Welcome to The Departure Lounge, final destination: Death

The Academy of Medical Sciences and agency The Liminal Space have teamed up on a pop-up installation that uses travel as a metaphor to – hopefully – get us all talking more about the dreaded D word

If you happen to be passing through Lewisham Shopping Centre in South London this month, you may spot a new a pop-up store promoting a number of exotic travel destinations.

On closer inspection though, the store isn’t a new travel agent. Instead The Departure Lounge and the slogans that plaster its windows, such as ‘kick the bucket’ and ‘gone to a better place’, are actually common euphemisms for society’s least favourite word: death.

The installation has been brought to life by the Academy of Medical Sciences in collaboration with The Liminal Space and Wellcome Trust, as part of a new campaign to encourage the public to discuss all things death.

“We were inspired by the idea of destinations, and the thought and planning that we all put into travel. Death is our final destination and the journey that we all take can be a good one or a bad one depending on how informed and prepared we are,” says The Liminal Space Director, Amanda Gore.

Launched to coincide with Dying Matters Awareness Week, the team settled on Lewisham in South London as the location for the pop-up, which is home to the UK’s first ever hospice, St Christopher’s.

The Liminal Space’s design takes inspiration from classic airport tropes, and includes suitcases filled with people’s end of life experiences, luggage tags which reveal how medical science has changed the way we die, an interactive departures board which explores what it means to have a ‘good death’, and a departure gate where visitors have the opportunity to speak to a range of experts in end of life care.

“Each of the elements is designed to feel familiar in some way, but softer and more enticing than your standard airport lounge – plus our seating is much more comfortable! The space is also staffed by hosts and hostesses who are professionals, and volunteers working in end-of-life care who are there to answer questions and offer support,” says Gore.

Visitors are encouraged to share their views on what is most important to them when it comes to dying, which will then be used to help inform the Academy of Medical Sciences’ ongoing research and healthcare policy around end of life care.

The Departure Lounge certainly feels timely, given the constant headlines about the UK’s ageing population. It isn’t the first project to attempt to shake up the cliché-ridden conversation around death either.

SomeOne’s rebrand of funeral comparison site Beyond last year ditched the sombre colour palettes and sickly euphemisms typically used in funeral care for a sunny yellow brand colour and a cheery looking mascot dressed in a turtleneck, while Welsh design studio Smörgåsbord recently launched a new service, OMDB (Over My Dead Body), which works with clients to design and commission alternative headstones.

It’s an important subject and – given that death affects us all – one that we should all be talking about much more. Clever, creative projects like The Departure Projects could well be part of the solution when it comes to opening up those conversations.

The Departure Lounge will be at Lewisham Shopping Centre until June 7; departurelounge.org