Joan Hollywood – obituary

Joan HollywoodJoan Hollywood

1941 – 2015

Joan Hollywood was a mother whose adult son died in 2008 after many years of drug and alcohol use. Unable to find support for grieving a substance-related death, Joan, with her husband Paul, founded the support organisation, Bereavement Through Addiction (BTA), in Bristol.

BTA provides a helpline, support groups and an annual memorial service for people bereaved in this way, as well as training for organisations in the field.

Already an accomplished artist and crafts person, with a long-standing concern for social justice, Joan became a tireless campaigner for people bereaved by substance use. Through BTA she developed an extensive network of bereaved people and practitioners involved with substance use deaths, drug and alcohol treatment and bereavement support. She was also The Compassionate Friends’ national contact for parents bereaved in this way.

Joan was the inspiration behind a major research project to better understand and improve support for this kind of bereavement. Based at the University of Bath, in collaboration with the University of Stirling, the project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council from September 2012 to September 2015. Joan’s passionate commitment to the research has been crucial to the project’s design; her networks were instrumental in helping us to interview 106 bereaved people and undertake focus groups with 40 practitioners (some also bereaved).

Joan also participated in a working group of 12 practitioners tasked with developing guidelines for improving how services respond to those bereaved through substance use.

Unexpectedly, Joan suffered two strokes and died a few weeks later on 10 March. The guidelines, to be launched at the project’s final event on 23 June, will be dedicated to Joan and her passionate commitment to improve support for people who have lost a loved one to drugs and alcohol.

Christine Valentine, Lorna Templeton, Tony Walter, Richard Velleman, Linda Bauld, Jennifer McKell, Allison Ford, Gordon Hay, Bereavement Through Substance Use Project.


Joan was graced with the rare gift of being able to transform personal pain into a flame of inspiration, which she used to bring solace to those bereaved by addiction. Equally important was the power of her conviction that this issue must be taken seriously, and she worked tirelessly with the Universities of Bath and Stirling, making a most valuable, and much-needed, contribution to the research on this, hitherto, marginalised topic. Joan has left a landmark legacy, and the inspiration ignited by her dedication is certain to carry on into the future.

Esther E Harris, independent practitioner


Joan was part of the advisory group for the Adfam and Cruse project, supporting those bereaved through drug or alcohol use to develop and deliver peer support to others bereaved in this way. Joan was one of a small number of people who had focused on this most pressing issue and laid the groundwork for national projects such as ours. In the time she was involved in the project, her passion and dedication were highly evident – she was always willing to contribute her time to providing the vital voice of families in our work. Her contribution to the family support sector will be sadly missed, and we will do anything we can to support the work of Bereaved Through Addiction over the coming years.

Oliver Standing, on behalf of Adfam, and Fiona Turnball, on behalf of Cruse Bereavement Care


Joan Hollywood: the world has lost one of its most gentle yet influential ambassadors for the deprived and unfortunate.  Joan had a huge tenacity and resilience for pioneering and driving new areas of work that can make a difference to the lives of so many.  She leaves behind the legacy of her charity BTA, and the near completion of the Bath and Stirling University Research Project for those bereaved through substance use.  In death, Joan continues to inspire us all to continue to develop her work and remain connected to her memory.

 Darren McEvoy, senior family practitioner DHI Bristol and committee member BTA


As mothers, Joan and I had an immediate bond because we shared a common sorrow and heartache – the loss of our sons to addiction. Since 2009, she and her husband Paul loyally attended DrugFAM’s annual Bereaved by Addiction conference to remember their son Paul. Despite her own loss, she was a kind, supportive, understanding and sympathetic lady who always had time to listen and care for others who were experiencing that devastating loss.

We spoke many times on the phone about her desire to set up Bereavement Through Addiction, which  I am proud to say she and Paul achieved. Since then she has worked tirelessly in offering support and in raising awareness of the problems faced by those dealing with the death of a loved one through addiction.

I was so pleased that I attended the Bereavement Through Addiction memorial event, which took place at St. James Priory in Bristol in November last year.  As always, thanks to Joan it was a welcoming and well-supported event offering all those who have lost a loved one through addiction the opportunity to come together for a wonderful, uplifting and powerful ceremony of remembrance. Her thank you email to me read, ‘Dear Elizabeth, thank you for your contribution to the BTA memorial event on Saturday – to have Simon speak as well made it extra special. I think you are right, we should team up to hold a joint memorial in 2016/17. I will have this on the agenda for our next BTA management meeting in January. We should check out Westminster Abbey and St Pauls Cathedral and have a day out together. Thank you again. Best wishes, Joan’.

It was a privilege to sit with her on the Adfam/Cruse advisory panel. She would often ring or email me with constant positive encouraging words of support for the work DrugFAM does to support the bereaved.

I have lost a soul mate who has left a dignified and long lasting legacy through the passion for her work for the bereaved in Bristol and the South West.

Elizabeth Burton-Phillips, chief executive DrugFAM 


I remember meeting Joan for the first time over six years ago, following the death of her son Paul in 2008. What has always stayed with me was hearing her relate someone’s response to her son’s death as, ‘It must be such a relief for you’. It was this comment that brought the stigma attached to the death of a child to drugs or alcohol into such sharp relief.

The death of a child is the death of a child and the grief remains the same – regardless of the cause. Her experience with the police and coroner added to the trauma of losing her son. Joan’s need to address the stigma attached to bereavement through drug or alcohol use burned bright and led to improvements by both police and coroner’s office in how they respond to bereaved family members.

Joan and her husband Paul went on to set up a support group for others who’d also lost loved ones to drugs and alcohol, and this met regularly at Bristol Drugs Project’s (BDP) premises.

Joan’s final blow against stigma was establishing a memorial event to remember lives lost to drugs and alcohol. The first event took place in December 2010, and was both heart-breaking and uplifting in equal parts.

The names of lost loved ones were read out and then recorded permanently in a book designed by people in recovery at BDP.

Poems were shared, songs sung and a wonderful choir created space for people to remember and celebrate the lives of loved ones lost to drugs and alcohol.

In the sixth memorial event in this year we will also be able to remember and celebrate Joan’s life who, with her partner Paul, turned an experience most of us can only imagine the horror of into Bereavement Through Addiction, which supported those who were bereaved and challenged the attitude of ‘others’ to their loved ones . This is Joan’s very fine legacy.

Maggie Telfer, CEO Bristol Drugs Project