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Fran Hall

 

Predictably, the Good Funeral Guide’s recent decision to take a public stance on our misgivings about the wisdom of UK hospices engaging in the Hospice Funerals franchise opportunity has not been welcomed by the parties involved in this venture.

We have been described as ‘disingenuous’, ‘concerned with protecting the commercial interests of those who fear increased competition in the funeral market’ and people have been encouraged to ‘question our motives’.

We thought it might be worth stating our position very clearly for the public record.

 

The Good Funeral Guide was founded to represent the interests of funeral consumers. Neither its CEO nor any of its directors has a financial stake in any undertaking business.

WHERE DO WE GET OUR MONEY FROM?

Like any consumer organisation, the GFG can only be of value to consumers if it is a sustainable business. Like any consumer organisation, we must source revenue principally from one or more of three sources: i) subscribers (consumers), ii) funeral directors, iii) advertisers. Because we want our site to be open to all at the point of need we do not charge consumers. Because we do not want to clutter our site with distracting, garish ads, we do not accept advertising. Instead, we invite funeral directors to submit to our stringent accreditation process, charge them for the work involved and, on top of that, charge them a small subscription of £150 pa for our review of their services to appear on our website. The rationale for this is clear: funeral directors benefit from increased business once they have been recommended by the GFG; they can afford to pay.

WE ALWAYS SAY WHAT WE THINK

In submitting to our accreditation process, funeral directors understand that the GFG is feisty, fearless and outspoken in its advocacy of the bereaved in a way which may occasionally make them uncomfortable. It is precisely our free-spirited integrity that makes our endorsement of their services a) valuable and b) worth paying for. They know that we have refused to accredit funeral directors who have failed to meet GFG standards; we are hard to please. Above all, they understand that we always put the interests of funeral consumers first. So they know that if hospices were to extend their care of their patients by caring for them in death in a way which we considered to be beneficial to people who have died and those who mourn them, the GFG would support them. As indeed we would.

WE LOOK FOR THE BEST

Unlike a great many (uninformed) commentators on the funerals business, the Good Funeral Guide does not take a view that the business of undertaking is systemically predatory and exploitative. We know that while there are a great many unsatisfactorily run businesses, there are also that some are exemplary and admirable. That we sing the praises of the latter is to the benefit of consumers. This does not make the Good Funeral Guide a mouthpiece for those businesses. That we have invited our listed funeral directors to endorse our opposition to the Hospice Funerals concept is because we consider their views to be of weight and merit.

WE THINK THE HOSPICE FUNERALS CONCEPT IS DOOMED

To reiterate: in the matter of the Hospice Funerals enterprise, we call it as we see it. It is our judgement that the business model is intrinsically defective: Why? Because Hospice Funerals will not be competitive on cost, personal service, transparency or choice. Hospice Funerals will not improve the lot of funeral consumers. Hospices should not be spending volunteer-raised money on an untried, speculative enterprise. Britain’s best funeral directors happen to agree with us.

Fran Hall

 

Last weekend, we despatched letters to the boards of trustees of every hospice in the UK to share our concerns about the new franchise offer that was launched at the Hospices UK conference the previous week.

Our misgivings about this venture are shared by a number of individuals and companies who gave permission for their names to be added in support. The letter is published in full below, together with the names of those who agree with us.

 

The Chair of the Board of Trustees

SAMPLE Hospice

December 1st 2017

HOSPICE FUNERALS: THE GOOD FUNERAL GUIDE COUNSELS CAUTION

Dear Trustees of SAMPLE Hospice

We write regarding the recent launch of Hospice Funerals LLP, of which you may well be aware. Should you not have heard of this new venture, it is a joint collaboration between St. Margaret’s Hospice Ltd. in Somerset and Memoria Ltd., owner /operator of a number of crematoria around the country and of Low Cost Funeral Ltd.

Hospice Funerals is offering all UK hospices the opportunity of a becoming a partner in their franchise funeral director scheme by becoming a ‘Hospice Provider’, entitled to operate exclusively within a defined area, offering undertaking services branded under the hospice name. For full details, please see the Hospice Funeral website https://www.hospicefunerals.co.uk/

The Good Funeral Guide wishes to draw the attention of the Board of Trustees to the very serious concerns that we have about this proposed new revenue stream generator, despite the public proclamations of how this will address the issue of funeral poverty and ‘bring choice, quality and affordability to families in our communities.’

As a trusted, not for profit, social enterprise company, wholly independent of the funeral industry, that has for years supported, empowered and represented the interests of dying and bereaved people living in the UK, we would be delighted to see a truly ethical, community focused undertaking service evolving from the hospice movement; indeed, we have a blueprint guide to how to set up such a model on our website which we developed in partnership with the Plunkett Foundation several years ago.

Unfortunately, this new model proposed by Hospice Funerals does not, in our opinion, fall into the category of an ethical, community focused service, despite the marketing hype.

THE COMMERCIAL RISK

  1. It is a franchise operation, which is intended to utilise ‘brand recognition’ of the hospice name to leverage advantage over existing providers of undertaking services in the franchise catchment area (defined by Hospice Funerals) and by ‘disrupting the market’, in the process conveniently increasing the numbers of cremations carried out by the crematoria owned by Memoria Ltd.

The Good Funeral Guide is not aware of the successful application of any franchise model to the business of funerals. Franchise operations are best suited to selling merchandise, not personal service. The franchise model proposed by Hospice Funerals is wholly unproven.

  1. Figures provided by Hospice Funerals indicate an extremely optimistic analysis of the potential income of a ‘Hospice Provider’. Their analysis suggests that a single unit operation offering funeral packages at their pre-specified prices, requiring a capital input of £110,00, would generate £356,500 through sales of 100 ‘at-need’ funerals and 46 pre-arranged funerals in year one, yielding profit of £26,656. Year three sales are projected as comprising 200 ‘at-need’ funerals, 120 pre-arranged, generating £212,964 profit.

The Good Funeral Guide contends that these figures are misleading, to say the least.

The ‘funeral market’ is, by admission of the directors of Memoria Ltd, already saturated with providers. In the town of Taunton, where the first Hospice Funerals unit is scheduled to open in early 2018, there are currently twelve funeral directors catering for the needs of local bereaved families. This in an area with a population of 109,000 (the borough of Taunton Deane) and an average UK death rate of 9.4 per 1,000.

Figures quoted by the representatives of Hospice Funerals at the launch of the scheme last week cited the average cost of funerals in some areas as being ‘well over £6,000’.

This figure was derived from the Royal London National Funeral Cost Index 2017 and was arrived at by adding the cost of a burial in a specific London Borough, Kensal Green, (£9,809) to the cost of a cremation in the same borough (£3,223) and dividing in two.

It is mysterious that the Royal London Report didn’t allow for the fact that almost 80% of UK funerals are cremations. A more accurate average would be to factor in the percentage split of types of funeral, (20 x £9,808 + 80 x £3,223, divided by 100), which would result in an average cost of a funeral in the most expensive location in the UK being £4,504, not the much more alarming figure of £6,516 quoted in the report.

Note: all monies that will be paid into a Hospice Funerals pre-arranged funeral plan will be held in a Royal London whole-of-life policy, indicating a close and perhaps unquestioning relationship between the two bodies.

Directly related to the above ‘average cost of funerals’, the prices of the funeral packages offered by Hospice Funerals range from £1,295 for an unattended service at a Memoria crematorium to £3,500 for a traditional service with a hearse and bearers at a crematorium of your choice.

In comparison with the inflated figures quoted as the cost of an average funeral, this might seem to be a wholly worthy attempt to address funeral poverty, as it was described at the Hospice Funerals launch, yet the prices of their funeral packages are equivalent with, and in some cases higher than, those currently charged for comparable services by most independently owned funeral directors.

As an example, two Good Funeral Guide Recommended Funeral Directors in the Taunton area (where the first white labelled Hospice Funerals unit will start operating in 2018) are both lower priced for the same traditional funeral service, with all third-party costs included:

Wallace Stuart Lady Funeral Directors (Bridgwater) £2,630.00

Crescent Funeral Directors (Taunton) £3,000.00

Hospice Funerals £3,500.00

The Good Funeral Guide is concerned that the figures quoted by Hospice Funerals could erroneously lead hospices to think that they would have a straightforward price advantage over competitors in offering a local undertaking service, when this would simply not be the case.

THE REPUTATIONAL RISK

We also consider the employment of the name and reputation of hospice, both specifically in the use of the individual name of a local franchisee, and nationally in the use of the company name ‘Hospice Funerals’, to be a calculated, and indeed one could say cynical, attempt to persuade the public that this new undertaking model is simply an extension of the highly reputable and locally supported end of life care provided by their cherished local hospice.

The fact that it is in fact a white label operation, maximizing the use of the ‘brand name’ of the hospice in each area, controlled by Memoria Ltd, who have divided the UK into ‘catchments’ of 100,000 people (and who are proffering these 650 areas for sale at £10,000 p.a. franchise opportunities to hospices as a means of securing their much-needed income) seems to be lost somewhere in the marketing spin.

We would suggest any hospice considering entering an arrangement of this kind notes the following:

  • Other franchisees could give the brand a bad reputation
  • All profits (a percentage of sales) are shared with the franchisor.
  • The franchise agreement will include restrictions on how you can run the business. You might not be able to make changes to suit your local market.
  • You may find that after time, ongoing franchisor monitoring becomes intrusive
  • The franchisor might go out of business.

Reputational damage to individual hospices signing up to this opportunity could potentially be catastrophic. Legacy donations and in memoriam fundraising could be seriously impacted if families elect to use a hospice funeral home, as they could consider they have done their ‘giving back’ to the hospice through their payment of the fees involved with the funeral.

The move from being perceived as a deserving recipient of gifts and donations to being seen as a money-making business entity, competing with established, trusted and well-liked funeral providers, is a subtle but potentially disastrous one, impacting on the public perception that a hospice is a wholly altruistic organisation.

Comments on our blog post about the advent of Hospice Funerals have been overwhelmingly against the idea of hospices entering the supplying of funeral services.

Phrases used include ‘unethical’ (several times) ‘goes against every principle a hospice should stand by’, ‘will negatively impact their charitable and bequest income’, ‘conflict of interest’, ‘risk losing this public support’, ‘at what point does care and support for the dying and impartial advice given to a family suddenly at sea after a death turn into a sales opportunity?’

On social media, there has been a similar reaction. Questions have been asked about the arms-length relationship between a hospice and its funeral home – how will this work in reality? What will be the impact on the current relationship with local undertakers when the hospice enters the marker as a direct competitor? How will the new hospice funerals service be promoted to the community, and how will this be reacted to?

It seems to us that hospices will be carrying all of the risk in the hope of optimistically calculated but completely unproven rewards.

If SAMPLE HOSPICE is considering partnering with Hospice Funerals, we would counsel strongly that the trustees take heed of our concerns before making your final decision to risk your donated funds to venture into competition against the local funeral directors who work so closely with you to look after the families of those whose lives end in your care.

The Good Funeral Guide is supported in our misgivings about the wisdom of this new venture by the individuals and organisations listed below, some of whom may be known to you as local, independently owned undertakers who share our fears about this seductive offer being touted to hospices around the UK.

Should you wish to contact me directly about this I would be more than happy to discuss our collective concerns further. My e-mail address is fran.hall@goodfuneralguide.co.uk.

Fran Hall

CEO Good Funeral Guide CIC

On behalf of the board of directors of the Good Funeral Guide and the undersigned supporters.

 

A Oliver & Sons Funeral Directors

A.W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service Ltd

Adrian Pink – Town & Country Funerals

Alistair Turner Funeral Directors

Allistair Anderson & Hasina Zaman – Compassionate Funerals

Amanda Pink – Evelyn’s Funerals

Andrew Dotchin (Reverend)

Andrew Smith Funeral Service

Angie McLachlan MA; BA Hons, BIE

Anna Briggs – Independent Officiator of bespoke funeral ceremonies

Anne & Simon Beckett-Allen – Rosedale Funerals

C Waterhouse & Sons

Carrie-Ann Rouse – Rouse & Co. Independent Funeral Directors

Carrie Weekes & Fran Glover – A Natural Undertaking

Claire Turnham – Only With Love

Claire Young – Young’s Independent Funeral Services

Clare Brookes – VW Funerals

Colin Liddell – Liddell Funeral Services

Coles Funeral Directors

David Hardie & Son Funeral Directors

David Holmes – Holmes & Family

Don O’Dwyer – O’Dwyer Funerals

E A Dodd & Son

Edward Towner – Arthur C. Towner Ltd

Emma Curtis – Secular Minister, Celebrant & Grief Counsellor

Eric Massie Funeral Directors

Gail Willington – Elizabeth Way & Company

Gordon Tulley & Alison Finch – Respect Woodland Green Burial Parks

Heathfield Funeral Service

Jacob Conroy & Sons Funeral Directors

James L Wallace Funeral Directors

Jane Morgan – Jane Morgan Ceremonies

Jeremy Neal – Rotherham Funerals

Jo Loveridge – Albany Funerals

John Beattie & Sons Funeral Directors

John Pinder – W. E. Pinder & Son Ltd

Judith Dandy – Dandelion Farewells

Judy Mansfield – Cherish Ceremonies

Karen & Julian Hussey – A. G. Down

Leverton & Sons

Louise Winter – Poetic Endings

Lucy Coulbert – The Individual Funeral Company & Coulbert Family Funerals

Like & Liz Farthing – Farthing Funeral Service

Maggie Brinklow & Tony Killen – Margaret Rose & Bespoke Funerals

Malcolm Jones – Molyneux Jones Family Funeral Directors

Mark Binnersley MPRCA Communications Consultant

Martin Stibbards – S. Stibbards & Sons

Matthew Lucas Funeral Directors

Michael & Clare Gamble – Michael Gamble Funeral Directors

Nick Armstrong – Armstrongs Funeral Service

Nikki Hill – Bright-Hill Funerals

Overmass & Chapple

Paul Burrows Gibson – Veterans Funerals UK

Paul Sullivan – Sullivan Funeral Directors

Peace Funerals

Peter Grenfell Funeral Directors

Poppy Mardall – Poppy’s Funerals

Philip & Sallie Evans – Sussex Funeral Directors

Rosalie Kuyvenhoven – Rituals Today

Robert Samson Funeral Directors

Rupert Callender – The Green Funeral Company & Callender, Callender, Caughty & Drummond

Saint & Forster Funeral Directors

Simon Helliar-Moore & Robert Helliar-Moore – Crescent Funerals

Simon Smith – Green Fuse, Heart & Soul Funerals

Southgate & Roberts

Tim Coombe – Senior Anatomical Pathology Technician

Tim Purves – William Purves Funeral Directors

Tilly Munro – Community Funeral Specialist

Toby Angel – Sacred Stones Ltd.

Tom Woodhouse Funeral Directors

Wallace Stuart Funeral Directors

W G Catto Funeral Directors

W G Potter

Wood & Hay Funeral Directors

Fran Hall

This afternoon an e-mail was sent to all members of the National Association of Funeral Directors announcing that Mandie Lavin, the CEO appointed just under 15 months ago, is no longer employed by the Association.

No explanation has been given for her abrupt departure, but as the current President steps in to take the reins of the ‘Voice of the Profession’, we have received a guest post from Louise Winter, a progressive funeral director in London, in which she puts forward some thoughts that the organisation might like to consider as they look to the future.

 

 

An Open Letter to the NAFD
Dear National Association of Funeral Directors,

In light of the sudden change in leadership at the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) which was announced today, and as the leading trade association representing the funeral profession in the UK, there are a few considerations I’d like you to make when debating the future of your organisation and appointing your next CEO.

Funerals are important.  A good funeral can be profound and transformational in helping to acknowledge and accept that someone has died.  As the homepage of your website points out, ‘funerals matter’.

With this in mind, please consider the following:

  1. To introduce an underlying commitment to better serve the needs of the bereaved public and to make this the determining factor in any decision that is made.
  2. To become a force to be reckoned with, representing both traditional, modern and progressive funeral directors, corporates and independents.
  3. To be seen as universal – as interested in the smallest independent funeral directors as the needs of the biggest corporate firms.
  4. To share best practice and encourage collaboration for the sake of the future of the funeral profession.
  5. To offer modern, useful and thorough training to develop the next generation of the funeral profession.
  6. To improve the reputation of the funeral industry in the interest of making funerals a desirable career path for the brightest employees of tomorrow.
  7. To behave as a forward-thinking organisation that helps funeral directors to prepare for the market of tomorrow, where complacency and arrogance is not encouraged.
  8. To take immediate, effective and decisive action over those funeral directors who do a disservice to the funeral profession by behaving in an unprofessional manner.
  9. To not just encourage complete transparency regarding prices, but to make it a requirement of membership.
  10. To provide a clear and transparent procedure to allow complaints to be dealt with in a professional, unbiased and effective manner.
  11. To employ a diverse workforce of thought leaders who are enacting actual change.
  12. To be at the forefront of leading this change whilst retaining the values of the past.
  13. To be responsible for creating a network of funeral directors of which the UK can be proud.
  14. To value integrity, openness, honesty and transparency in all matters.

I hope that the NAFD will be the change we need to see in the funeral profession and wish you all the best in the appointment of a new CEO.

Yours,

Louise Winter

 

Louise Winter
Progressive Funeral Director
Director of Life. Death. Whatever.
Proud member of the Good Funeral Guild
Not a member of the NAFD

Fran Hall

 

There’s something afoot in funeral world. Letters have been pinging into the inbox of funeral directors around the country advising them of a shiny new entrant into the world of undertaking.

“Over the next few days you may read about a new funeral company called Hospice Funerals LLP.  It has been set up by St Margaret’s Hospice of Somerset in order to allow local hospices to extend their care to the local community by providing a caring, transparent and personal funeral service..”

A joint operation between St. Margaret’s Hospice and Memoria, this partnership is, at first glance, a match made in heaven.

Expert end of life carers join with expert provider of state of the art crematoria and low cost funeral services to offer communities across the UK a new, better alternative when it comes to funeral arrangements.

But let’s take a closer look.

Memoria’s CEO, Howard Hodgson, is well known in the funeral world. Here’s a little background, taken from an article by Tony Grundy in 2015:

‘For example, in a classic UK television documentary some years ago, former undertaker and entrepreneur Howard Hodgson told of how he led the transformation of the industry through a combination of acquisition, consolidation, value innovation and cost management. In his book ‘How To Become Dead Rich’ Hodgson set out his vision of how to run his funeral business as economically as possible, with an efficient set of local operations providing up to several funerals in a day, making much better use of facilities such as cars, storage and sales facilities. Alongside this he pioneered a more extensive range of services, optimising the average price.

This hugely widened operating profit margin and increased return on net assets. This vision became the model of the Great Southern Group, which Hodgson sold out to and which, after a period of being owned by US company Service Corporation International, is now called Dignity, one of the UK’s top players. These changes also reduced competitive rivalry in the UK market, where a higher proportion of the market had previously been fragmented, made up of ‘mom and pop’ independents.’

St. Margaret’s Hospice announced their plans earlier this month, without mentioning their new partner. The role of funeral director was advertised at £36,000 plus car. One of their existing charity shops is being converted into suitable premises in Taunton – a town in which there are already 12 other undertakers.

The Hospice Funerals website states:

HOSPICE FUNERALS’ VISION

To provide all hospice communities with the choice and experience of hospice funeral services that uniquely reflect the dedication, warmth and reputation of the hospice movement – an extension of exemplary hospice care – caring, transparent and personal.

HOSPICE FUNERALS’ MISSION

To bring choice, quality and affordability to families in our communities, so that they can celebrate the lives of loved ones with a unique and individual funeral that respects their wishes. This is achieved by only engaging highly trained staff with unwavering attention to detail and compassion – so ensuring a caring, transparent and personal funeral to all whatever their budget.

This sounds absolutely wonderful.

Although the top benefit for hospices electing to become a provider listed in another part of the website is:

‘Participation in a new enterprise that will deliver sustainable and growing income going forward and thus helping to bridge the considerable funding gap that stands between government funding and the annual needs of the hospice.’

And in the brochure for ‘hospice partners’ it clearly states:

The partnership will operate as a franchise scheme. These are the facts:

  • Hospice Funerals signs an agreement with the partner hospice (the partner Franchise Agreement – samples available)
  • The hospice partner will be entitled to operate exclusively within the defined area
  • A hospice partner can acquire more than one area if it so wishes
  • Hospice Funerals will give each partner a demographic survey providing a death profile of the granted area and will be able to advise the partner on this issue
  • Hospice Funerals will issue a list of products and prices that the partner will need to purchase in order to create their funeral service.
  • The hospice will be supported to deal directly with these suppliers, shop fitters ad other trades. This means that Hospice Funerals is not involved in the invoice chain and so is making NO margin on the set up of the unit.
  • Hospice Funerals support you with a turnkey service and are on hand throughout the set up period, signing off the premises when complete.
  • Thereafter, the location will be inspected prior to opening and all snagging signed off.
  • Hospice Funerals will select, train and manage the partner’s funeral staff, while being accountable to the partner.
  • Memoria will also carry out the majority of funeral administration for the partner.
  • Memoria will also install and teach the partner’s funeral director how to operate a bespoke software system for making funeral arrangement.

Hmm. So, perhaps not quite so in line with the hospice movement set up to look after the dying and their families by Dame Cicely Saunders then.

It’s a franchise scheme, dressed up in the hospice’s clothes, making money for both the ‘hospice partner’ and Memoria alike.

Here’s what we think.

It’s hard to criticise the idea of the much loved local hospice continuing to care for those who have died after death (albeit charging for this part of their service, while everything else until the last breath is taken has been free of charge.)

Why wouldn’t you choose to use them?

Hospices are pillars of the community after all, caring for the dying in the most wonderful way. And your money will be going to help support this admirable cause instead of lining the pockets of those men in black, the stereotypical undertakers.

It’s easy to see what a brilliant idea this is – piggybacking on the reputation and respect held by the hospice to give an immediate advantage over the funeral directors who are so widely and relentlessly pilloried in the media as greedy, money-making vultures who prey on the vulnerable bereaved.

With the helpful assistance of the self-serving life insurance companies generating fear of soaring funeral costs in their annual cost of dying reports, and the media focus on funeral poverty (driven by high charges from corporate funeral businesses including Dignity, Howard Hodgson’s baby, plus austerity cuts and shortage of space impelling local authorities to keep raising the cost of cremation or graves), funeral directors en masse are tarred with the same brush.

The public won’t take much persuading to look elsewhere for help with organising a funeral. And it’s available to everyone, not just hospice patients – again, from the Hospice Funerals website:

‘It is important to note that it is intended that everyone needing the services of a funeral director will be able benefit from the caring, transparent and personal service offered by Hospice Funerals. Therefore, our services are available to everyone in the community – irrespective of whether or not they have been a hospice patient.’

Well, not quite everyone.

This from Howard Hodgson’s letter to funeral directors yesterday:

‘The Directors of Memoria have no desire to compete with its funeral directing clientele. Therefore, in order to prevent a conflict of interest, it has been contractually agreed that NO Hospice Funeral operations will be set up within a 20 MILE RADIUS of ANY existing MEMORIA crematoria. 

This agreement will be on going and so will prevent funeral directors within the declared 20-mile exclusion zones from facing this new competition now or in the future.

We hope this act demonstrates our loyalty and gratitude to ALL of our funeral directing clients, whose close working relationship we highly value.’

Nice of him to consider how funeral directors might feel about this idea, although only the ones who operate in the vicinity of one of Memoria’s crematoria. The rest of the funeral world is clearly fair game.

What concerns us about this genius return to the world of funeral provision by Howard ‘How To Become Dead Rich’ Hodgson is what it will do to the wonderful, dedicated, desperately hard-working, ethically run, generous, kind and principled undertakers who have devoted their lives to starting up and running small businesses to serve their communities.

They are everywhere, working day and night to do the absolute best for the families they care for, often living hand to mouth and struggling to stay afloat as the corporate companies relentlessly target them by opening branches nearby. Many of them can be found here on our recommended funeral director list. We applaud and salute them for what they do, and we fear for their future with this latest new player in the game.

These really good people don’t have the massive marketing budgets to pay for TV advertising and PR campaigns, unlike Dignity, Co-operative Funeralcare and now Hospice Funerals, but they are providing vital services for their communities. And they are offering real, informed choice.

Hospice Funerals could spell the end for many of these artisan, genuine, small undertaking businesses, people who have been battling against the corporate expansion into funerals for years, as money men have scented the opportunity to get rich by taking advantage of economies of scale. The Hospice Funeral idea is likely to be a pressure too much for many if it spreads around the country.

If this idea were vision-driven, altruistic. non profit making, a real community venture motivated by a genuine desire to really make a difference to our society , we’d respect it, we’d be completely behind it and we’d be promoting it as far as we can reach.

But it’s not, it’s a clever, clever commercial move.

Maybe the public, those who volunteer and fundraise and support their local hospices might see it for what it is, but probably most people will just think it’s a great idea and not give it any more thought.

And sadly, we expect that the advent of this new hybrid beast is likely to be greeted with delight by hospices around the country as a means of generating the much needed income to keep them afloat. Without thinking about the wider implications.

We’ll find out tomorrow – it’s on the agenda at two high profile hospice meetings, the Hospice UK National Conference in Liverpool and the Legacy Foresight Workshop in London 

We’ll be at both events.

Charles Cowling

 

Fans and followers of the egregious Richard Sage aka Mark Kerby will be pleased to know that, since his release from prison, he has been living in straitened circumstances in Westcliff-on-Sea. In case you had forgotten, he was jailed for fraud. Only after he had been banged up did it become apparent that money handed over for prepaid funerals was missing. 

He has now been summoned to answer 3 charges of fraud (details not known to us) at Basildon Crown Court in a hearing slated for 4-8 December 2017. 

A little bit of adversity never dimmed the spirit of our exponent of worst practice in funeral service. The world may be against him but his dreams live on. Our spy on the spot, to whom we pay thanks, informs us that he has advanced plans to open up a funeral home in Westcliff. He is currently banned from holding any directorships. We think we have the name of the person under whose flag he will fly, together with the name and the address of the premises he will occupy, but we have been unable to verify these in a watertight way so we’ll keep mum for now.

As soon as we know more, we’ll let you know. 

In addition to our own back catalogue on Mr Sage/Kerby, you may be interested in this

 

 

Fran Hall

Editor’s note: We received this blog post from Mark and publish it as we feel it raises matters of great concern to funeral consumers and practitioners alike.

Out of courtesy, we provided the NAFD with an advance copy and invited them to comment.

We were advised that their legal team required several statements made by Mark in his original post to be removed, and he has obliged by doing so. His post below is amended accordingly.

We have been supplied with an official response from NAFD President Alison Crake which we are required to publish in full. This response can be found below Mark’s observations.

 

Guest post by Mark Binnersley, Communications Consultant

‘The NAFD – what is its point?

I care deeply about the funeral profession. I care even more about how we treat bereaved people. So it is depressing to see the National Association of Funeral Directors in the midst of a protracted existential crisis.

From what I witnessed as an employee between spring 2016 and summer 2017, it seemed like it didn’t know whether it wanted to be a trade association or a regulator.

Any dreams the NAFD might have of becoming regulator in Scotland are unlikely to get out of the starting blocks. There’s no way the Scottish Government is going to allow funeral directors to mark their own homework. And quite right too.

Self-regulation often fails because industries have a tendency to put their own vested interests before public protection. It’s an indisputable fact.

The association should certainly think carefully before making any calls for regulation of the funeral profession in England and Wales.

I take the view that it is wiser to see how regulation in Scotland pans out before wishing it on English colleagues, and crucially to respect the vote against “regulation by Government” by members at the association’s annual conference in 2016.

Besides, has anyone asked officials in Whitehall whether they would like to regulate English or Welsh funeral directors?

No. And to my mind there is no appetite.

Anyone who thinks regulation of funeral directors might stand a chance of becoming Government business amid the shambles that is Brexit would have to be seriously deluded or suffering from a clinically-problematic overinflated ego.

If I were a small, independent member of the NAFD, I would also be wondering what the point of the association is and, with an inflation-busting 5 per cent subscription increase planned for 2018, would be considering the following three questions.

Firstly, is the NAFD going to help my business grow? Well, it’s not going to refer funerals to me, so that answer to that question has to be no.

Secondly, what protection does membership offer my business? It hasn’t managed to stop regulation in Scotland and it hasn’t halted the spread of local authority trading.

The reason it hasn’t been able to influence either of these developments is because it cannot afford to alienate its larger members. For your Co-operative Funeralcare, Dignity and Funeral Partners, regulation and local authority contracts represent an opportunity. Faced with a situation like this, the NAFD has little choice but to offer its support or make nuanced opposition at local level. Like a heroin addict, the association is hooked on the big boys’ subscription fees.

And thirdly, what is the NAFD doing to raise public awareness of the advantages of asking one of its members to conduct a friend’s or relative’s funeral?

The issue of public profile is being scarily overlooked as a result of the association’s obsession with regulation in Scotland.

Many members join the NAFD because they are led to believe that putting the lion logo in their shop window makes them look like they adhere to a set of standards.

However, just as many members know that the NAFD brand has near zero profile and the sticker means very little to your average bereaved member of the public. Indeed, an independent YouGov poll, commissioned by the NAFD, showed that only 7 per cent of people had heard of the association.

The NAFD really needs to develop a campaigning culture when it comes to public relations.

If it is to truly add value to its members, it should run a series of public information campaigns aimed at raising its profile and showing people the benefits of choosing an NAFD member over non members. It should be out and about at public events, talking to its members’ potential clients.

For some reason, it seems to prefer reactive PR, which is good for self-assurance but does diddly squat for one’s profile.

There’s no hope of this changing whilst the association obsesses over regulation. But if as a result of statutory regulations it is no longer to be seen as the upholder of industry standards – certainly in Scotland – then what is it for?

Other sectors – take for instance insurance – seem to find space for their trade association(s) to co-exist alongside regulation and continue to add value to members.

Another question members ought to be asking relates to staff resignations. Six employees have left or announced early retirement from the association since June this year.

The NAFD needs to be doing much more to promote its CPD and lobbying activity and show the public, through concerted campaigns, what a good funeral director looks like.

There are plenty of them in membership of the NAFD.

Sadly, their interests are being overlooked because the association doesn’t seem to know what it’s for at the moment.

I’ve written this blog in order to start a conversation, as someone who cares about the funeral world and more importantly the vulnerable people it serves.

I wonder what founder Henry Sherry would make of it all.’

 

Response to above by Alison Crake, NAFD President

‘Mark Binnersley made many positive contributions to the work of the NAFD, during his short time in our employment, which makes his short sighted and poorly informed assessment of our work all the more surprising and disappointing.

He has dramatically overstated both his level of influence and access to information during his time with the NAFD in suggesting that, after working with the profession for only a year at a junior management level, he had assumed greater knowledge and strategic insight than funeral directors who are caring for bereaved people on a daily basis – many of whom have been in business for generations. He was certainly aware of some key developments which took place during his tenure and contributed his thoughts towards decision making, but he was by no means any kind of lone voice of reason and there were many discussions and decisions made, at a more senior level, which he simply was not party to.

In addition, given that Mark has not been in the NAFD offices since late June, almost four months ago, he is unaware of any significant or strategic developments during that time, rendering his views somewhat outdated.

Nevertheless, I would like to address some of the key points in Mr Binnersley’s blog post.

Far from being in the midst of an ‘existential crisis’, I am sure the bereaved families who look to the Good Funeral Guide (GFG) for guidance would be reassured to know that the NAFD, which oversees standards for 80% of the UK’s funeral directors, is quite clear and resolute about its core purpose but, equally, remains unafraid to talk to a wide community of stakeholders, in a time of change, to make absolutely certain that it is meeting the evolving needs of bereaved people, as well as the needs of the funeral directors that care for them. 

Equally, his assertions that the NAFD had ‘dreams’ of becoming a regulator in Scotland bear no resemblance to reality. Certainly we were, and remain, prepared to be a statutory regulator if ever the need arises, building on our current, respected, self-regulatory role. However, our main priority is to work with the Scottish Government as closely as possible on the implementation of regulation to ensure that it is proportionate, assists funeral directors in delivering high standards and acts in the public interest. Mr Binnersley is right, there is little appetite for regulation in Westminster at present and we’ve never called for it. However, in a YouGov survey in 2016, 80% of Britons said regulation of the funeral profession was important and therefore it would be remiss of us not to demonstrate our experience as an effective self-regulator to Government, highlight to our members the possibility that it might one day come, and work with them to ensure they maintain the highest possible standards of operation, irrespective of which organisation is overseeing their work.

I am sure GFG readers would also be reassured to know that, as a not-for-profit organisation, the 5% subscription increase that he refers to will be ploughed into additional education resources to train funeral directors to the highest standards, into our inspections and standards regime, and into planned initiatives that will provide even more information and support to the public when they experience a bereavement. For more than 90% of our members, the increase represents less than £1 a week extra for each funeral home they own and, as a result, the proposed increase was comprehensively backed, by members of all shapes and sizes, at our half year AGM last week.

We can always do more, but that is true of all organisations. However, the NAFD has been transparent in its commitment to evolve in the face of the changing needs of families, Government and our members, and I do not understand why Mr Binnersley feels this to be a bad thing? Although he was aware of these conversations during his time with the NAFD, he resigned without being involved in any level of decision-making about the way forward.

I do feel I should point out to Mr Binnersley that, in 112 years of the NAFD, its’ role has never been to ‘refer business’ to its members. We are not a sales promotions agency and this fundamental misunderstanding, on his part, of our role within the profession, only emphasises his lack of authority to speak on these matters. The NAFD’s role is to provide advice and support; to promote and monitor adherence to our Code of Practice and Code of Professional Conduct; to build relationships with Government and speak on members’ behalf; to use its collective buying power to help members run their businesses effectively and to signpost the public towards both sensible information and the details of all NAFD members in their local area. 

I am immensely proud to be President of such a progressive, determined and supportive organisation. The NAFD is also democratic, with our members all having one vote, irrespective of size and led by an Executive Committee, drawn from all sections of the profession, with small independent funeral firms representing 60% of the committee’s membership.

I am sorry that Mark has chosen to criticise from the outside, rather than shape the profession’s future from within. As a funeral director of 38 years, the ongoing wellbeing of the families I care for, across Teesside, are the reason I do this job and I know that this sense of duty is true of the vast majority of NAFD members. The fact that we choose to pool our collective experience, expertise and resources, under the umbrella of the National Association of Funeral Directors, in service to bereaved families across the UK, should give GFG readers confidence to know that they can turn to an NAFD member in their time of need and know they will be professionally and compassionately cared for.’

 

 

 

Fran Hall

                                                          Clive Leverton

A stellar line up of well known names in the funeral world comprised this year’s shortlist for the lifetime achievement award, all of whom merited a mention for the work that they have done in their field.

  • Natasha Bradshaw, Superintendent and General Registrar from Mortlake Crematorium and specifically for her role in the joint working partnership with others in providing funerals for babies
  • Clive Cappleman from Sherlocks Funeral Directors for 45 years service and being an outstanding funeral director
  • Janet Cheal – long time accomplished organist, now at Forest Park Crematorium
  • Simon Dyer from Albins Funeral Directors
  • Jeremy Field from CPJ Field
  • Howard Hodgson from Memoria Ltd for his years of work in the funeral industry and his latest ventures providing both state of the art crematoria and low cost funeral services
  • Jason Kiely from Key Air for his work with repatriation services
  • Clive Leverton for his lifetime dedication to the family funeral business
  • Colin Liddell for his devotion to serving families and his constant availability offering advice and assistance to other undertakers
  • Alan Lister BEM for his dedication and inspiration working in the funeral industry since the early 1990s
  • Chantal Lockey for her work with The Foundation for Infant Loss
  • Cara Mair for her leadership, collaborative approach and pioneering work at ARKA
  • Julia Samuel OBE for her acclaimed book Grief Works and her ongoing role as a bereavement counsellor
  • Terri Shanks for her support, training and mentorship of celebrants through the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants.
  • Professor Tony Walter for his 30 years’ work as a death sociologist and resulting worldwide achievements and acclaim.

A tough decision to make, but the judges finally made their choice:

At 73, having officially retired from his family firm nearly three years’ ago, this year’s winner is still very much involved in supporting not only the firm but also the profession itself. Starting work when he was just 16, he has dedicated his life to growing and innovating the family business with genuine care and passion. As director, his commitment and drive to be ethical and client focused in all that they do has given staff and colleagues someone to be inspired by.

Perhaps most notably, although he would never draw attention to this, he has carried out many famous and infamous funerals, including in 1997 along with his brother, the funeral of Diana Princess of Wales and the responsibility that this brought with it. What was of paramount importance to our winner was that the company could commit to their other clients and funerals on those significant days. The respect from those around him comes from knowing he treats everyone the same, whoever they are – with dignity.

He has represented all that is traditional and modern in the profession. He is a man that gives. And he gives selflessly. He has been Chairman of the St Pancras Welfare Trust for 20 years and is also a member of the Worshipful Company of Upholders.

His ability to go above and beyond his duty is very much reflected in his achievements.  He has been instrumental in professionalising independent funeral directors. Not only did he help to establish and grow SAIF, he was also part of the creation of Golden Charter, now the biggest Independent Plan Provider in the UK. He is never afraid to try something new and he pioneered the very first all-electric hearse in the UK in 2013, taking two years to invest, design and develop a much needed Eco-friendly alternative to the traditional hearse.

In well-deserved recognition for his lifetime of contributions to the profession the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Clive Leverton of Leverton & Sons.

 

Award photograph by Jayne Lloyd

The 2017 Good Funeral Awards were generously sponsored by Greenfield Creations

 

Fran Hall

            Toby Angel from Sacred Stones Ltd.

Introduced for the first time in 2017, this category had six shortlisted candidates, all of whom offer alternative solutions to the perennial question of what to do with the ashes.

The runner up in this category was chosen for their personal involvement and artistry in creating bespoke funerary urns with input from families, resulting in unique and beautiful creations.

The winner was chosen for the extraordinary achievement and collaboration between those behind the venture, the master craftsmanship involved, the philosophy that has been so well replicated and the extraordinarily beautiful result.

The Winner is Sacred Stones Ltd with the stone barrow at Willow Row

Runner Up – Ann Bates of Ann Bates Ceramics

 

Award photograph by Jayne Lloyd

The 2017 Good Funeral Awards were generously sponsored by Greenfield Creations

 

 

Fran Hall

Melanie Hurley of Rocket Catering

With just two shortlisted candidates for this category, both were in line for a certificate, but the winner was chosen for their sensitive and specialised approach to catering for bereaved families.

It was apparent from the real attention to detail and the thoughtful approach that this company has, that the quality of their food is matched by a personal dedication to ensuring that everything possible is done to reflect the character of the person who has died in the food provided for guests at the funeral tea.

 

With congratulations to Kim Clark at Tea and Sympathy for being the runner up, the Funeral Caterer of the Year is Rocket Catering

 

The 2017 Good Funeral Awards were generously sponsored by Greenfield Creations

Fran Hall

                                A. W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service

There was no shortage of candidates for this category, and the shortlisted 13 names included individuals as well as companies.

Traditional funeral directing continues to thrive, and the judges found it difficult to select the most deserving from among the entries submitted as all clearly have the highest of standards and impeccable presentation.

Eventually the decision was reached:

The Winner of Traditional Funeral Director of the Year 2017, with especial mention of two staff members, Louise Cook and Dominic Lister, is A. W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service

Runners Up – Bungard Funeral Directors and Southall Funeral Service

 

Award photograph by Jayne Lloyd

Category sponsor – A. R. Adams Funeral Directors

The 2017 Good Funeral Awards were generously sponsored by Greenfield Creations