The Good Funeral Guide Blog

The crying need for more funeral venues

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Venue

 

Guest post by Wendy Coulton  of Dragonfly Funerals

It struck me today when queuing at a takeout coffee kiosk how many choices I am prompted to make when I place my order – what type of coffee, how many shots, what size cup, any extras (chocolate sprinkles or cinnamon on top) and whether I have a loyalty points card? And before my thoughts were broken by the familiar coughing and spluttering of the milk being heated, I wondered how many coffee outlets there were in my home city of Plymouth? I tallied up 20 with ease.

Sadly, though, the bereaved in a city population of over 240,000 residents are currently not spoilt for choice if they want a non-religious venue for the funeral service/ceremony of their nearest and dearest. If you don’t want a church, one of the two local authority run crematorium chapels in Plymouth tends to be the assumed ‘only’ alternative.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with the staff at the crematoria. They are fantastic and do the best they can within the constraints of the facilities and the volume of funerals taking place. And some families will have no issue with the crematorium chapel’s fixed layout and absent ambience.

There is a hidden ‘gem’ though which I would love to see being more widely promoted without reliance on Funeral Directors to tell their clients. It’s a beautiful Ford2 Victorian Gothic chapel – where I can, as a qualified Civil Funeral Celebrant, conduct ceremonies because it is deconsecrated – in Ford Park Cemetery. The cemetery is run by a charitable trust and with significant grant and donations funding they transformed the disused chapel from a machinery store into a very special community space.

Ford1

Following funeral ceremonies there mourners told me they felt the chapel lifted their spirits and how much they appreciated not feeling rushed, and having the freedom to ‘personalise’ the space within the chapel and freely move and participate in the ceremony.

I have heard by word of mouth that a funeral occasionally is held at a local rugby ground for longstanding club supporters but as far as I know that’s about it when it comes to current funeral venues in Plymouth.

When I did an online search for Plymouth wedding venues, thirty options immediately appeared from manor houses and country golf clubs to a fort and even a zoo! It begs the question why can’t these venues also host funerals?

Is it a decision these businesses make based on the misplaced assumption that having a coffin with the body of a dead person in it on the premises may offend customers or upset their staff? Do they think funerals are not commercially viable? Often weddings and funerals are cited as the only time family members scattered to the four winds come together and they value the opportunity to socialise after a funeral – sharing memories and catching up. Hospitality services could be part of the ‘offer’ package for funerals to make it financially worthwhile for the venues to host.

We are a consumer society – we know our rights and we know how to complain don’t we? The bereaved seem to ‘settle for’ whatever funeral service venue they are advised is available in their area. There should be at least 30 options popping up on an online search for Plymouth funeral venues.

One day…

 

Wendy

The restored chapel at Park cemetery

8 comments on “The crying need for more funeral venues

  1. Jonathan

    Sunday 15th September 2013 at 7:29 pm

    Imagine a woodland burial ground on a windy hill in the freezing February rain. That’s what one family was doing after the local Co-op asked me to conduct a ‘graveside’ ceremony for them.

    I phoned around and found a lovely hall, who agreed to let us have the funeral there on the water’s edge in a beautiful village just a mile down the hill from the burial site. I made the journey and met with the family at the recently refurbished hall, checked out the excellent music system with them, we worked out the layout and arrangements and I rang the funeral directors to tell them where to come on the day.

    A bit nonplussed by the trestles at the side of the room, the bearers put the coffin on them and… bowed to the empty stage. We took all the time we needed, and followed the hearse up to the burial ground when we were good and ready.

    I’ve used the room a few times since. It’s next to the Ship Inn, from where my friend’s family and friends and I, drinks in hand, followed her hearse all the twenty yards to the door and carried her into the balloon-laden room and drank a toast to her, her own gin and tonic on her coffin. The balloons floated into the sky over the water as the hearse took her away to the crematorium and left us to repair to the Ship. A lovely, unhurried, informal way to have a funeral.

    (Oh, and Wendy, it’s in Noss Mayo, near Yealmpton burial ground.) xJ

  2. Friday 13th September 2013 at 9:33 am

    Here at Trefargoed Funeral Services, we try to offer alternative venues all the time for our clients and we are pleased to have been granted access to a beautiful chapel of repose – that no one now uses. Beautiful Victorian buildings such as cemetery chapels, should be used. They are interdenominational and can even be used for a non religious service. I think too many funeral directors these days are rushing people with services and no choice of venue, other than crem, or church job. Time is important as well… allowing your clients time; not rushing them. I know one funeral director who has quite often, three funerals to conduct in one day. If at all possible, only undertake one funeral each day – that way, you can devote your time and attention to it and not rush your clients.

  3. Ian

    Thursday 12th September 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Like Andrew, we have never had a real problem finding a suitable venue, regardless of size. it’s just a question of asking the questions to the right people. We have used with no problem a variety of community hall, pubs, hotels etc. If you really want a long list of places to hold a ceremony other than a crematorium./cemetery church, all you have to do is sit down and phone around likely places where people can and do gather. I would suggest that every place that you can hold a wedding is suitable for a funeral service.
    Loads of funeral directors do just this every day – its not a problem or an issue.

  4. Thursday 12th September 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I have to disagree with both Richard and Charles here.

    Since our inception, we have always offered the use of our own premises for funerals with up to 35 people present. We have recently agreed with a local community centre that funerals can take place there, with up to 175 people present, and we’ve advertised this for the first time this week. It’s on the website here http://stneotsfuneraldirectors.co.uk/a-large-funeral-in-st-neots/

    This is an area where small, free-thinking funeral directors can triumph over our corporate friends. We don’t have the high fixed overheads of vehicles and staff, or the every-funeral-must-conform attitude. We don’t need to be rushing from one place to the next. If we carried out one funeral a day, every day, I’d be as happy as the proverbial pig.

    So the use of an alternate venue is not only something that we encourage, but it’s miles less expensive for the client – £2195.00 including the reception venue, no travelling, all under one roof. We can keep the cost low because we’re not hiring in vehicles for a cortege, we’re not paying bearers, and we use the end-of-the-day times at the crematorium that no-one wants, which are cheaper. The vast majority of our clients who hold funerals at alternate venues don’t come to the crematorium. We can (and do) walk to the cemetery when burial is chosen.

    For the clients, it puts them firmly in control. They can decorate the premises how they want. We often have photos, slideshows and balloons. Sherry, bubbles and butterflies have also featured recently. From the point-of-view of the celebrant and the funeral director, there is no “have the crem got the right music” panic. There is no clock-watching. If Uncle Fred is delayed by 20 minutes because of traffic, it doesn’t matter.

    Go for it Wendy. If you can’t find a funeral director willing to support you, Dragonfly Funeral Services has a definite ring to it. Do kingfishers and dragonflies have anything in common?

  5. Thursday 12th September 2013 at 11:44 am

    I think this is a hugely important issue. Again, the biggest problem, I expect, is that the ‘general public’ are not crying out for this facility…probably because it has never occurred to them that there might be an alternative, or that they might want to use it.

    There is a disused Victorian chapel in the cemetery just across the road from our office and I look at it longingly every time I pass. It seems a crime that such a beautiful building is not used, and that it would be such a valuable resource for the local community…and not only for funerals. There is a similar building in the town’s other Victorian cemetery. Half of that is available for funerals but used very rarely (usually by us, I believe.) A community group running those buildings would be so wonderful!!

  6. Charles Cowling

    Thursday 12th September 2013 at 10:36 am

    A problem for secularists wanting a venue where they can take their anxious eyes off the clock and give a funeral full measure is that if they opt for an alternative venue to a crematorium, they end up paying for 2 venues — you pay for the crematorium ceremony space whether you use it or not.

    Speaking with my funeral undertaker’s crepe-wreathed topper atop me nut, I observe that alternative venues + longer funeral ceremonies = fewer funerals per day and therefore increased fees for bereaved people. (Natural burial involves a heck of a long time + muddy wheel arches = grrr.)

    Better (or real) funerals are likely to cost more. Whether or not bereaved people are prepared to stump up depends on the value they place on the experience. Oddly, perhaps, they attach greater value to weddings, even though they know there’s but a 50:50 chance of the blissful couple staying together. The odds of a dead person staying dead are altogether much better.

    • Richard

      Thursday 12th September 2013 at 11:14 am

      Nail on head, Charles. Catch 22. Funerals need time and money for before, during and after ceremony activities in venues. Both are often in short supply but it’s also a question of priorities: where there’s a will there’s a way.

  7. Richard

    Thursday 12th September 2013 at 9:58 am

    Wendy, this is an important point well made and worth repeating time and again. We’re told funerals can be held anywhere, not just in the church or crem chapel, but the reality is there seem to be so many more options for wedding venues. While experts know the legalities of where you can and can’t do either, this is not well yet communicated to the public. If it was people would be encouraged to think out of the box more when planning.

    The lack of promotion of alternative funeral venues must indeed be down to fees people are prepared to pay, which is not a lot when compared to weddings. Deconsecrated chapels are a promising option if they’re not derelict or being developed for something else.

    As a church member, I wish every success to those seeking more choice for civil funeral venues that liberate them from the in-out crem.

    As an aside, punk impresario Malcolm McLaren had a non-religious ceremony in a deconsecrated church. This was followed by a funeral procession to the cemetery headed by a horse-drawn carriage displaying his coffin spray-painted with the words ‘Too fast to live, too young to die’. Guests followed in a double-decker bus destined for ‘Nowhere’.

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