progression. To see such a big jump in two days and to see how everyone bonded within those two days, it’s just so lovely and the people were amazing. To hear their stories and to hear how they were using something that was maybe quite painful for them or something that they had been through, and how they came out the other side, and their stories of strength and courage and how they were using that to kind of give back to other people, it’s really beautiful when you see that slice of human nature. And just being around all those people and seeing that they want to give back from what they’ve been through. I felt very privileged to be part of that.

S: And finally, how did you enjoy the partnership with St Christopher’s and Innovation Unit, and what do you feel this program offers to people that are perhaps helping others deal with these sorts of difficulties?


L: I thought it was great. All the people I met were so open to it and there was so much encouragement coming from all angles. There were lots of different personalities in the room. There were lots of people from different walks of life, different experiences. Some had never experienced coaching before, some had a fair idea of what it was about, and I felt how that was held and followed up, I thought it was a really nurturing environment not only in the training room but even the stories I heard in the follow-up, it was a way of dealing with concerns to make sure everybody was looked after.

I absolutely love being a coach, you know how passionate I am about coaching, and I think sometimes, and especially in quite high emotional situations or maybe where people are caring for someone at the end of life, coaching can hold that space when they are being truly listened to. And I think coaching really helps to hold that space for somebody else and I think it’s invaluable. There’s probably very few other places I think they get to just sit there and hold that space for an hour where it’s just theirs to be able to talk about what’s going on for them.

And I think that’s another thing. What I love about this whole thing is it’s lovely that you have the training and it’s not just off you go, then you have those learn and lunches and there are follow-ups. And it’s really kind of making sure the whole journey is catered for rather than just “Here is all the training, off you go.”

I think it marries Animas really well in that sense where it’s not just “Okay, here is lots of tools and tips, off you go into the world.” It’s not hands-holding I wouldn’t say but it’s that kind of we’re just keeping it gentle and that rare feeling of saying to someone “You are really capable of this and you have all the tools and you’re really, really capable.”

Also knowing that if I have a little bit of a wobble I have somewhere I can go or if I just need to just kind of check in with something there is somewhere I can go. And so it’s that mix between encouraging someone to know that they have all it takes to do it, but also knowing if there is anything that you need to check in with there are people you can go to and there is a space that you can always come back to.

But how was the training received by the participants? Well, here’s some feedback from some of the carers that were part of the training…



“It was 3 whole days, it was quite intense, and for me at first I thought “will I be able to do it?” because I’ve been a carer, and then my husband passed away, but I was thinking, will I be able to work with somebody else around this. But it has been very very thorough, and what’s been great is we have had supervision sessions, learning lunches etc. not just the training so it is very multi-dimensional. This also means that at no point do you feel like you’re being left by yourself, the support is always there, which is pivotal. That was one of my biggest takeaways.

Lilian was brilliant. She had a great energy, taught at a good pace, asked a lot of questions, and if you didn’t understand she really took the time to explain.

The key things I have taken away, is to listen a bit more. Don’t just rush in and give your opinion. I really feel that the lady that I have been working with has found it good to have somebody that really sits there and listens to her. Being able to reflect on things better has been very beneficial too and being able to give those carers that space for reflection. I didn’t have any of this support myself when I was caring, so to be able to give others that experience is great.”


“I’ve found it very simple, it was easy-to-grasp and personally because of my own sense of interest it was motivational for me as well. I’m not a stranger to coaching completely, and my wife actually does counselling, but coaching for the work that I’m doing feels much more suited.

Lilian was very warm, you could tell she knew her stuff. She kept things at a good pace, which is important for me. I can’t fault the delivery at all!

The varied backgrounds and experience in the room was brilliant to draw on. It created a great space of ideas and thoughts and hearing the perspectives of others meant that you felt a willingness to share whatever was coming up for you. It was a great environment and a great group of people to train with. I’m really excited about this journey and where it will take me.”


“I found it very comprehensive. There was a lot packed into a relatively short period of time and for me, I think what I’ve taken away is a better ability to reflect on the experiences, whether that be my own experience, or the experience of others. I’m naturally a people person, and so caring and conversing is second nature to me. What I found more difficult is getting to grips with holding the space, deep listening and the way that I ask questions. But having come round to how to use these techniques, it has undoubtedly improved my ability to reflect, and help the carers that I work with to do the same.

The other thing that the training has consolidated for me is how important is to empower people. Help them to find their own answers, because they’re the ones that are doing it. They might not feel like they have the answers, but questions like “how do you think your day can go better? What do you need to happen or not happen?” gives them the space to come to their own thoughts, feelings and reflections.

I found being able to draw on the experiences of the group to be so helpful. It was just a great non-judgemental space, where everyone felt comfortable to share their experience, and this just created a great environment of sharing and growth.”


“I think the biggest takeaway for me is learning to hold the space.

The first lot of training it was quite difficult stepping out of the carers head, and into that of the coach, because as a carer instantly you want to fix something, but you know you’re not there to do that, it’s about empowering people to find the best answers for them. It took a bit of getting used to initially.

Before I was matched with my first carer I remember practicing some of the techniques and questioning with my daughter and actively trying to hold back and accepting silence as a positive as opposed to a negative. This proved really helpful and over the course of this journey it has got a lot easier.

Lilian was first class. Her delivery was great and I can’t fault her at all!”

With the success of the project being recognised by other care organisations, St. Christophers Hospice have received funding to run the Coach4Care programme for another three years, and will be releasing more research on their findings to the wider community of carers.

The programme already has its next dates to train more coaches, volunteers for the supervision, as well as ongoing support from Animas!

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