Blog Archives: October 2016

Lifetime Achievement Award

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Josefine Speyer, wife of the late Nicholas Albery and co-founder and patron of The Natural Death Centre Charity


“Despite the list of contenders for this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award being jam packed with luminaries from the death world, the judges were unanimous in their decision that this year the award would be given in recognition of a visionary pioneer, the architect of social change, without whom the Good Funeral Awards would probably never have come into being.

In appreciation of his memory, and in tribute to those dedicated individuals who continue to fulfil his dream 25 years on, the judges humbly, and gratefully, and with the greatest of pleasure announce that the Lifetime Achievement Award 2016 goes to the late Nicholas Albery and the Natural Death Centre charity.”



Bridging the Gap Award

Wednesday, 19 October 2016


Julian Atkinson, managing director of J. C. Atkinson & Son

The ‘Bridging the Gap’ award was introduced this year specifically to acknowledge the work being done by this particular industry supplier who is doing the most to move the funeral business forward.

Julian Atkinson was given this special award in response to the way his company, J. C Atkinson & Sons Ltd, traditionally a manufacturer of wooden coffins has embraced new, greener products into his range.

Wicker, willow, wool, banana leaf and cardboard products to name a few, coffins made from these materials are often branded as ‘alternative products’, but have now started to become accepted as the norm at funerals.

Along with offering such coffins for sale, J. C. Atkinson’s has invested time and money in educating the funeral industry, encouraging the provision of greener products as part of the normal range, making it easier for families to have a wide variety of choice and enabling individuals to have the type of coffin most suited to them, not just a choice from a selection of veneered or highly polished hardwood coffins for their love one.

Julian’s work in this area has been a large part of the reason other smaller, ‘alternative’ manufacturers have been able to bridge the gap across the funeral industry and enable the public to be given a far wider choice as a whole.

Crematorium Assistant of the Year

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


‘Brass boy’ aka Steve Biggs, of Mortlake Crematorium


Steve Biggs has worked as a Chapel Attendant and Crematorium Technician at Mortlake Crematorium, London for three years. There are a great many people in crematoria throughout the country doing Steve’s job and, like Steve, many of them are unsung heroes, too.  It was a hard choice for the judges to choose one from the deserving nominees, but finally Steve was chosen as this year’s Crematorium Assistant of the Year on the strength of this touching testimonial from a colleague:

“Steve is affectionately known as Brass boy! When Steve is on chapel duty you will see him rubbing the brass door handles, door plates and brass on the catafalque vigorously before the first service in the chapel.

“Steve is particularly sensitive to the needs of bereaved parents. Little baby coffins used to be placed on a very old wooden oak board. He transformed this by carving a heart into the solid oak and cleaned and polished it. For each baby funeral he carefully places tea lights and flowers around the board. He selects appropriate and different music for each and every funeral when parents are unable to attend.

“There was an old wooden cross that used to be placed above the catafalque. The cross was often removed for one service and then need to be put back for the next service. This was done by athletically leaping onto the catafalque and placing on a ledge. This does not look respectful in the chapel and was dangerous. Steve cleverly altered a beautiful oak 5’candle holder to hold a brass cross which could be moved easily and looked in keeping with the chapel and lecterns. Of course he polished it too!

“If nobody is attending the service Steve will select music for the person and attend the service, showing respect by bowing as the curtains close. Of course if someone has asked for no music and no service he carried out their wishes. He carries out the family’s or indeed the deceased’s wishes to the highest standard he can, without judgement or opinion.

“Whilst working in the crematory he cleans and polishes the stainless steel. Having a clean chapel and crematorium shows respect for families and the deceased.

“His colleagues love him because he bakes great cakes and sausage rolls. So the numerous diets that are started often come to an end if Steve appears with a tub of homemade chocolate shortbread or freshly made bread. Steve may be 6’2 with a booming voice but he is a gentleman and more importantly he is a kind and caring. He is moved on many occasions by the grief he comes across. His response to this is to do everything he can to look after those people, often these little touches go unnoticed but not by us.

“In the three years he has been at Mortlake Steve has completed his Crematorium Technicians Training Scheme, passed his advanced Cremator Technicians certificate, and passed 3 modules of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management diploma all with distinctions.”


Runner Up in this category: Carolyne Reeve of Teesside Crematorium

An afternoon of education at CDAS

Friday, 14 October 2016


Adam and Eve as portrayed at the Creation Museum Kentucky illustrating John Troyer’s presentation. 

There’s some interesting stuff going on in the world of academia which can go unnoticed in the frenzied world of Facebook updates and Twitterfeed, and yesterday the GFG took a few hours out to go and listen to some learned folk exploring religious responses to contemporary western death practices at the Centre for Society and Death at the University of Bath.

Introduced by good friend of the GFG Professor Tony Walter, the seminar was attended by an eclectic mixture of academics, undergraduates, postgraduates, eminent experts and interested others. Which we think included us. We put our hands up for that anyway.

Tony started things off with a paper on four ways that religions interact with society’s death practices – promotion, opposition,accommodation and compensation. In a compelling canter through illustrations of various ways different religions interact and influence with societies around the world, Tony touched on Mizuko Kuyo, monotheism’s opposition to ancestor worship, Nepalese Christianity, Madagascan death rituals , the popularity of spiritualism post WW1 and the lack of channels for grief provided in Protestant countries that have perhaps led to the development of bereavement memoirs, bereavement counselling and the association of green spaces and nature with soothing of grief.

Next to speak was Dr. Shirley Firth, presenting a paper on outdoor funeral pyres and the legal battle that began ten years ago when devout Hindu Babaji Davender Ghai was refused permission for a traditional open air pyre by Newcastle City Council. Four years later the Court of Appeal ruled that an outdoor pyre would be lawful if it took place in a structure with walls and an opening in the roof – see here. To date, none have. This could be because of the complexity of the various legal processes that would be involved in gaining planning for outdoor cremation given the likely invocation of the Prevention & Control of Pollution Act or the Environmental Protection Act. Undeterred, Mr Ghai continues to hope for his funeral to take place according to his beliefs, see here.

(As a completely irrelevant aside, readers of the blog with fond memories of THAT scene from the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice may be interested to know that Dr. Firth’s son is the one and only Colin Firth. We didn’t realise this yesterday.)

Third up was Dr. Mansur Ali from Cardiff University, presenting  early results from his research into the response from Muslims in Cardiff to the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 which is now enacted. Dr. Ali has explored the feelings and beliefs about organ donation among the Islamic community through interviews and focus groups with Islamic scholars, medical professionals and an online survey, and the impact of presumed consent that results from the Act. Entitled ‘Our Bodies Belong to God’, Dr. Ali’s fascinating presentation explored the conflict experienced for Muslims when considering transplantation of organs from or to a body that is considered the property of God and not of oneself. He outlined some of the questions that arose such as ‘if my corneas are donated to someone whose sight is restored as a result but who then goes on to watch pornography (a sin according to Islam), does this make me also a sinner?’ Results from his findings are of significant interest, and he hopes to gain funding for much more comprehensive research.

The afternoon was rounded off by Dr. John Troyer, Director of CDAS who explored the fundamental Christian response to end of life planning in the United States. Definition of when death occurs, who has the right to determine life or death and the influence of fundamental Christianity were covered in a broad ranging presentation –  protests by Christian groups outside the hospital where Terri Schiavo’s persistent vegetative state was allowed to end in death (despite attempted intervention by President George Bush and his brother Jeb Bush, then governor of Florida), and the lack of support of hospice care from some sections of the Christian Fundamentalist movement illustrated his points, and he ended with a slide showing a placard from the current presidential election campaign stating ‘1st choice for President – God, 2nd choice – Jesus, 3rd choice Trump.’

And on that rather terrifying note, the seminar was over.

Mortuary Assistant of the Year

Sunday, 9 October 2016


Louise Milligan

Louise Milligan, bereavement services and mortuary manager at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, is a shining example of caring mortuary assistant whose behind-the-scenes role means that her work is rarely seen by members of the public.

In the case of Louise, the testimony of one member of the public explains why she is this year’s award winner:

“Whilst my mother was at the Christie hospital in Manchester, following her death, we met an amazing lady called Louise Milligan. She was the manager there but I have been told she has now left to work as the mortuary manager at Stepping Hill hospital in Stockport. She sat down with me and listened as I vented all my emotions at her and then offered me a cup of tea, which made everything seem better, which makes me smile now! The post mortem was done by her and we couldn’t tell mum had even had one. I asked Louise to show me the stitches as I didn’t believe it and she showed me that the cut was made to the side so that mum could wear her blouse for her funeral. I was so grateful as my mum looked amazing and no cuts or stitches were seen by anyone, it made the post mortem worries go away.

I spoke to two other doctors at Christie about her and was amazed how she has fought for better care after death for patients and physically goes to the wards to help and train staff in care. If requested she dresses the deceased and makes sure that they leave in a very high standard. It amazes me how one person can have so much passion and commitment to a job and care for their patients. Louise called them her patients as she sees them as people and I’ll never forget when she said ’Everyone deserves the highest standards of care. I treat everyone as if they were my own as everyone is somebody’s someone’. She is so warm and caring it is a pleasure to be in her company and you can see that she genuinely cares for everyone she meets.”

NOTE: The correct term for a someone who works in a mortuary is an Anatomical Pathology Technician (APT). Louise is shining example of caring APT whose behind-the-scenes role mean that her work is rarely seen by members of the public. APTs support doctors during post mortems. They need a strong stomach for unusual sights and smells. In 2016 Louise won a Christie Award for her work –


Runner Up in this category: Lara-Rose Iredale of Guys & St. Thomas NHS Foundation Trust

Most Innovative Death Public Engagement Event

Saturday, 8 October 2016


Bristol Culture

‘Death and the Human Experience’ & ‘Death, is it your right to choose?’

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Lavish, visually stunning and highly accessible for people of all ages, Death and the Human Experience was conspicuously successful in spurring people to think and talk about death and dying.

The death exhibitions and events programme were amongst the most successful the museum service has seen with almost 63,000 visitors to ‘death: the human experience’. Several thousand people attended the events in person, and listened to recordings on-line, such as the Assisted Dying debate, ‘What is a good death?’ talk, Death Professionals in Conversation, and the Day of the Dead celebration and Death Fair

People in the UK are reluctant to talk about death and dying. They are also reluctant to record their funeral wishes and to make financial provision for their funeral.

By means of stunningly visual exhibits this exhibition encouraged visitors to start the conversation. They were urged to consider ethical issues, differing attitudes to death and how different cultures deal with the end of life – and have dealt with death from earliest times.

The exhibition displayed a diverse range of objects, from a modern Ghanaian fantasy coffin to a Victorian mourning dress, and revealed captivating stories from cultures across the world.


Runner Up in this category: Brum YODO

Traditional Funeral Director of the Year

Friday, 7 October 2016


Trevor E. W. Hickton


Trevor EW Hickton Ltd cleaves to funeral traditions and justly prides itself on its ceremonial excellence. The firm is also open-minded about new trends and works in a mutually supportive spirit with other independent funeral businesses.

Cradley Heath-based funeral directors Trevor E.W. Hickton have been carrying out the funerals of Black Country folk since 1909. Hickton’s is an inseparable part of its community and the family firm is now into its fourth generation.

The Black Country is proud of its funeral traditions – as it is of all its distinctive traditions – and Hickton’s gives Black Country people precisely the service they want and expect. The firm says of itself: “We uphold age-old funeral traditions our family have always used still to this day. Top hats, tail coats and paging the funeral cortège is policy.” In everything they do, Hickton’s employees are smart and dignified and the firm’s funeral vehicles are always immaculate.

Traditional in outlook the firm may be, as the vast majority of their clients expect, but Hickton’s also has a genuine passion for and interest in new ideas, opportunities and choices for families. Instead of being threatened by this they are – and this is rare in the funeral industry — embracing it. They are willing to offer families a whole range of choice of services and products which can help make funerals special and personal.

In an industry in which best practice-sharing is patchy and funeral directors regard competitors with hostile suspicion, Hickton’s is laudably and conspicuously collegial. The firm supports smaller independent funeral directors by renting out mortuary space, vehicles and staff. This has created a genuinely supportive community of independent funeral directors in the West Midlands who work to help each other.

Trevor E.W. Hickton’s 5 funeral homes cover the Black Country and Birmingham.


Runners Up in this category:

Albany Funerals 

Suzan Davies of Abbey Funeral Services


Scotland leads the way

Monday, 3 October 2016


The GFG slipped over the border last week to take part in one of three Round Table Discussions on Funeral Poverty hosted by Angela Constance MSP, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security & Equalities. We were in grand company – sitting round the table were a number of fine Scottish independent funeral directors along with representatives from NAFD, SAIF, Co-operative Funeralcare, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Chief Executives of Golden Charter and Dignity PLC.

It was, shall we say, slightly surprising to find Mike McCollum, Dignity CEO and beneficiary of regular and healthy remuneration as a result of the group’s successful steady growth at a discussion on funeral poverty  Perhaps the pleas from this post on the blog in 2014 hadn’t fallen completely on deaf ears; maybe his diary is booked up a couple of years in advance, but at least he was there. (Albeit we didn’t notice much in the way of constructive solutions coming from his part of the table.)

Anyways, as they say oop north, the meeting was a fascinating one. Scotland is forging ahead with issues that Westminster just doesn’t appear to want to address. The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill has been enacted and provision has been made for all sorts of far reaching improvements, including licensing of funeral directors, introduction of a funeral director’s code of practice and guidance on the costs of making funeral arrangements. The Round Table discussions are part of a consultation process recommended in the comprehensive (and well worth a read) Review for Scottish Government on Funeral Poverty in Scotland by John Birrell and Fraser Sutherland, published earlier this year, and findings will be brought together at the first national conference on funeral poverty at Norton Park Conference Centre in Edinburgh on 16th November. (Tickets for the conference are free, to register for a place please email by Friday 4th November).

Much of the discussion ranged over the current inadequacies of the Social Fund Funeral Payment and the things that were needed to improve the system. An online eligibility checker was agreed to be essential, as was swifter decision making by the DWP. Simplifying the criteria required to be eligible and a simplified form were both cited as being necessary to make it easier for families to apply, and the introduction of allowing a funeral director or other body to liaise with the DWP on behalf of a family were suggestions that met with general approval.

Currently, nobody appears to know how many families are in receipt of  SFFP payments, this data is not available from the DWP, but there are clearly growing numbers of people who find it difficult if not impossible to find the money to pay for a funeral. Where families are making an application to the SFFP, most funeral directors require a payment in advance to cover the costs of burial or cremation. As Lucy Coulbert pointed out, “I have to pay the local crematorium just under £1,000 per cremation. If the application is unsuccessful and the family isn’t able to find the money, that leaves me £1,000 out of pocket. I can’t afford to take that risk.” Knowing that an application would be successful could alleviate the need to require an impoverished family to come up with such a large amount of money in advance, as the funeral director concerned would be assured of reimbursement for the payment of disbursements.

The current allocation of £700 towards ‘other costs’ once the cremation or burial fees have been paid by the SFFP is the maximum amount available, and the ‘other costs’ have to include the cost of a coffin, a minister or officiant and the undertaker’s fees. Unsurprisingly, there were calls for this capped figure to be increased to a more realistic amount, and to increase in line with inflation, but this led to the old conundrum – and much discussed issue – of defining a simple funeral.

One would have thought that what constitutes a simple funeral shouldn’t be that difficult a thing to agree on, but without the will of the industry as a whole to adopt a specific standard and a reasonable (if locally varying) price for the same, it doesn’t seem to be possible. Having been scrapped by the NAFD in 2014 as a required provision in their Code of Conduct for being unworkable and unpoliceable, there is apparently little inclination to revisit the concept; indeed the idea was described as potentially being considered price fixing, or a cartel, but according to Nick Wilcocks, from, the vast majority of funeral directors do offer what would be considered a simple funeral (collection and care of the deceased, a simple coffin, all necessary paperwork and conveyance to the place of committal, usually in a hearse), but the costs for exactly the same service can vary by thousands of pounds.

The subject of licensing brought further debate – licensing of funeral directors will happen in Scotland, the likely timeframe being 2018/9 for the introduction of inspectors of funeral directors and in due course, the licensing of funeral directors. In the first instance, once appointed the inspector(s) of funeral directors will scope the existing provision for funerals, engage in discussions with the trade associations and other interested parties and formulate some advice to government on the form of licensing required. Generally the idea of licensing funeral directors was welcomed by all at the table, with the caveat that it must be done by an independent body, not an existing trade association.

The recommendation of introducing a funeral bond was mentioned briefly, but not gone into in depth. Hopefully this idea will have more of an airing at the conference, as the idea of some kind of a savings scheme supported by government specifically for a straightforward simple funeral available from all licensed funeral directors is one that seems to have real potential.

There was consensus on the need for transparency in the funeral industry, something that needs a great deal of work. Only around 25% of NAFD members currently have prices online, there is no standard descriptor of what is a ‘normal funeral’, and the way that individual firms charge for their services can make it hard to compare like with like.

A representative from a Dundee social enterprise put forward a suggestion that the industry might like to consider creating a foundation or trust fund from some of their profits to be available for those in financial difficulties to apply to. We liked this idea very much indeed. We didn’t have a note of any response to this suggestion from Mr. McCollum.

Finally, we will leave you with Lucy Coulbert’s straight talking conclusion, addressed to the Cabinet minister and her colleagues in Scottish government:

“Accountability. Accountability is very, very important when it comes to licensing, and when it comes to invoicing. For example, I can buy a coffin for £120, if I give you an invoice for £320 most people will say that’s about standard, if you get one from a funeral director that’s exactly the same as mine but mine’s £320 and the other funeral director’s is £900, why would you pay that? There’s a massive gap in funeral directors’ charges, and although we’re not here to point a finger and we’re not here to say you shouldn’t be earning a profit, there is a big difference between funeral directors charges. We’re talking about a very simple funeral for very vulnerable people, and if you’re getting major discrepancies in bills for the same service then why on earth would you pay it?

And the whole point of licensing, if someone’s not doing a good job, if there are complaints about a certain funeral director all the time, look into it. If they shouldn’t be a funeral director, take their bloody license away. It’s a joke. There is no accountability in this industry whatsoever. For so long, really good funeral directors have been doing an amazing job, but there are some really bad funeral directors that have been really taking advantage, and there has got to be accountability. We are supposed to be self governing – it clearly hasn’t worked. So, if you want to regulate people, you’ve got to have the balls to stand by what you’re doing.”




Modern Funeral Director of the Year

Monday, 3 October 2016


Fran Glover & Carrie Weekes of A Natural Undertaking

Carrie and Fran run a funeral business in Birmingham where they have enjoyed rapid success by facilitating highly personalized, non-traditional funerals.

Carrie Weekes and Fran Glover launched their business in Birmingham in 2014 because they felt that current funeral and commemorative practices in Birmingham, where funerals remain very traditional, don’t meet the needs of everyone. Social change, Carrie and Fran reckon, means that people now live less formal lives; their views and commitment to religion have changed. Carrie and Fran said: “We live our lives as consumers, demanding products and services that add and hold value and which reflect our individuality. The internet is used intensively to research and review. And yet the funeral industry on the whole doesn’t seem to have acknowledged any of this.”

Neither Carrie nor Fran comes from a funeral business background. Their previous experiences of the industry were as consumers and mourners. They felt that the funerals they had attended were a poor reflection of the people being farewelled.

So they set out to disrupt the pattern of ‘conveyor belt’ funerals by making a wide range of choices available and involving mourners in both planning funerals and also encouraging them to process their feelings better by playing their part in a really personal farewell on the day – if they want.

Carrie and Fran’s goals are to:

  • Create meaningful funeral events which reflect the personality and values of the person who has died
  • Encourage the involvement of those who knew them
  • Create an understanding that there are many different ways to hold a funeral
  • Help bereaved people to break away from the norm.

Among many supporting testimonials received for A Natural Undertaking, the judges felt that this one speaks most appropriately:

They are passionate advocates of a funeral to suit the deceased and their loved ones. Their business model is truly modern in an industry that is otherwise very staid.

My uncle died earlier this year and although he was in his sixties, he was by no means an ‘old man’. His death was a shock to the family and we were unprepared. We only knew he wanted to be cremated. After that, we were at a loss as to how to best honour his spirit and celebrate his life.

As is my usual default when looking for information, I turned to the Internet. Among some frankly appalling examples, the fabulous website of this company stood out a mile and really resonated with me. It is a modern, clear and concise site which has been very thoughtfully designed – detailed prices are given, along with other information that I really needed to read before making the important decision of who to employ to handle my uncle’s funeral.

From the first time I spoke to one of the owners, she became a trusted and valuable friend. Crucially for me, she was available by text and email (as well as by telephone). Her calm empathy and understanding helped me more than I can say.

With their warm support we discarded the ‘rule” book’ and thought about the person who counted – Trevor. My once vibrant, gorgeous, wonderful – and completely modern – uncle. His funeral was all about him and everything was perfect thanks to the vision and ability of these two women to offer a bespoke service. I think that Trevor’s service will prove quite the inspiration for anyone who was there and might find themselves arranging a funeral in the future – and that is a lovely thought.

They might run a funeral business, but for these two is so much more. They are, in my opinion, modern-day pioneers. Aside from their day-job, they spend a great deal of time out in the local communicating educating people about end of life decisions and encouraging discussion. Their dedication to this side of their business is remarkable as, let’s face it, most busy people don’t generally place such importance on going the extra mile for the good of society.

I thank my lucky stars that they happen to be based in the place where my uncle lived. I know that we would not have gotten the same funeral in my own local area. It would be wonderful to see the their business model spread nationwide. What a difference this could make to people’s perceptions and experiences of death and funerals. In my personal opinion, they deserve every award and accolade available.”


Runners Up in this category: The Individual Funeral Company & Wallace Stuart