March 7, 2024

Charity Spotlight: Coroners’ Courts Support Service

The Coroners' Courts Support Service (CCSS) is an organisation which provides practical and emotional support to families and other witnesses attending coroners’ courts. They have volunteers on the ground providing invaluable support to over 45 courts in England and Wales, as well as a telephone support service.

Dr Billie Oliver volunteers for two days a month at the Avon Coroners’ Court based in Flax Bourton.

What led you to become a volunteer with CCSS?

I have been volunteering with CCSS since 2019. I had retired from my role at the University of the West of England (UWE) a few years prior and had been looking for a voluntary position which would suit my skillset and be interesting to me.

I saw an advert for CCSS volunteers on the Parish Council notice board in my local village and it resonated with me. I had been involved in the inquest process myself a few years before when a family member died, and I felt that I had relevant experience I could draw on to help others. The role was local to where I live and didn’t have an onerous time commitment, which suited me well.

What training did you receive to prepare you for the role?

Given the sensitivities of the work it is important that the volunteers are well prepared and know what to expect. CCSS offered a comprehensive induction process, which meant I felt confident in my skills when I started doing the role myself.

The induction process involved observing hearings, shadowing a volunteer and a formal training course. The course took place over three days, and included the purpose and process of an inquest, as well as how to provide support to people involved and advice on communicating effectively with people who are bereaved or distressed.

For the first four sessions in court that I led, there was an experienced volunteer colleague alongside me to offer support and to ensure I was confident with what I was doing.

There is also ongoing support from the team, as well as refresher training updates.

What does a typical day involve?

The court staff look to coordinate CCSS volunteers to be there whenever someone might need support, which is almost any time there’s a hearing.

On arrival I liaise with the court staff to find out what’s listed for the day and who might need our support. Whilst we support anyone attending the coroner’s court, it is generally the family of the deceased who require the most help, particularly if they don’t have legal representation.

I introduce myself to everyone and offer to show them around and answer any questions they have. I talk them through the purpose of the inquest and the coroner’s role, as well as checking whether they have all the documents they need. Often it’s the simple things which make a big difference, like making sure people have a drink to hand, or a box of tissues if they’re upset.

Where appropriate we signpost people to other organisations who can support them, such as bereavement charities.

What is the hardest part of your day?

Whilst it can be a rewarding experience, supporting people who are upset or distressed is not easy and the role requires a degree of emotional resilience. We are routinely dealing with sensitive details about injury and death, so the role may not be for everyone.

After my shift I usually try to do something different, like go swimming, to help clear my mind before I return home. CCSS offers an external assistance service, for those who feel they need additional support.

What is the best part of volunteering with CCSS?

The human interaction is the key thing for me. Inquest hearings can be highly emotive, even if it’s a preliminary administrative hearing. I know first-hand the emotional toll it can take and I find it rewarding being able to support others in the same situation. I feel that I have some insight into what they’re going through and can, when it feels appropriate, share my experience with them.

Many of the families go out of their way to let us know how grateful they are to have had guidance or support from the CCSS volunteers and it’s a great comfort to know we make it a little bit easier for people.

It is also great to work as part of an enthusiastic team of volunteers. We have an active Whatsapp group, and we also meet up socially, a few times a year.

How you can get involved

As well as court volunteers, there are many ways to support CCSS, such as helping with raising awareness and fundraising efforts.

If you’d like to find out more about volunteering, please contact Steve Cullis, the Area Manager responsible for volunteers across Bristol and beyond: [email protected] / 07534 149962. You can also find out more on the CCSS website:

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