Marie Curie’s Matt Williams.

Marie Curie: “We’re there for anybody affected by terminal illness”

18 March 2021

The COVID-19 crisis has left those coping with a terminal illness feeling more isolated and anxious than ever before. We hear how UK charity Marie Curie has adapted its services to continue providing crucial support to dying people and their families, with help from Barclays’ £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package.

“I’d got to the point where I knew I needed somebody to talk to. I had my diagnosis and I was told I was going to need an operation – suddenly, your whole world falls apart.”

Sara is recalling how she felt after finding out she had cancer. 

Feeling “left in the dark” and unsure where to turn, she decided to reach out to UK end of life charity Marie Curie, one of many organisations around the world to have been boosted by Barclays’ £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package. The donation aims to provide critical support to those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic – and has helped Marie Curie to launch ‘Check-in and Chat’, a new telephone befriending service for people affected by terminal illness.

“When I phoned Marie Curie I didn’t know what to expect,” says Sara. “At best I thought I’d have to wait another 14 to 16 weeks. When the charity turned around and said, ‘Do you mind if we go ahead and pass on your number and you’ll get a call next week which will be with the same person every week for as long as you need it’, I just thought, ‘Are you kidding me? This is fantastic’.

“It’s quite strange at first to think you’re calling up to speak to a stranger, but so quickly it becomes something to look forward to and something so essential. Now I have a lovely lady who phones me every week, and she’s just amazing. She lets me ramble. She lets me cry. We have a good giggle.”

New services for the ‘new normal’

Sara is one of thousands of people the charity supports every year after receiving a diagnosis for a terminal illness. Although COVID-19 has dominated the headlines for the past year, the pandemic has not stemmed the tide of other health needs in the UK. Instead, it has made treatment and care more complicated, leaving healthcare professionals and volunteers grappling with increased restrictions and infection control measures – and those they support, like Sara, facing increased isolation.

Like other charities, Marie Curie, which helps those dealing with terminal illness as well as their friends and families, has had to adapt fast.

Marie Curie’s Bonnie Harris.

Bonnie Harris runs the new Check-in and Chat befriending service at Marie Curie.

We noticed an increase in calls from people that were feeling lonely and isolated, and also, more questions around the current situations or what rules and regulations apply to them

Bonnie Harris

Information and Support Service Coordinator, Marie Curie

That’s why funding from Barclays has been crucial to helping the charity meet soaring demand for its services and find new ways to support people where in-person visits are no longer allowed.

Matt Williams, Head of Information and Support at Marie Curie, says the funding has been used to increase the support offered by the charity, including through the nationwide Check-in and Chat telephone befriending service. Barclays’ contribution has also helped Marie Curie deliver over 225 support sessions through a new telephone bereavement support service, double its monthly video consultations – and reach more than 5,800 people through online support.

Williams says that since the pandemic began, the charity has seen support line enquiries increase by around 30%, and its new COVID-19 information hub averages around 25,000 views a week from members of the public and professionals seeking information, guidance and support.

Barclays’ support, he says, has been “fantastic”. “The donation has gone into investing in a number of our services to support people. We’ve been able to adapt some of those services during COVID-19, so that people aren't isolated, and that services aren’t interrupted.”

Sara, supported by Marie Curie.

Sara says Marie Curie’s support for her during the pandemic has been “life changing”.

Having someone to talk to without feeling I’m putting a burden on them has really lifted my spirits


supported by Marie Curie

Someone to talk to

Bonnie Harris, Information and Support Service Coordinator at Marie Curie, runs the new Check-in and Chat befriending service and spends a lot of her week talking to people like Sara who have been affected by a diagnosis.

“The Check-in and Chat service is available to anybody that's been affected by terminal illness: it could be the person with the illness, their family, friends or carers,” Harris explains. “The service gives people the chance to talk openly about how they feel to the same person, each week for up to 30 minutes.”

Like many, Harris has been working from home since the pandemic hit. “We have seen a huge increase in the number of calls to our support line,” she says. “In 2020 we saw around 20% more contacts compared with the same time the previous year. We noticed an increase in calls from people that were feeling lonely and isolated, and also, more questions around the current situations or what rules and regulations apply to them.”

Reflecting on the launch of the service, Williams says it has been “challenging to say the least” to create something new in the last few months, but that the charity had “noticed the isolation and the loneliness, and wanted to do something about it”.

“We've recruited and trained a large number of volunteers to help us and I'm really proud that we can deliver and we don't have any waiting lists. We couldn't do that without the support of companies like Barclays.”

For Sara, the new service has been “life changing”. She says: “Having someone to talk to without feeling I’m putting a burden on them has really lifted my spirits.”

Barclays’ COVID-19 Community Aid Package

Barclays has established a £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package to support communities impacted by the social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic. It consists of two components: charitable donations to non-profit partners working in the communities where Barclays operates; and a commitment to match personal colleague donations to their chosen non-profits who are helping COVID-19 relief efforts in their communities.

Find out more about Barclays’ COVID-19 Community Aid Package.