NCARE (Nottingham Centre for the Advancement of Research into Supportive, Palliative and End-of-life Care)

Exploring the social management of lone deaths 

Funded by: The Leverhulme Trust

Start/finish date: August 2018 to July 2020

Principal Investigator: Dr Glenys Caswell

Research Fellow: Dr Nicola Turner



To develop understanding of the social circumstances of lone deaths and to explore responses to such deaths of local authority workers and the news media.

The research aim will be answered by addressing the following objectives:

  • Mapping the processes by which local authorities manage lone deaths
  • Exploring the social circumstances of lone deaths
  • Discovering how workers who deal with the aftermath of lone deaths negotiate their roles in this process
  • Exploring workers’ perceptions of lone deaths
  • Examining responses to lone deaths in the news media


A series of between 10 and 15 case studies of adult lone deaths will be developed. Each case study will comprise some or all of the following components:

  • Documentary analysis of, for example, coroner files and media coverage relating to the death
  •  Interviews with people who knew the deceased person e.g. neighbours; relatives; professionals
  • Interviews with people involved in managing the aftermath of the lone death, e.g. council employees who handle arrangements; coroner staff; funeral director
  • Observations of events, e.g. searching the individual’s home; their inquest; their funeral
  • Photographs will be taken of objects relevant to observed events, such as items in the individual’s home or scenes from their funeral

Documentary analysis will be ethnographic, in order to capture data regarding the deceased individual as well as an understanding of the context of the specific source. Interviews carried out will be in-depth and semi-structured to permit participants and interviewer together to explore the participant’s ideas and experiences openly. Observations will be carried out with the intention of being a non-participant and of impacting the event under observation as little as possible, but with the acknowledgement that there may be circumstances, such as when attending the funeral of an individual who had no friends or relatives, that this is impossible. Photographs taken will be of objects and scenes that cannot be identified as relating to a specific individual.

In addition to collecting data to build the case studies, we will conduct semi-structured interviews with workers who take charge of managing lone deaths to explore their experiences and perspectives of working in this field. A media analysis of lone deaths will also be undertaken to establish an understanding of how the issue is presented to a wider public.

Stage of Development:

Data collection has commenced. We are identifying individuals who have died alone at home through a local authority department responsible for delivering Public Health Funerals, and through news reports. Documents relating to each case study have been obtained from, e.g. coroner’s offices and news websites. Interviews with people who knew the deceased person in a personal or a professional capacity have also been carried out. In addition, we have interviewed practitioners who deal with the aftermath of a lone death from a range of services including local authorities, funeral providers and funeral celebrants.

An analysis of media responses to dying alone and lone deaths has been carried out, and the results have been published in a recent edition of the journal ‘Mortality’. 


Turner, N. and Caswell, G. (2019) ‘Moral ambiguity in media reports of dying alone’.Mortality, doi:10.1080/13576275.2019.1657388 [Published online 3 September 2019].

‘Exploring the social management of lone deaths’ Leverhulme Trust Newsletter, May 2018, page 9. 

'For some people dying alone is not such a bad thing – here’s why', The Conversation, January 2018

For further information, please contact: Glenys Caswell 0115 8230872.


NCARE (Nottingham Centre for the Advancement of Research into Supportive, Palliative and End-of-life Care)

University of Nottingham
School of Health Sciences
Queen's Medical Centre
Nottingham, NG7 2HA