The Good Funeral Guide Blog

The fashion of death…

Friday, 1 July 2016

Victorian mourning hats

Guest post by Howard Hodgson

 

THE FASHION OF DEATH ALWAYS FOLLOWS THE FASHION OF LIFE.

‘In the midst of life we are but in death, of whom may we seek for succour but thee oh Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased’ are words that most of us would have associated with an Anglican funeral service a decade ago. But this is no longer the case today. Why?

It is because the post war baby boomers are starting to die. Therefore, the children of the social revolution of the early 1960s, who ripped down the lasting vestures of Victorian society and values and replaced such discipline and order with the Beatles and Bob Dylan, are now attacking conventional death ritual as it looms towards them.

This is hardly surprising. Why would a generation who grabbed power and kept it do anything else? Paul McCartney, aged 74, still fills stadia all over the world with people of all ages to listen to his music, most of which was written over 40 years ago.

We are talking of a pampered generation from birth that believes in ‘oh how to die’ as much as it did in ‘oh how to be a teenager’ all those years ago. Therefore, it is not surprising that it questions the need to have a traditional funeral – and all the costs associated with it.

This is because these folk are less religious and more allergic to formality than their parents. Therefore, they don’t like the cost associated with a distressed purchase and, in the case of some, would prefer not to be forced to attend a morbid occasion but a more colourful celebration of life or even have a party instead. After all, we are talking about the original sex, drugs and rock and roll generation.

So, while there is no escaping the pain of bereavement, it is everyone’s right to choose how to deal with it – and this is their way and it follows 100% their way of living.

As a result, today some families are shocked and concerned that a traditional funeral will cost around £4,500 while they are quite content to spend more on a family holiday and four times that sum on a wedding. This is pure baby boomer thinking.

At Memoria, we have developed three options of direct cremation to meet this new demand. Interest has been very considerable, as it has been in the same options available in the form of three pre-arranged direct cremation plans. Such options allow a family to have a one hour service of their choice while reducing the costs by between 55 – 80% dependent upon the option selected.

Last year we conducted just a mere handful of direct cremations. This year the total equals about 7% of our turnover. While I don’t expect direct cremation to grow to become 100% of the market, I do expect it to grow to over 40% in the next decade.

Furthermore, I can report that such growth is being driven by social groups A, B and C, while D and E still prefer to arrange traditional funerals. Therefore, it is safe to say that so-called ‘funeral poverty’ has little or nothing to do with this new trend.

Nevertheless, the introduction of direct cremation services has widened the choice available to all and this is a very good thing too for people of limited financial means, while not having any affect on those who still wish to choose a traditional funeral complete with hearses and limousines etc.

So there is absolutely no reason why ‘Abide with me’ should not be sung in one service and ‘Hey Jude’ played in the next.

 

Howard Hodgson

www.low-cost-funeral.co.uk

Sizzling Summer

Thursday, 30 June 2016

rain

Like you, at GFG Towers we’ve been waiting for summer to start. No sign so far, so rather than watching the umbrellas go up at Wimbledon yet again, we’ve wangled invitations to a whole number of gatherings of the great and the good in funeralworld. Indoor ones.

First up was a chance an invitation from Anne Barber of Civil Ceremonies Ltd to speak to a room full of celebrants at historic Buckden Towers last Saturday on the subject of ‘What lies ahead’.

In between a presentation about the Wesley System,  a delightfully entertaining account from Evelyn Temple on becoming a funeral director, an encouragement to embrace Tea, Cake and Death (by the GFG Editor wearing her Poetic Endings hat) – and a rather stern warning to celebrants about the advance of direct cremations from Catherine Powell, we had a chance to talk about the future of the GFG and what we want to achieve. Despite the lack of Powerpoint presentation (and indeed any preparation other than a few scribbled notes; the fallout from the result of the EU referendum 24 hours earlier had sort of taken precedence over formulating a professional speech..!) the audience seemed to be interested to hear what we have up our sleeves. We met some very nice people, and got to hang out with them for a ‘Damage Limitation’ workshop at the end of the day where various disastrous funeral scenarios were posited and suggestions for remedying the situations shared.

Next up was a 200 mile round trip to Birmingham yesterday to the ICCM Seminar on Tackling Funeral Poverty. This was a corker! Delegates from across the sector of cemetery and crematorium management gathered together with a smattering of outsiders to listen to six speakers – Simon Cox from Royal London, Alex Strangwayes-Booth from the BBC, Heather Kennedy from Quaker Social Action, Nick Willcocks from yourfuneralchoice.com, Martin Birch from Cardiff City Council and Howard Hodgson… a well known name in the funeral industry.

Simon Cox kicked off the proceedings with a review of the Royal London 2015 findings and a sneak preview of the 2016 findings. His overview of the rising costs of funerals and the lukewarm government response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s recommendations was informative and detailed, and he ended with a warning about the projected cost of a funeral reaching £10,000 by 2033 if average funeral costs continue to rise on the same trajectory as in recent years.

Alex’s presentation detailed her research into the rising number of Public Health Funerals in the UK for a report for BBC News. She made a Freedom of Information request to all the councils responsible for carrying out Public Health Funerals to discover costs and numbers from 2010 to 2014.

Of 409 councils responsible for Public Health Funerals, 300 responded fully, providing her with months of data crunching to discover some fascinating and alarming facts. The North West of England carries out the most Public Health Funerals, the South East region has shown the biggest rise in numbers during the time period examined (32%), the South West region showed the biggest rise in cost to local authorities of Public Health Funerals (63%). And Birmingham carried out 245 Public Health Funerals in 2014. Councils recover approximately 50% of the costs involved, which amount to £1.7m p.a. Alex noted a huge discrepancy in the amount paid out by local authorities for each funeral, ranging between £300 and £2,000, and noted that there is no baseline.

During questions to the first two speakers, Julie Dunk from the ICCM spoke about the huge variation in the standard of provision of Public Health Funerals across the UK. Some local authorities offer a service with a minister, others just delivery to the cemetery or crematorium. There is no legal requirement to offer anything other than just the disposal of the body, but particularly in local authorities where Public Health Funerals come under the department for bereavement services, the standard of provision of funerals seems to be better. A national minimum standard would be generally approved of, but with ever dwindling council budgets, this scenario seems a long way away.

Angela Abbott, Bereavement Services Team Leader from Milton Keynes Council, shared her innovative solution to the quality and cost of providing Public Health Funerals – she and a colleague carry them out themselves. When they realised over £150,000 had gone out of the Milton Keynes council coffers to pay funeral directors to provide funeral services in recent years, they rolled up their sleeves and started collecting bodies and ordering coffins directly. As word got out, families who wanted some help with logistics but didn’t want to use a funeral director’s services got to hear about what Angela and James were doing, and they have now helped around 20 DIY families as well as carrying out 60 or so Public Health Funerals. The savings made to the council budget have allayed any concerns from above, and the quality of funerals they provide now meet Angela’s exacting standards – ministers, flowers and music are all a matter of course.

After coffee, we sat back to hear a response from Heather Kennedy, who talked about her work at QSA, the Funeral Poverty Alliance and the Fair Funerals Campaign. To date, 560 funeral director branches have signed up to the Fair Funerals Pledge  representing 15% of the industry. She outlined some of the things that the Fair Funerals Campaign are asking for: municipal funeral services, setting of standard fees, better access to public health funerals, transparent fees and partnership with other departments.

Heather was followed by Nick Willcocks from yourfuneralchoice.com, the online price comparison website. He outlined the need for reliable online price comparison of funeral director services and explained how the website worked – and got rather a rough ride from a FD among the audience who seemed annoyed that the NAFD hadn’t been asked first before the website was launched.

We retired for lunch before the questioning became too tetchy, and sat with the lovely Charles Howlett from Chilterns Crematorium who talked about the huge changes he has seen during his life in the industry, and how much he welcomed discussions about doing funerals better rather than the merits of various cremator machinery, as ICCM meetings of the past had tended to focus on. Then we were back in the room for the last two speakers, and very interesting they were too.

Martin Birch talked about the municipal funeral service that has been provided for residents in Cardiff for 18 years by the council, in partnership with local funeral directors who tender for the opportunity. This service is available to any resident in Cardiff, and helps control local costs, offering a quality funeral with a hearse and one limousine, all FD services including collection, care, unlimited viewing during office hours and including one out of hours visit all for £1,030. Martin cited the local average costs for a funeral where cremation is chosen including disbursements other than a minister / celebrant as £4,500, whereas the comparable Cardiff City Funeral Service costs £1,708. Similarly local average costs for a funeral where burial is chosen are £5,000, while the CCFS offering is £2,320. Twelve per cent of funerals in Cardiff are carried out by CCFS.

We liked this very much indeed!

Then finally, the last speaker stepped up to speak about The Fashion of Death. Howard Hodgson was never going to be uncontroversial. We listened. We looked round the room and everyone was listening. And we asked him whether he would like to write a guest blog for the GFG. Watch this space – he was delighted to accept.

Just as a final note, at the end of the seminar there was a sharing session and the chair invited the various speakers to join different tables and talk about what they had heard during the day. He also suggested that the funeral directors sitting together at a table might like to do the same, as the ICCM members would undoubtedly be interested in hearing their thoughts. There was a flurry of movement as people rearranged themselves in groups.. and the FDs stayed exactly where they were. They didn’t move.

We mused on this metaphor as we drove back in the rain. The times they are a’changing, but some people just don’t want to budge.

Anyway, tonight we’re off to a party for the First Findings of The Corpse Project. We’ll report back. And next week holds a Cremation and Burial Communication and Education three day conference and a Child and Baby Funeral Choice seminar from the Child Funeral Charity. Lots going on at the moment so it’s probably just as well the sun hasn’t made an appearance yet.

 

Farewell Peggy

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Peggy Mitchell's funeral

 

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 28/06/2016 - Programme Name: EastEnders - July - September 2016 - TX: 04/07/2016 - Episode: EastEnders July - September 2016 - 5310 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: *STRICTLY NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01HRS, TUESDAY 28th JUNE, 2016* The Carters show their respects as Peggy's funeral procession pulls into Albert Square. Johnny Carter (TED REILLY), Linda Carter (KELLIE BRIGHT), Lee Carter (DANNY-BOY HATCHARD), Whitney Dean (SHONA MCGARTY) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Jack Barnes

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 28/06/2016 - Programme Name: EastEnders - July - September 2016 - TX: 04/07/2016 - Episode: EastEnders July - September 2016 - 5310 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: *STRICTLY NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01HRS, TUESDAY 28th JUNE, 2016* Peggy's funeral procession makes it's way through Albert Square. - (C) BBC - Photographer: Jack Barnes

Here’s a sneak preview from the Radio Times showing the upcoming sendoff of Britain’s favourite pub landlady – the one and only Peggy Mitchell.

In good old East End tradition, she’s going out with the horses, the plumes and the flowers.

So… following Charles’ hearse spotting tradition.  Who supplied the horses?

Introducing a new tradition… a (small) prize for whoever works it out first!

 

 

Continuing bonds

Friday, 24 June 2016

 photo 1-feather.png

 

From the ever-excellent Kenny Farquharson’s latest column in The Times:

There were just two drinkers at the bar when I walked in. Once they had established I was not from “the social” they were warm and engaging.

One stood nursing a whisky under a sign that said “Nicky’s Corner”. Would you happen to be Nicky, I asked him.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Nicky’s dead. Four years now. That’s him there.” He pointed to a sun-bleached photograph pinned to the wall. The photograph was in a plastic sleeve, along with some white stuff I couldn’t immediately identify.

What’s that white stuff, I asked.

Seagull feathers, he said.

The barmaid explained. The Creel being next to the docks, it was always surrounded by seagulls. Often, when the door opened, a single seagull feather would blow in and float around the bar a little while before finally coming to rest.

“The boss says that’s Nicky coming in to see how we’re doing. So we’ve always got to pick up the feather and put it in there,” she said, nodding toward the plastic sleeve.

A seagull feather floating in a shaft of sunlight and stoor*. Nicky, still a regular. A soft-hearted story in a hard man’s bar. Magic realism in the Blue Toon**.

*Dust  **Peterhead

It’s all burgundy

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Camp Hopson bought out by Dignity Plc

“Fifth generation family business Camp Hopson & Co has sold its funeral services brand to listed group Dignity.

Camp Hopson has been trading in Berkshire for more than a century and operates a department store in Newbury.

It sold the business and assets of Camp Hopson Funerals to Dignity for an undisclosed sum in a deal led by Quercus Corporate Finance.

It is the second Camp Hopson deal that Quercus has worked on in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the team advised the company’s board on its sale of Camp Hopson Removals to London-based Ward Thomas.”

From Insider Media

How will this play out?  Let’s take a guess.

The name remains, only the colour changes.

 

You say death, I say life

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

In sad news this week, The Telegraph’s advertorial-disguised-as-editorial series of funeral cost hysteria continues.  This time it’s a well-heeded warning to check before you hand over your money to a funeral plan complete with projections of the outrageous cost of dying in 2023.

Concerned readers need not worry.  Simply purchase a Telegraph endorsed Dignity funeral plan with a generous £50 discount immediately by following the links prominently displayed throughout the article.

Embalming for the living

A very much alive partygoer is embalmed by Julie Vulcan at Turnbull Family Funerals

In more cheerful news, an 80 year old funeral parlour in Australia, Turnbull Family Funerals, has gained international press attention after it hosted a dramatic Funeral Party as part of the Dark MoFo Festival.

Mourners and revellers were invited into the family funeral home, which also has an in house crematory, to experience a gothic ball dripping in decedent darkness and excess.  The funeral home is a working business during the day, and has hosted thousands of funerals for local families.

The evening was complete with a red-lit installation reading ‘lost without you’, a ‘dress-to-kill’ dress code, deathly performance art, coffins in which to rest, and mock embalmings and funereal spa treatments for the not yet dearly departed.

Marshmallows were also toasted over coals warmed on the crematory fire as the funeral home manager Scott Turnbull answered questions about life and death. As he told the Guardian:

“You say death. I call it life. And we as a community [need to] get to a point where we understand that ‘death’ is just a day … If people get to know death in their normal life, when it comes to you, you’re much more prepared.”

I quite like the sound of it, although I think British funeral homes lack both the required space and the drama to hold a copycat party.

After-hours party at the crem anyone?

2048

Burgundy stays Burgundy, Lilac becomes Turquoise

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Telegraph & Dignity

In Burgundy coloured news 

The Telegraph has been hard at work this month, convincing us that the funeral situation in the UK really is dire.

On the 10th June, we heard about a grieving gentlemen in New Milton, Hants, who is digging a grave in his back garden to bury his 101 year old mother, unwilling to pay ‘the outrageous cost of a funeral’.  According to the article, the resourceful John Wright is even considering purchasing a large fridge to avoid the cost of keeping his mother in the local mortuary.

The article claims that a local funeral director (as yet unnamed) quoted £2500 just to take Mr Wright’s mother’s body to the church in a hearse.

Anyone concerned about this sorry state of affairs and wondering whether they’ll also need to find the space for a large fridge in their garage, need not have worried.  The Telegraph had it all in hand.

On the 13th June, another article appeared in The Telegraph, this time comparing funeral costs and an analysis of available life insurance policies and funeral plans, suggesting that nothing on the market truly covers the cost of a funeral.

Both articles ended with an endorsement for The Telegraph’s own funeral plan, in partnership with the burgundy coloured funeral group, Dignity PLC.  As well as a generous £50 discount for all Telegraph readers and a link to a glossy sales website with further hysteria about the cost of funerals and how it’s only going to get worse.  Much much worse.

How about an unbiased report into funeral costs, not funded by anyone with a financial interest in selling funeral plans?   Or non-hysterical media coverage of the cost of a funeral with no sales agenda?  Or a realistic review of the many viable affordable alternatives that aren’t package deals out there?

Anyone out there? Anywhere?

Cooperative Funeralcare

The once lilac Cooperative Funeralcare has undergone a rebrand and become turquoise

In lilac coloured news

Following the sale of its five crematoria to our burgundy coloured acquaintances Dignity Plc for £43m, the lilac coloured Co-Op freed up lots of cash to spend on a comprehensive rebrand of its businesses, also promising to invest in improving funeral parlours under its Funeralcare brand.

The group has already returned to its classic clover-leaf logo, which first appeared in the late 1960s.  The aim was to be reassuringly retro, harping back to the good old days of shops, produce and dividend stamps, before the days of controversial CEOs with massive pay packages sullied the Co-Op name.

As part of the rebrand, the shade of lilac that characterised Co-Op’s British High Street funeral chain, Funeralcare, is no more, replaced by a calmly reassuring turquoise.  Personally I was hoping for a garish shade of parakeet green, not dissimilar to the Queen’s birthday outfit.

The updated Funeralcare website is already live and rumour has it that the first funeral home to be refurbished with the new branding has been completed in Scotland.   We don’t yet know whether funeral directors will be issued with turquoise cravats, but we’d very much like to find out.

Whether the re-brand is anything other than a lick of paint and a wardrobe change remains to be seen.  In the meantime, turquoise is the new lilac is the new black.

It’s my funeral

Monday, 6 June 2016

Louise Winter

Louise Winter, Editor, The Good Funeral Guide

Dearly beloved of Funeralworld and beyond,

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m the new editor of The Good Funeral Guide, under the mentorship and guidance of the wonderful founder Charles Cowling and CEO Fran Hall.

Far from facing its own funeral, the need for a sustainable GFG has never been so strong. In my exciting new role, I’ll be continuing the amazing work Charles has put his heart and soul into over the last ten years.

My aims are to raise the public’s expectations of funerals whilst helping the industry to improve standards and ensuring that the Good Funeral Guide remains the trusted, independent, not-for-profit resource for helping the consumers of today and tomorrow to arrange the funerals they actually want.

The tiny team here at GFG HQ has got its work cut out. There are plenty of funeral directors to accredit, many coffins to try out, awkward questions to ask of the crematoria, progressive funeral types to meet for tea and cake and innovative death events to attend.

Whilst we figure out what the future of funerals and the GFG might hold, I want to hear from you. Send me your ideas, thoughts, frustrations, questions, event invitations and stories from the funeral frontline. Or, if you’re a disgruntled member of the funeral industry wondering what I’m doing here, you’re welcome to send my favourite rotting funeral flowers my way. I’ll turn them into art.

Fran and I will be tweeting about our adventures in Funeralworld at @greatfunerals. You can also stay up to date by liking us on Facebook.  Getting in touch via old fashioned email is good too, but unlike most of the funeral industry, the GFG doesn’t have a fax machine.

In life, in death, and everything between.

Louise x

Get in touch
louise.winter@goodfuneralguide.co.uk
@poetic_endings or @greatfunerals

Louise Winter

About Louise Winter
Louise Winter is the newly appointed Editor of the Good Funeral Guide and the founder of modern funeral service Poetic Endings. She trained with Civil Ceremonies to earn a National Qualification Level 3 Diploma in Funeral Celebrancy, and has volunteered at St Luke’s Hospice and Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield.  Known as the Mary Poppins of Death, she hosts innovative events about death, dying, life and living around the world as well as creating relevant and meaningful funerals for her clients.

Louise completed a degree in Fashion Promotion at the London College of Fashion in 2009.  Following a stint as Deputy Editor of LFW’s Vauxhall Fashion Scout, she launched a magazine for struggling twenty somethings, Dirty Laundry.  Previously, she brought her unique creativity and storytelling to the world of brands, working with Value Retail, Jack Daniel’s, NASA, Arcadia, Bestival, ASOS and Time Out, amongst many others. She’s lived in London, Paris and New York.

She loves life, death and everything in-between.

 

 

 

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