The Good Funeral Guide Blog

No grave concerns

Friday, 11 August 2017

A funeral may need organising at a moment’s notice. But how much notice do you think is advisable, or reasonable, for renovating and repair a gravestone? And what should the relevant institution do to accommodate health and safety concerns, if you don’t take action fast enough?

Many churchyards monuments are, by anyone’s measure, on the unsafe side of upright. Land settles; time passes; some might say it’s the higgledy-piggledy appearance of headstone in an expanse of church ground that actually provides quintessential Britishness to our countryside.

For the most part, ‘caveat visitor’ is the adopted position of the Church. Being aware of surroundings and taking care to avoid situations of peril seems like common sense. However, we have seen at least one death reported this century in Glasgow as a consequence of young children playing, unsupervised, among unsteady headstones.

Now, in Kilsyth, notifiable family members are being served 21 days’ notice when headstones in Kilsyth Cemetery are deemed to be ‘unsafe’.

Not surprisingly, the health and safety measures being implemented in the interim are causing as much concern as the need for remedial action: plastic orange hazard barriers are always an eysore. It is debatable, as to whether or not they provide enough deterrent for the people who would be most at risk.

This is a balancing act. For the Church; the local authorities – in this case, North Lanarkshire Council – insisting on regular risk assessments; heritage and preservation societies; and the families themselves. What’s not being reported in such large typeface, are the steps then being taken to remedy these situations.

The notices make this clear: “It may be necessary to lay this stone flat or trench (set lower part of memorial place into the ground) or support it to prevent injury or damage”. Or in other words, if the family does not come forward with contractors who’ve been commissioned to take remedial action, then the headstones will be laid flat on the ground instead. Like so many others.

In actual fact, stories like these hide the facts rather well: the local authorities are taking appropriate action, which reflects what’s happened for hundreds of years. Whether anyone’s given 21 days’ notice or not, when a headstone falls over, it falls over and usually stays on the ground.

Is your name on the list…?

Monday, 7 August 2017

This year’s Long List has just been published, and all the finalists for a 2017 Good Funeral Award can be found on the Awards website here

Or you can skim down the list below and see if you’re on it. Individuals listed first, alphabetically by first name, and companies / organisations listed second. 

It has been another exceptional year for nominations and entries, and the runners up and winners of each category will be announced at the glittering lunchtime awards ceremony at Porchester Hall on September 7th.

All finalists will receive a copy of the logo and the code for a special discount on the ticket price this week. 

Individual finalists

  • Alan Lister
  • Angela Bailey
  • Anna Lyons
  • Annette Furley
  • Barbara Scrimshaw
  • Barry Waples
  • Cara Mair
  • Carol Higgins
  • Cath Pratley / Tosh Abbott
  • Chantal Lockey
  • Charles Muglestone (Right Revd.)
  • Christine Jolly
  • Christyan James (Fr.)
  • Claire Turnham
  • Clive Cappleman
  • Clive Leverton
  • Colette Robinson
  • Colin Liddell
  • David Crayton
  • David Homer
  • David Ledger
  • Dominic Lister
  • Drew Rush
  • Emma Curtis
  • Felicity Warner
  • Frances Tulley
  • Glynes Mewton
  • Helen McLean
  • Helen Williams
  • Howard Hodgson
  • Hugh Milsom
  • Ian Willox
  • James Rogers
  • Jane Morgan
  • Janet Cheal
  • Janet Qualters
  • Jason Kiely
  • Jeremy Field
  • Julia Samuel
  • Julie Hillman
  • Justine Wykerd
  • Kate Tym & Kate Dyer
  • Kathryn Sansom
  • Kirsty Sailes
  • Lara-Rose Iredale
  • Laura Jane Smith (Dr.)
  • Lindis Pattison-Tadman
  • Lindy Irving
  • Liz Alman
  • Liz Rothschild
  • Lizzie Neville
  • Lorraine Aitken
  • Louise Cook
  • Lucy Coulbert
  • Lucy Talbot
  • Lyn Baylis
  • Martin House
  • May Andrews
  • Michael Tiney
  • Natalie Newbury
  • Natasha Bradshaw
  • Nicole Turner
  • Oliver Bird
  • Paul Jansen
  • Pauline Hyde-Coomber
  • Persephone Salway
  • Rebecca Sharp
  • Rhys Askham
  • Richard Hooker
  • Roger Knight
  • Rosalie Kuyvenhoven
  • Rosie Orr
  • Sally Ward
  • Sarah Ellis
  • Sarah Tully
  • Simon Dyer
  • Stacey Pitsillides
  • Steve Stacey
  • Stuart Preston
  • Susie Bearne
  • Terri Shanks
  • Victoria Fisher
  • Victoria McKeegan
  • Wendy Birch (Dr.)
  • Wendy Coulton
  • Yvonne Harper

Company / organisation finalists

  • A. W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service
  • Amber Valley Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • Ann Bates Ceramics
  • ARKA Original Funerals
  • Attwood Funerals
  • Bewley & Merrett Funeral Directors
  • Brighton Death Forum
  • BrumYODO
  • Bungard Funeral Directors
  • Butterfly Memorial Garden
  • C. S. Boswell Independent Funeral Directors
  • Cardiff & Glamorgan Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • Cardiff Bereavement Services
  • Classic Flowers Maidstone
  • Coffin Club
  • Compassionate Funerals
  • Cradle To Grave
  • Crescent Funerals
  • Dandelion Farewells
  • Denbighshire Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • Earth to Heaven
  • Ecoffins
  • Edd Frost & Daughters
  • Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground
  • Fosters Funeral Directors
  • Full Circle Funerals
  • Funeralbooker
  • Funeral Choice
  • Funeral Zone
  • Collins & Sons
  • Gimcrack Productions
  • Go Simply Funerals
  • Golders Green Crematorium
  • Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief
  • Harrison Funeral Home
  • Harrison Low Cost Funerals
  • Heatherley Wood Woodland
  • Home Funeral Network – Funerals To Die For
  • Holly’s Funerals
  • huunuu
  • C. Atkinson & Son Ltd.
  • Godfrey & Son Ltd.
  • Kettering Crematorium
  • Kirkleatham Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • Leverton & Sons
  • Life, Death & the Rest (Arnos Vale Cemetery)
  • Life, Death, Whatever
  • Meadow Wood Pet Cemetery
  • Medfest 2017 – Matters of Life & Death
  • Melville & Daughters
  • Memoria Low Cost Funerals Ltd.
  • Moribund (Gimcrack Productions)
  • Mortlake Crematorium
  • Nelson’s Journey Youth Panel’s Smartphone App.
  • O’Dwyer Funeral Service
  • Only With Love
  • Passionate Flowers
  • Perry & Phillips Funeral Directors
  • Pushing Up Daisies – Things Left Unsaid
  • Respect Direct Funeral Services
  • Rocket Catering
  • Rose Funerals Ltd.
  • Rounce Funeral Services
  • Sacred Stones
  • Scattering Ashes
  • Scraptoft Burial Ground
  • Seven Hills Crematorium
  • Sick Festival
  • South Leicestershire Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • South Oxfordshire Crematorium & Memorial Park
  • Still Loved Documentary
  • Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Services
  • Tea & Sympathy
  • The Art of Dying Well
  • The Good Grief Project
  • The Individual Funeral Company
  • The Natural Burial Company – Scraptoft Burial Ground
  • The Natural Death Centre
  • The Team at Cardiff Thornhill Crematorium
  • Thornhill Crematorium Cardiff
  • Varley & Varley Funeral Directors
  • Veteran Bereavement Support
  • W. E. Pinder & Son Ltd.
  • Waveney Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • Westmill Woodland Burial
  • Woodland Wishes
  • Woodvale Crematorium

 

 

 

Material choices

Saturday, 5 August 2017

 

Willow, cardboard, veneer. Wool, even. The material in which we choose to be buried may be imbued with cultural, emotional or traditional significance.

We have the benefit of access to so many superb suppliers. We know the options are highly varied now, as are the means of interment. It is important that we don’t take this knowledge for granted, though, being intimately acquainted with our own industry’s gamut of possibilities.

For many families – irrespective of religion – the assumption is that a wooden coffin will be involved. This has long been the case and the exposition of a coffin in Durham this month will do much to assuage any doubts about the benefits of choosing high quality products.

St. Cuthbert’s coffin went on display in Durham cathedral. Hermit; bishop; the saint who inspired the Lindisfarne Gospels. Cuthbert died in 687, probably from tuberculosis, but his body was exhumed relatively shortly after death to be reburied in this coffin, which was made from English oak: tests have confirmed it was manufactured (‘crafted by artisans’ is probably a less anachronistic term), on Lindisfarne in 698.

However, it was lifted again, in 1104, and reopened several times thereafter to allow viewings of the remains. While it was interred for a short time behind the altar of the catherdral, it was also disturbed again – allowing new bacteria in to have their effect on the wood, each time – in the 19th century. This is a coffin that has truly served its purpose. 

Some environments are more forgiving than others. Soil and humidity conditions have an impact; acidity is also an influence. If wood has been heavily varnished, that preservative may act as a moisture-barrier for years. Deterioration depends on the material that a coffin or container is made of and the environment it’s resting in, and archaeologists have even found Roman coffins in reasonable condition. 

It surely behoves us to be transparent about the nature of materials used, and what the reality of material degradation is. Sadly, it’s still a matter of record that families may be offered non-ethical products for use in woodland or natural burials.

But perhaps, tongue in cheek, we can now offer a rather more positive caveat when it comes to ‘how long will it last?’

Our role in their wishes

Thursday, 3 August 2017

We noted The Sun newspaper’s report on a floral tribute this week, pointing a mild gosh-look-at-this finger at a family’s ambition to let funeral wishes be carried out – to the perfumed, petalled letter.

However, it was the throwaway inclusion of another story, further down the page, that caught our eye. Moving on past the report of a Royal Artillery sergeant’s coffin being transported on a gun carriage – de rigueur perhaps – The Sun has a picture of a JCB at the head of a funeral cortège with a coffin secured carefully in its bucket.

A little background research revealed that Tony Law had always worked with plant machinery. As a digger enthusiast, he’d not only specified the mode of transport to his own service but also had his wishes extended by the family: instead of traditional, low-key or formal dress, everyone wore hi-viz jackets to mark the occasion. ‘Tony Law’s Last Ride’, they said.

Happily, in most situations these are far from being seen as irreverent gestures. They are endearing; a little eccentric, perhaps; but intended without malice to bridge the gap between the absent character of the person who has died and people who are coming together to commemorate that person’s unique life.

Flowers, saying ‘BARSTARD’? Traditional limousines on the one hand, but a bright yellow JCB to carry your coffin? It may not be the done thing to suggest it up-front without knowing the family’s background, but if the situation is the right one then – for a good funeral – these gestures are not out of place.

However, specific wishes like these may cause significant dismay, pain even, if they are set out in a funeral plan but not shared in advance. Karen Anstee’s short film, Rachel, brought this into sharp perspective last year. Anstee’s 10-film explored the relationships between religion and family: Rachel had rejected her conservative Jewish upbringing for a more bohemian life and wanted her ceremony to reflect those life choices. Rachel’s family wanted to reclaim her body for burial in the traditional way, and the story unfolds to reflect both points of view.

In the 21st century, diverging preferences are becoming more common. Families are, sadly, more dysfunctional than they once were. Couples of all ages may come together from different cultural backgrounds and pass on new traditions or beliefs to their children. Whereas, once, intimate rites of passage served to bring families and communities together at a difficult time, today the expression of individuality has the potential to stimulate conflict.

Nowadays the expected form for a funeral may bear little or no resemblance to the unique, individual service or ceremony that’s requested either by a partner, a close family member, or – prior to their death – by the persons who have died. And as a result, funeral directors and celebrants may find themselves in a difficult situation.

Questions, then.

We hear much, still, about the importance of making a Will and ensuring it’s valid and kept up-to-date. What more could we do to reappropriate the term ‘funeral plan’, or is it too toxic to contemplate?

Would it not help us all if we could encourage the solicitors or Will-makers we know, locally, to include detailed funeral arrangements as a part of that process, and to highlight the benefit of communicating these details in advance? Or would that be too complicated in itself?

And should we consider ‘how to tell people what’s happening’ guides as an integral part of the information we all provide – or do you do this already?

Thank you Lou!!

Monday, 31 July 2017

We are really sad to announce that our lovely Editor, Louise Winter, has resigned as part of the GFG team this weekend.

We’ve been lucky enough to have had her on board for over a year, during which time she has reinvigorated and rejuvenated the Good Funeral Guide, teaching us oldies about the power of social media and helping us reach farther than ever before using Twitter and Facebook. She’s been a great friend and colleague, and we will miss her immensely, but we’re delighted that her reasons for stepping down are such good ones.

Lou will be devoting herself to running her new bespoke funeral business in London, Poetic Endings  while simultaneously curating Life, Death Whatever and developing a LDW community – and writing a book in her spare time. After much deliberation, she decided that there just wasn’t enough space for her to continue her voluntary role with the GFG, so she has reluctantly decided to bring this chapter of her life to a graceful close.

I know that I speak for my fellow directors when I say how sorry we are to see her go, but we are incredibly lucky to have enjoyed her creativity and company over the last year and we will remain the firmest of friends.

Louise will continue to be an active member of the Good Funeral Guild, and will be acting as Creative Consultant to the GFG in the future – which basically means we’ll be ringing her up regularly to arrange to meet for a coffee and a chat, but she won’t have the burden of having to give up hours of her time being the editor of the GFG.

So thank you very much for everything you’ve done in your time with us Louise. You’ve been amazing, and will be a very hard act to follow. We wish you every success with your exciting work, and we will feel a strong sense of pride as we watch you continue to change the way we do funerals in the UK.

 

Fran

 

Oh dear, oh dear oh dear

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

 

It was only a matter of time.

The GFG has been the go to information resource for anyone needing to find out about the intricacies of organising a funeral for years and years, in fact, we’re amazed it’s taken this long for someone to hitch on to our coat tails.

The winner of the prize for trying to look like us is a certain Mark Brown – of FuneralGuide.co.uk. Go on, click on the link, we’re sure he’s counting visitors to his website. He’s probably very well meaning, but the relentless emphasis on urging readers to take out a pre-paid funeral plan doesn’t sit terribly well with us. We’re not sure why he would do this. Nor does the rather cheeky purloining of a website name that is remarkably similar to ours.

Funeral Guide offers FREE help with funeral planning and lots of badly written and not very accurate or helpful advice. We’ve signed up for his ‘Beat the Funeral Price Hike’ free download just to see what he suggests for us. It apparently contains all the information you need to make an informed decision about planning ahead. But we really couldn’t be bothered to go to his ‘fast quote form’.

Helpfully, Mark has been e-mailing funeral directors on our Recommended by the GFG list asking if they’d be interested in linking to his site and kindly offering to promote anything of theirs on his social media and with his audience. Perhaps we’ll send him a link to this blog. In the meantime, if you hear from him, be assured, he’s nothing to do with us.

In Memory of Jon Underwood

Thursday, 29 June 2017

We were devastated to learn that Jon Underwood, the founder of the Death Cafe movement, died on Tuesday.

Jon wholeheartedly believed that engaging with death is both important and overlooked so made it his mission to encourage society to embrace death as part of life.  His life’s work was the Death Cafe movement, which began in Jon’s front room in Hackney in 2011 as a gathering of people talking about death over tea and cake.  The impact of Death Cafe has been huge – as of 28th June 2017, there have been nearly 5000 Death Cafes in over 50 countries.

Jon also painstakingly built and managed Funeral Advisor in association with the Natural Death Centre Charity and ran Impermanence – his commitment to doing good in the world by encouraging society to deal with death in interesting and innovative ways.

He was a source of invaluable advice, support and encouragement to others in the fields of death and dying, always generous with himself and his resources.  He was one of the good guys – the most genuine, well intentioned, humble, kind hearted and gentle person, both professionally and personally.  His absence will be deeply felt by everyone in our community and beyond.

Our thoughts are with his family right now.

Jon’s commitment to Death Cafe was unrivalled, and came at a cost.  Since 2011, Jon funded his Death Cafe work entirely through his own personal savings and small freelance projects and had recently begun trying to fundraise very actively so he could pay his bills.  We’d love to support Jon’s young children – Frank and Gina –  and have set up a JustGiving page in his memory.  Please donate generously.

Please watch this touching tribute to Jon which includes music by his daughter Gina.

Jon Underwood and his mum, Sue Barksy Reid, who was instrumental in developing the Death Cafe model 

 
 
“I met Jon when he was at the beginning of his Death Cafe journey and his quiet determination to create a subtle social change in our attitudes to death was something I had never encountered before. It truly became his vocation, second only to his devotion to his children who were just babies then.
 
We also worked together setting up Funeral Advisor when I was a trustee of the Natural Death Centre, and he handed over the database of UK funeral directors that he had spent so many hours compiling for me to update and complete before the website was launched. It was a real labour of love and continued to be right until his death.  Unlike other predatory funeral comparison websites, Funeral Advisor was wholly not for profit and must have consumed many hours of Jon’s time looking after it.
 
Over the years our paths crossed occasionally, we co-hosted a Death Cafe at the Festival Hall once, and bumped into each other at various events. He never changed, he was always a gentle, calm and warm presence in any gathering, and a man who truly lived his truth, his beliefs informing his living and his consciousness of the impermanence of life was a fundamental guidance for his work, to which he was dedicated.
 

He will be greatly missed but never forgotten, a quiet, inspirational revolutionary whose legacy is a better society. The Death Cafe movement has lost its founder, but his influence will continue spreading, like ripples on a pond.”

Fran Hall, CEO, The Good Funeral Guide

Anna Lyons, Jon Underwood and Louise Winter at Jon’s house in Hackney during Life. Death. Whatever. in October 2016. This photo was taken by his son Frank.
 
“I first came across Jon when he was involved in an event at the National Gallery called Death & the Masters.  He was talking about the gallery’s paintings and hosting a Death Cafe.  I wanted to attend but was broke and couldn’t afford the £50 entrance fee.  The National Gallery weren’t interested in helping but Jon found out and paid for me using his hosting fee with an insistence that I attend, even though I was a total stranger to him at the time.  It was at that point that I came to understand the sort of person Jon was – generous, thoughtful and extremely special.
 
He’s been a mentor, an inspiration and a friend to me over the last few years.  His dedication to his work has been unrivalled.  He was a mix of quiet determination, loving kindness, extreme modesty and belief in the importance of the work he was doing.  His commitment to making the world a better place through Death Cafe was unwavering.

The last time I saw Jon was when he was helping at Life. Death. Whatever. which was just around the corner from his house in Hackney, the home of Death Cafe.  He offered his unconditional support in the form of informative talks, a Death Cafe, reassuring emails and many smiles, hugs and cups of tea.”

Louise Winter, Editor, The Good Funeral Guide

 

 

“I didn’t know Jon all that well. A man of still waters and deep spirituality, he was a of different order of human being from me. Which was why I liked being around him. People like Jon conduct good energy. I also enjoyed his twinkle. Only Jon could have teamed mortality-awareness with cake. 

 
I first ‘met’ Jon when he read a blog post on the GFG about Bernard Crettaz, the intellectual progenitor of death cafe. He emailed. It was clear that the idea had gone deep. When he’d thought some more we agreed to meet in Oxford. He said he’d been to college in Oxford. A sixth form college perhaps, I thought. Maybe an FE college. We walked about a bit with the tourists and found ourselves in ancient place of honey-coloured stone and thousand-year-old lawns. ‘This is where I went to college,’ he said. So he was an Oxford man! How typical of him to underplay that. We drank coffee and he outlined his plans for death cafe. I considered what he said and replied carefully. I couldn’t see it taking off. The rest is legacy.”
 
Charles Cowling, Founder, The Good Funeral Guide
 

Please leave your tributes to Jon in the comments below.

 

Buyer Beware

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

There’s a new pup in town.

It is with a heavy sigh that we bring news of yet another swimmer in the crowded waters of funeral plan providers, complete with grandiose claims, dubious mathematics and an apparent complete and wilful ignorance of the real costs involved in providing a funeral of the type they are offering.

Prosperous Life Limited has recently entered the unregulated funeral plan provider market, and is actively touting its wares to funeral directors and the vulnerable public alike.

The sole director of the company, a Mr Edward Gerald Smethurst, has a broad and varied experience in life, with positions as a director or secretary of 49 companies over the last 16 years  None of these have anything to do with funerals other than this, his latest appointment in a company incorporated on January 23rd 2017.

Now we’re sure that Mr Smethurst is a very nice man who knows a great deal about window fitting, alarm systems, bathrooms and bedrooms, helicopter charter and conservatories, but we’re not sure that he’s the man to entrust with your savings when it comes to paying for your funeral.

It’s the maths that bother us.

The ‘Prosperous Silver’ plan will cost you £2,400. ‘Prosperous Gold’ is £2,600 and ‘Prosperous Platinum’ £2,800. The chart below shows what you get for those figures. And how much is set aside for paying the cremation fee, the minister and the doctors (£1,000 in total for all three. Not enough by a long chalk, with  minister fees around £180, doctors’ fees £164.00 and some crematoria charging £999 for the cremation,)

Predictably, there is nothing shown for commission paid to the seller out of the remaining figures. Nor the amount of money taken in administration fees.

Perhaps Prosperous Life Ltd don’t pay commission to the agents selling plans?

Maybe all Prosperous Life admin is done free of charge?

Maybe Prosperous Life is a philanthropic, not for profit organisation with a network of similarly generous funeral directors across the UK willing to provide a solid coffin and a hearse and two limousines plus all other funeral director costs at the time of need for a maximum £1,800?

Or maybe not.

As our worried insider wrote to us when they let us know about this latest funeral plan provider:

“Who are they going to get to carry out the funerals for these people and what standard of care are they going to receive?”

Regulation anyone?

 

The sales pitch to funeral directors from the Prosperous Life ‘Funeral Director Liaison Manager’ is shown below.

“Prosperous Life Limited is a prepaid funeral plan provider, operating across the whole of the UK. We offer clients a choice of products, including not only the funeral plan but also legal services to compliment the plans purchased. Some of the services we offer include Wills, Probates and Power of Attorney.

All plans guarantee to cover the designated funeral director’s fees and services, plus an allowance towards disbursements. All monies paid by customers are held securely in a trust called The Great British Funeral Plan Trust and this is a completely separate entity to Prosperous Life Limited, which is managed and governed by an independent board of trustees, including chartered accountants and registered solicitors.

At the time of need, funds will be paid to the designated funeral director within 48 hours.

We are actively growing in the prepaid funeral space and generate new customers via several different channels including advertising in most national and regional papers.

With all this said, we are constantly trying to grow our funeral director panel and make mutually beneficial relationships. We get many requests for specific funeral directors as well as customers just wanting a reputable funeral director local to themselves”

 

Babyloss – a unique kind of grief

Friday, 23 June 2017

Yesterday, I spent the day visiting our latest funeral director who has joined the list of those who are ‘Recommended by the GFG’ – Bennetts Funeral Directors in Essex,  and met most of the lovely staff there, including Leigh Tanner, who has just recently set up a family support group for those who have been bereaved by miscarriage or stillbirth.

Leigh has personally experienced the trauma of recurrent miscarriages, so this is something very close to her heart. When she and her husband were undergoing the sadness of losing their babies there wasn’t anything available locally where Leigh could share her experience with others who had been through the same experience. She felt completely alone and unsupported, so the opportunity to create a support group for other parents was one that she jumped at.

Here’s Leigh speaking about the group in her own words:

‘So, at Bennetts we are very proud of our bereavement groups and that we are able to provide specialist services by people who have themselves experienced such losses.  My group, Tiny Stars, is a miscarriage and still birth group run by myself.  I personally experienced the trauma of recurrent miscarriages and found that there was no help out there locally for me and so therefore I felt very lonely and isolated. 

This group came about after I joined Bennetts and when I realised that they provided services for pre-term babies and miscarriage.  I instinctively asked Jane if I could learn more about this.  I explained that I had been through this and had never been given the opportunity to have a service or group support.  Jane asked me if I would like to be the primary arranger for babies and start a support group for families who have been through such loss which I was very grateful of such an opportunity. 

The word miscarriage is so taboo, with women and men feeling as if it’s something too common to grieve over but this is not the case.  We at Bennetts are fully aware that any loss is a loss and should be treated as such.  For a family to lose a baby to miscarriage or still birth brings such an enormity of grief that destroys the hopes of a future for a baby you have already fallen in love with, and luckily through Bennetts, I have been given this opportunity to offer support for parents who feel that isolation and loss.  

Our group runs at Merrymeade House, Merrymeade Chase Brentwood CM15 9BG on the 2nd Friday of the month from 9.30 – 10.30 in the tea room.  We have exclusive hire of Merrymeade House for the group and offer free refreshments to all guests.

I do of course understand that attending a group can be very daunting and so therefore if anyone would like to contact me prior to coming or just for a chat I would always be available to talk to someone on 01277 210104 or by email on leigh@bennettsfunerals.co.uk

This is such an important initiative, and the GFG is hugely supportive of Leigh and of Bennetts in setting up the Tiny Stars group for the community. If you or anyone you know in the Brentwood area has lost a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth, Tiny Stars could offer you a place where you can talk to others who have had a similar experience. Do contact Leigh and talk to her.

Leigh also told me about Aching Arms, a babyloss charity run by a group of bereaved mothers who have experienced the pain and devastation of baby loss.

The charity works with more than hospitals across the UK providing teddy bears for parents to take home from hospital when their baby has been miscarried or stillborn. Each bear is a gift from another family who has had a similar experience and who have donated in memory of their baby, and the bear given has the name of their baby on the label. The bears help to provide a connection for bereaved families and ‘to ease their aching arms as they grieve for their baby who has died’.

A bereaved mother explains how this scheme could have helped her:

“When I left hospital without my daughter my heart was broken and my arms were empty. Nothing could have fixed my heart at the point, but if I had had something to hold and cling to then the physical ache I felt so strongly in my arms as I clamped them tightly to my sides might have been less. As soon as I heard about the idea of giving grieving mums a bear to take home I knew that I would have been keen to take one to cuddle as I walked out of the hospital and to sob into in the dark days and nights that followed. Not to replace my baby – nothing ever could – but something to hold as I learnt to live with the empty space my baby left in my heart and in my life.”

The charity also offers every hospital participating in the scheme training for their staff in caring for parents bereaved by miscarriage or stillbirth.

If your local hospital isn’t on the list here do contact Aching Arms on info@achingarms.co.uk

Green Reaper: Should alkaline hydrolysis be regulated in England and Wales on environmental grounds?

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Lockhart (2016) illustrates the ‘Green Reaper’

A report by Matilda Munro
This blog post is an adapted version of a project completed by Matilda Munro in October 2016 as part of her Natural Sciences BSc at the Open University.

In the United Kingdom there are two main methods for disposing of the dead: cremation and burial.

Over time, cremation has increased in popularity with it now representing what happens to almost three quarters of people (The Cremation Society of Great Britain, 2015).

Cremation and burial have different environmental impacts – and within each there is variation depending on particular choices made (such as type of coffin).  In cremation, the body is destroyed through burning which uses a high amount of non-renewable energy.  In contrast, in burial the body decomposes slowly over time – however, in a standard burial when the body is placed deep in the ground, decomposition results in the emission of methane which is a greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming (TNO, 2011). 

New processes are also in existence which are not yet regulated in England and Wales.  One process in this category is alkaline hydrolysis. In brief, this involves the body being dissolved in an alkaline solution at high temperature and pressure, leaving bone ‘ash’ remains. 

Those involved in the invention of refined alkaline hydrolysis methods, as well as the wider funeral industry have tried to persuade the Ministry of Justice that alkaline hydrolysis should be covered by existing legislation which covers cremation.  However, this argument has been rejected to date by the government who say that since the cremation legislation references ‘burning’, it cannot be applied to alkaline hydrolysis (Thomas, 2010).  This means that whilst disposing of a body through alkaline hydrolysis would not be technically illegal (provided the disposal posed no risk to public health and would not offend public decency), it would be an entirely unregulated industry. All parties involved in the industry are keen that it should be regulated from the start and hence new legislation would be desirable prior to its introduction. Regulation would provide safeguards and minimum standards, as it does for cremation and burial.

What is alkaline hydrolysis?
The process from start to finish, as explained by Sandy Sullivan the Managing Director of Resomation Ltd. (2009):

  1. The body, which is inside a silk or wool coffin, is placed inside the machine.
  2. The machine calculates the weight of the body so the right amount of water and potassium hydroxide (an alkali) is added automatically. 
  3. The liquid is heated and held under pressure to speed up the process.
  4. The contents are then cooled by cold water.
  5. The liquid contents are drained away – this is organic matter with no DNA traces.  In a standard cremation, this would have gone up the chimney of the crematorium. Here it is going to the water table.
  6. Porous bones are left in the Resomator
  7. These remains are rinsed, and dried.
  8. A cremulator reduces the bones to a fine powder, as in cremation.
  9. The resultant ash is pure white and can be returned to families in an urn.

Evidence regarding the environmental impact of alkaline hydrolysis in comparison to burial and cremation
A Life Cycle Analysis of different funeral techniques in the Netherlands was conducted with a view to concluding which method of disposal had the lowest environmental impact by TNO, the Netherlands Organisation for applied scientific research (TNO, 2011). In their research, they consider the life cycle to include the gathering of raw materials (such as those to make a coffin), preparations (such as digging a grave or heating a crematorium), carrying out the method, maintenance, processing residues and finally any transport between these steps. 

TNO research (2011, see Table 1 below) shows that alkaline hydrolysis has the lowest impact across the categories measured.  In some instances this is due to the environmental ‘savings’ from being able to recycle things such as metals.  It is the highest contributor in the category of eutrophication.  This can be altered depending on where the ashes are scattered.  With particular reference to its impact on global warming, it can be seen to have a much lower impact than either burial or cremation (Figure 1).

Which method has the smallest environmental impact?

Table 1: Table of results from TNO (2011) showing the different environmental impacts of the disposal techniques

Impact category Unit Burial (average) Cremation (average) Alkaline hydrolysis
Abiotic depletion (ADP)  kg Sb eq 1.26 0.82 -0.11
Acidification (AP) kg SO2 eq  

1.35

 

 

0.67

 

-0.34
Eutrophication (EP) kg PO43- eq 0.75 0.76 1.08
Global warming (GWP)  kg CO2 eq  

180.3

 

79.9

-31.8
Ozone layer depletion (ODP) kg CFC11 eq 1.84E-05 5.53E-06 2.18E-06
Human toxicity (HTP) kg 1,4- DCB eq 115 54 -77
Fresh water aquatic ecotoxicity (FAETP) kg 1,4- DCB eq 34.6 -0.0 -40.0
Terrestrial ecotoxicity (TETP) kg 1,4- DCB eq 2.53 2.30 -0.58
Photochemical oxidation (POCP) kg C2H2 eq 0.16 0.06 -0.01
Land competition (LC) m2.year 259.8 70.0 7.0


Figure 1: The impact on global warming of burial, cremation and alkaline hydrolysis, based on the TNO (2011) data

The table above (TNO, 2011) and Figure 1 show that alkaline hydrolysis has lower impacts than burial and cremation in all areas apart from eutrophication and that burial has the highest impact in all areas apart from eutrophication, with cremation in between. Out of the three methods, it is therefore the most sustainable.

The reliability of the findings
TNO were commissioned to carry out this research by Yarden, a large funeral organisation in the Netherlands.  Whilst there is a potential that the vested interest of Yarden could have an influence on the findings, TNO are a reputable organisation employed to give an independent opinion.  The data for cremation and burial was provided by Yarden as they are one of the largest funeral organisations and therefore have a significant amount of data.  For alkaline hydrolysis, the data was based on hypothetical information provided by Resomation Ltd.  This does raise some issues since it is in Resomation Ltd’s interest that it can sell itself as environmentally superior than other available options.  However, in 2014, the research was updated to included actual data from Resomation Ltd. as by that point they did have data for the disposal of human remains using this method. They did not find that using the real rather than theoretical data changed their findings in any way (TNO, 2014). This data is based on average practices across the disposal methods in the Netherlands and individual choices for the funeral or memorial can easily counterbalance any environmental saving from the disposal method. For example, if a family chooses to have someone disposed of through alkaline hydrolysis, but then they fly the whole family to the Maldives to scatter the ashes, the environmental impact will be very different to a local funeral.

Apart from the TNO study of 2011, and its 2014 update, there is limited independent data specifically comparing the environmental impact of burial, cremation and alkaline hydrolysis.  This is predominantly due to alkaline hydrolysis being a new method and therefore data being limited.  It is possible that new studies will now take place in Scotland following the change in legislation there.  It would be useful to have data like TNO’s, looking at a Life Cycle Analysis within the UK rather than in the Netherlands.  The likelihood is the results would be similar as practices in both countries are more comparable than, for example, practices between the UK and United States where burial is still dominant and embalming is more widespread.  However, additional data from Scotland would be useful.  Notwithstanding the lack of local data, it seems unlikely that vastly different environmental conclusions would come out of further study. Given increasing population and increasing concerns regarding global warming and emissions in particular, it could be argued there is enough evidence that alkaline hydrolysis should be regulated – then it is up to the consumer to make the choice between the methods.

The views of people within the funeral industry, excluding those directly responsible for alkaline hydrolysis
The Cremation Society of Great Britain was founded in 1874 and from its inception, was open to the idea that in the future, a better means of disposal than cremation may come into existence. The original declaration stated: “Until some better method is devised we desire to adopt that usually known as cremation” (Cremation Society of Great Britain, 1999). In 2008, the Cremation Society changed their constitution to allow them to accommodate alkaline hydrolysis (Sullivan, 2009). In some states in the United States where the process is used, it is referred to as bio-cremation.  Other organisations such as Co-operative Funeralcare which is one of the largest funeral directors in the UK have also expressed their support for alkaline hydrolysis as a process. In particular, they state that the environmental considerations are significant as people do want to end their life in a more environmentally friendly way (Thomas, 2010).

However, some involved in cremation do not accept the environmental argument in favour of alkaline hydrolysis.  Andrew Platts of Crystal Air Solutions, for example, argues that crematoria can be carbon neutral if the heat is recycled and suitable scrubbers are fitted on the chimneys (Thomas, 2010).

The views of those behind the technique of alkaline hydrolysis
There is one company leading the way promoting alkaline hydrolysis, both in the UK and abroad.  That company is Resomation Ltd., founded by Sandy Sullivan in Scotland in 2007 with the aim of promoting alkaline hydrolysis (which they call Resomation®) globally.  They have patents pending on particular aspects of their technology and are the first company to have used the method to dispose of human remains in the United States (Resomation®, 2016b).  Their view, unsurprisingly, is that their method of disposal provides a credible alternative to both cremation and burial – and that it represents a more environmentally friendly method than cremation.

The views of the government and the current legal situationFundamentally, alkaline hydrolysis is not illegal – but there is no legal framework by which it could be regulated as an industry in England and Wales.  As explained by White (2011), the Ministry of Justice decided in 2009 that the existing Act regulating cremation cannot be applied to alkaline hydrolysis since it specifically references burning and they do not accept that alkaline hydrolysis is burning.   In 2012, when alkaline hydrolysis had not yet been tried, the Under Secretary of State for Justice said that the “Government will follow with interest the progress of trials [of the alkaline hydrolysis process] in Europe and the United States” (House of Commons, 2012). In the summer of 2016, the Scottish parliament passed legislation regulating alkaline hydrolysis using their existing legislation around cremation (Scotland, Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016, s.99.1).  This has now, arguably, put additional pressure on the Ministry of Justice to pass the equivalent legislation in England and Wales. 

Opposition to alkaline hydrolysis as a process
There is very limited opposition to the idea of alkaline hydrolysis as a process. In general, opposition is made due to public health concerns regarding the disposal of the liquid remains (effluent) after the process is completed, though there is no evidence that it poses a public health risk.  Some people argue that it is undignified and disrespectful to the deceased, or that the high pressure, high temperature unit could be dangerous (Olson, 2014). 

Whilst people may initially feel disgusted or unsure of the method, once properly explained there is no reason why it could not end up as popular a choice as cremation is today.  Indeed, when cremation was first introduced, it was not popular but has increased in uptake year on year (Cremation Society, 2015).  Where in cremation organic matter goes up a chimney, with alkaline hydrolysis, it is returned to the water table (it has more in common with burial in this respect) (Resomation®, 2016a). In funeral homes where it has been introduced in the United States, many families are choosing to sit alongside the alkaline hydrolysis machine during the process (Sullivan, 2009).  

With regard to the public health argument, when Resomation Ltd. discussed how the effluent could be disposed of in the UK, all major water companies confirmed that it would be possible for it to be entered into the mains water system for processing in the usual way.  No DNA material survives the alkaline hydrolysis process so what is left is a sterile liquid (Thomas, 2010). Whilst this means water returned to homes as drinking water could indeed have come from this process, this is no different to water coming from waste treatment plants.  

Proposed Solution
Given alkaline hydrolysis is not technically illegal, and given there seems to be strong consensus that as a method of disposal, it ought to be offered in England and Wales as an environmentally friendly alternative to burial or cremation, it is possible that the Cremation Society of Great Britain, or other large bodies in the industry will ‘self-regulate’ the process – particularly as it has now been covered by specific legislation in Scotland.  If this were to happen, the risk would be that the government would have to react and legislate retrospectively rather than proactively, now, while the industry do not provide alkaline hydrolysis as an option for disposal. This matter has now been ongoing since 2009 and the situation in Scotland does apply additional pressure to the government of England and Wales.  Why should the same method be regulated on one side of the border and unregulated or unavailable on the other?

In England and Wales, there are two main ways that the Secretary of State could regulate alkaline hydrolysis.  One involves amending the Cremation Act of 1902, and the other involves using powers from the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. For the Cremation Act of 1902 to apply to alkaline hydrolysis, this Act would have to be amended and passed by parliament.  Draft legislation to this end was produced by White (2011) who is also a member of the Council of the Cremation Society of Great Britain.  This shows that there is support for this legislation even in areas from which one might expect to find opposition.

Conclusion
Under current legislation, whilst any method of disposal that does not offend public decency or cause a risk to public health is permitted, the methods which are regulated by government legislation are burial and cremation.  Between these two methods, the evidence shows that cremation is more sustainable than burial.  When alkaline hydrolysis is considered, the environmental arguments in its favour are strong, and backed with independent evidence. The first cremation took place in 1886 in Woking, as organised by the Cremation Society of Great Britain who then worked hard to bring about the Cremation Act of 1902.  It is perhaps significant that cremation started before being fully legislated (as it too would not have been illegal for the same reasons alkaline hydrolysis is not illegal today).  If the government accepts that it is preferable to legislate in advance rather than retrospectively, then they will need to act soon.  The government has the opportunity, along with 13 states in the United States and Scotland, to be global leaders in this sustainable method for the disposal of human remains. 

Update:
In April 2017, it was announced that Sandwell Council has approved plans to extend Rowley Regis Crematorium to house a Resomator machine. See here.

References
Cameo (2016) Sharing the burden [Online]. Available at http://www.cameoonline.org.uk/ (Accessed 19 September 2016)

The Cremation Society of Great Britain (1974) History of Modern Cremation in Great Britain from 1874: The First Hundred Years [Online]. Available at http://www.srgw.info/CremSoc/History/HistSocy.html#introduction (Accessed 27 September 2016)

The Cremation Society of Great Britain (2015) Progress of cremation in England and Wales Scotland and N. Ireland 1885-2014 [Online]. Available at http://www.srgw.info/CremSoc4/Stats/National/ProgressF.html  (Accessed 12 September 2016)

House of Commons (2012) Hansard, 5 September, Volume 549, Column 354 [Online]. Available at  https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2012-09-05/debates/12090536000002/BurialSpace?highlight=alkaline%20hydrolysis#contribution-12090536001265 (Accessed 29 September 2016).

Lockart, Z. (2016) Green Reaper [Collage]. Private collection.

The Mayo Clinic (2016) Body donation at Mayo Clinic [Online]. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/body-donation/biocremation-resomation (Accessed 15 September 2016)

Ministry of Justice (2007) Burial Grounds: The results of a survey of burial grounds in England and Wales [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/217908/burial_grounds_web_whole_plus_bookmarks.pdf (Accessed 29 September 2016) 

Olson, P. (2014) ‘Flush and Bone: Funeralizing alkaline hydrolysis in the United States’, Science, Technology and Human Values, vol. 39, no. 5, pp. 666-693 [Online]. DOI: 10.1177/0162243914530475 (Accessed 21 September 2016)

Resomation® (2016a) A need for change [Online]. Available at http://resomation.com/about/need-for-change/ (Accessed 15 September 2016)

Resomation® (2016b) Who are we [Online]. Available at http://resomation.com/about/who-are-we/ (Accessed 15 September 2016)

Resomation® (2016c) News [Online]. Available at http://resomation.com/news/ (Accessed 15 September 2016)

Rumble, H., Troyer, T., Walter, T. and Woodthorpe, K. (2014) ‘Disposal or dispersal? Environmentalism and final treatment of the British dead’. Mortality, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 243-260 [Online]. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13576275.2014.920315 (Accessed 19 September 2016)

Scotland. Cremation and Burial (Scotland) Act 2016, a.s.p. 20.  

Sullivan, S. (2009) ‘Resomation®: Update’, Pharos International, vol. 75, pp. 4-8.

Thomas, H. (2010) Resomation: The Debate (Part 1), Pharos International, vol. 76, pp. 4-8.

TNO (2011) Environmental impact of different funeral technologies, Utrecht, TNO, 034.24026.

TNO (2014) Environmental impacts of different funeral techniques – update of prior TNO research [Online]. Available at https://www.tno.nl/en/about-tno/news/2014/12/environmental-impacts-of-different-funeral-techniques-update-of-prior-tno-research/ (Accessed 19 September 2016)

White, S. (2011) ‘The Public Health (Aquification) (England and Wales) Regulations?’. Pharos International, vol. 77, pp. 10-11.

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