Debbie has a particular personal passion and an unrivalled gift for creating floral displays for funerals. She has supplied flowers for the sendoffs of celebrities.
In an outstanding field, Debbie stands out because funeral flowers are her specialism. This is a matter of personal predilection rather than business opportunism: what Debbie loves most is creating floral tributes to people who have died. Her reputation for excellence has spread. Among recent celebrity clients she counts the late David Gest. Although she didn’t know she was creating the floral tributes for his funeral when she received the order, it was only when she delivered them that she found out.
Based in Rotherhithe, East London, Debbie works at the heart of a community that still believes in a proper sendoff – with banks of flowers. She recently supplied flower arrangements for the funeral of Bermondsey undertaker Barry Albin-Dyer. People love what she does. A characteristic testimonial sent to the judges reads: “The arrangement was SO impressive that a member of public en route called through the window and said how beautiful it looked!!!!!”
Debbie has been working with flowers for over 40 years. For 25 of them she was Head of Floristry at Southwark College.
Runners up in this category: Flowers by Susan, Inspired Flower Design & Tuckshop Flowers
Bereaved families in the Oxford area may be a little less pleased to know that the cost of having a relative cremated at their local Dignity owned crematorium will be £999 from next week onwards.
Just a short journey towards London, a cremation at South West Middlesex Crematorium will cost £490 (source Funeralbooker report on UK Cremation Costs here).
We wonder whether it is just Oxford, or all 43 Dignity owned and operated crematoria that are hiking up their prices?
Quoting from Dignity’s Annual Reports & Accounts 2015:
“We are the largest single operator of crematoria in Britain with a growing portfolio of well-established and state of the art crematoria that meet the needs of the local communities we serve. In 2015, we carried out 57,700 cremations representing 9.8 per cent of total estimated deaths in Britain”
57,000 x £999…… just under £56 million according to the GFG intern who was a whizz at maths.
Funeral poverty anyone?
Andy is an outstandingly accomplished embalmer whose knowledge and professional skills are matched by his humanity and respect for people who have died.
Overwhelming endorsements from many of the funeral directors that he works with were the reason why Andy has been picked as the Embalmer of the Year. Unfailingly he was described as ‘a credit to his profession’, compassionate, dignified and dedicated, someone for whom nothing was too much trouble.
One lengthy handwritten account told how Andy was willing to go above and beyond the call of duty, responding to a desperate text at 3.00am from a funeral director who urgently needed help to restore the appearance of a lady he had just collected before her daughter arrived to see her. Another account told how he made an 80 mile detour while on holiday with his son to assist with an urgent repatriation case.
The only thanks Andy ever receives are from funeral directors, as families rarely if ever ask about who has tended to their loved one, but it is clear that the he is highly regarded by the funeral profession, and indeed really well liked for his deep respect for the deceased and his happy, helpful and positive nature.
Andy’s phone message humorously informs callers that he is “embalmer to the rich and famous” and indeed he has embalmed some big names – eg George Martin. But the vast bulk of Andy’s work has been for ordinary people who will forever carry a beautiful memory picture of their loved one as a result of Andy’s handiwork. Great embalming is part science, part skill and part art. Andy is an outstandingly accomplished and artistic practitioner. He always does his best, carefully and compassionately, whatever the circumstances or the time of night. He’s a great embalmer and a really lovely guy.
Andy is, in industry jargon, a ‘trade’ embalmer, i.e., a freelancer who works for several funeral directors.
Runner up in this category – Angie McLachlan
As if bringing you the #DeathOscars, the Good Funeral Awards, wasn’t quite enough for 2016, we’ve got a few more treats in store for you.
In partnership with the National Trust, as part of Life. Death. Whatever. – a month long festival celebrating life, death and everything in between – we’re bringing you a series of GFG events, talks and workshops as well as an entire weekend showcasing the best of the UK funeral industry.
Our impressive venue, Sutton House, is the oldest residence in east London. It features medieval foundations, a Tudor kitchen, Jacobean and Georgian interiors, an Edwardian chapel, 80s graffiti under the roof and an urban oasis with an edible garden.
Throughout October, this is what we’ve got planned.
The Good Funeral Guild Launch Party
Tuesday October 4th
Sutton House, Hackney, London
Funeralworld is having a party to celebrate the launch of The Good Funeral Guild. Whatever your interest in funerals, come along to drink deathly cocktails, see the Life. Death. Whatever. exhibition after hours and meet the people who are the change the funeral industry has been waiting for (readers, that’s you).
The Good Funeral Guild Presents… Funeral Tuesdays – So You Want To Work In The #DeathBiz
Tuesday October 11th
Sutton House, Hackney, London
So you want to work in the #DeathBiz? Or maybe you want to find out about other roles within funeral service? Join the Good Funeral Guild to hear from a fascinating panel of people who work in all aspects of funeral service. From mortuary technicians, funeral directors, natural burial ground managers and crematorium superintendents to Funeralworld CEOs.
The Good Funeral Guild Presents…The Good Funeral Weekender
Saturday October 15th, Sunday October 16th
Sutton House, Hackney, London
The Good Funeral Weekender will showcase the best of the UK funeral industry in the stunning Great Chamber and Wenlock Barn of Sutton House. The visiting public will be able to explore the Life. Death. Whatever. exhibition as well as exploring what Funeralworld has to offer.
If you’d like to exhibit during the Good Funeral Weekender, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org ASAP.
The Good Funeral Guild Presents… Funeral Tuesdays – Creative Ceremonies
Tuesday October 18th
Sutton House, Hackney, London
Here at the GFG, we’re not only concerned with the hardware of funerals. The software – the service – is just as important. Standards are improving (and they need to!) as public perceptions begin to change. Learn how to put together a creative funeral ceremony with the help of the UK’s best and most progressive ceremonialists and celebrants. Featuring Tiu de Haan, Emma Curtis of Extraordinary Ceremonies, Isabel Russo from the British Humanist Association and Good Funeral Award winning minister Reverend Canon Gill Behenna. There’ll be plenty of time for debate and discussion.
The Good Funeral Guild Presents… Funeral Tuesdays – The Natural Death Movement
Tuesday October 25th
Sutton House, Hackney, London
Everything you ever wanted to know about the Natural Death Movement in the UK. Special guests TBA.
The rest of the month is filled with an eclectic lineup of events, workshops and talks including fashion meets death film screenings, Sylvia Plath book clubs, Death Cafes by the founder Jon Underwood, a Harold & Maude Extravaganza, therapy dogs and pat cats and a life affirming herbal supper club. See the schedule here.
The exhibition, which has been curated by death doula Anna Lyons, features work by Laura Ford, Claudia Bicen, Philip Eglin, Stella Vine, Kate Linforth, French & Mottershead, Nick Potter, Chairman Kato & many more.
There will also be an interactive Coffin Playroom, a Life. Death. Whatever. grave by our friends at Stoneletters and a bar serving deathly cocktails in the Tudor Kitchen.
We promise cocktails, cake, tea and tears.
From a huge field of contenders for this award, this year’s Celebrant of the Year was chosen for her genuine likeability as well as her exceptional professionalism.
Highly regarded by fellow deathcare staff and affectionately referred to in the testimonials from families she has helped, Stevie’s caring support up to and throughout the funeral is matched only by the unassuming way she slips out of the door when her job is done. It’s not her style to accept any gratitude or thanks shaking hands afterwards, she believes the attention should be for the gathered grieving family.
Unflappable, smart, articulate and with crystal clear delivery, she has the rare ability to produce a bespoke service for each family without cutting and pasting from other ceremonies and is described by funeral directors as serene, calming, soothing and gentle in her presentation.
One funeral director told her that if a particular family’s request for her to use bad language in the ceremony was too much, he would turn the job down rather than cause her any distress. She didn’t mind, she had spent years editing ‘arse’ jokes in her previous job.
Stevie worked as production manager for Viz magazine for 20 years until she was made redundant in 2012 when she was in her fifties. Her relationship with Viz magazine dates from 1992 when she starred in a photo story alongside Harry Enfield. She said “I think they kept me on so long because I could spell diarrhoea and they couldn’t.”
Finding herself redundant in her fifties, Stevie’s first thought was to train as a funeral director “because I like making things right for people and I’m not too squeamish.” Instead she trained as a funeral celebrant – and never looked back: “At the beginning, I thought the funeral directors were saving the best families for me, because they were all so lovely. I don’t know if it’s that people in extreme situations behave well, but they tell me such wonderful stories about the departed that my only regret is I can’t meet them. I’d love to have a cup of tea with them!”
Stevie attends Sunday Assembly in Newcastle where she recently gave an address on death.
Stevie has no idea who nominated her for this award.
Runners Up: Rosalie Kuyvenhoven and Pat Winslow
The judges also gave special thanks to Diana Gould for her pioneering work with baby funerals over many years.
Reverend Canon Gill Behenna, Chaplain among Deaf people in the Diocese of Bristol
Why did Gill win?
‘The winner of this category was chosen for her outstanding and ground-breaking contribution to the funeral experience of Deaf people.
When a member of the Deaf Community passes away, their funeral is often a large event, huge gatherings of Deaf people traveling from all across the country, Deaf and hearing family and friends coming together in fellowship, to mourn a loss, to celebrate a life, to console and be consoled. A funeral for a Deaf person is a cross-culture event spanning two languages and requiring specific pastoral skills.
This year’s winner works hard to ensure the final goodbye to a member of the Deaf community is accessible to all, that all who come may find a funeral service which meets their needs, allows them to grieve without the distraction of whether they will be able to understand the words of the service for their loved one.
Her desire to ensure everyone feels welcomed, is understood and plays their part in the goodbye is so very important, and the fact that both hearing and Deaf can communicate freely and naturally in their own languages with the minister allows for pastoral care to be truly accessible.’
Runner up in this category: Reverend Kate Bottley. Of Gogglebox fame.
The verdict? It was a good day out!
The partying vicars above certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves.
There are likely to be a lot of local news stories appearing round the country as the winners of a Good Funeral Award 2016 celebrate their recognition by their peers, and Christopher Hooton from The Independent definitely got it – read the full article here .
We’ll share any other articles as they arrive, but in the meantime we thought we’d feature each of the winners on a daily basis in posts on the blog, along with the reasons why the judges felt they deserved to win.
Guest post by Ruth Phelps of www.borca.co.uk
I opened my stall on Norwich Market in January 2016 and stock sustainably-resourced willow, green ash and rush baskets from household laundry baskets to bike and log and picnic hampers and much more. I additionally stock Fairtrade baskets from Palestine and seek to expand Fairtrade products.
Three months ago, in one of those middle-of-the-night mad idea moments, I decided to sell willow bio-degradable coffins direct to the public. It was an experiment. I decorated with flowers and displayed a big 6’ 6” willow coffin outside my stall.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but hundreds of people from all over the country as well as overseas and locals have stopped to congratulate me on selling coffins in a very visible way and attracted by the price which undercuts Funeral Directors’ charges for something similar by hundreds of pounds. Most of the public, like me, also see the coffin on display as a mechanism to de-stigmatise a topic many are uncomfortable discussing and promote that discourse. The local BBC & Mustard TV came to film and I was featured in the Eastern Daily Press. BBC Radio Norfolk tell me that nearly 17,000 had accessed the feature on their Facebook page within a few days.
Sales are going well with half of my customers buying a coffin to store or to give to family to store and/or make into funky furniture in the meantime. The coffins are being turned into coffee tables, wardrobes and shelving units. My favourite idea is to use one as a wine-storage cupboard.
All the coffins meet the criteria for crematorium, natural and traditional cemeteries in the UK and are environmentally friendly and sustainable products. Of course, many willow, bamboo, seagrass and cardboard coffins are also available on the internet but many with few guarantees. I’ve found that people like to see what they are buying, can see the quality and are assured of a very competitive price from a supplier they know.
We live in a time where a death pre-payment plan is considered the norm; where folk get into debt to see a loved one off at a very vulnerable time of their lives. We live in a time where the only avenue seen by many for saying ‘good-bye’ is through the services of a funeral director and the costs keep spiralling up and up. Who can afford to die?
Whilst there will always be a demand for the usually excellent and sensitive services of a Funeral Director, increasingly people are objecting to the steep costs and are looking at DIY alternatives for all or part of the process. Environmentally, bio-degradable coffins and caskets make complete sense and natural burial sites are more and more popular although cremation still remains the cheaper option. Additionally, many people have said to me that they feel more in control and like choosing a coffin themselves in advance of the inevitable.
Some will donate their bodies to science and who knows how the disposal of bodies will be managed in future decades. But with a shortage of land and the planet in such peril from man-made global warming, a bio-degradable coffin at a more affordable fair price seems a small step in the right direction.
Ru’s opening words to the assembled guests struck a chord with many who were there, so we thought we’d put them on the blog for the whole world to read. Over to you Rupert.
“Welcome everyone to the Good Funeral Awards 2016!
It started off, as so many good things do, in a sweaty basement in Bournemouth, and has grown into this glamorous Metropolitan lunchtime bunfight.
My name is Ru Callender and I should be standing here with my wife, Claire – sadly, she’s got flu. Together, we run The Green Funeral Company in Devon, and we used to be the Enfants Terrible of the undertaking world. Self taught, stubborn, scruffy, we still use our family Volvo instead of a hearse – but as we’ve been doing it for 17 years, we’re probably just terrible…
Today is a genuinely unusual mélange of the alternative and the conventional funeral world, and it has probably taken longer than the Good Friday agreement took to get everyone in the same room.
You are here because someone thinks you’re great. Let that sink in.
Even if you asked them to.
This gathering is largely due to Charles Cowling and crew of the Good Funeral Guide, and also to the original renegade masters, the Natural Death Centre, both of whose organisations dared to believe that ordinary people could deal with the gritty detail of death, the truth about what happens to our bodies, that a deep, internal understanding of death is part of our birthright, part and parcel of being human.
And what they did – brace yourself, maybe have a glug of wine to steady yourself here, was to treat the public as adults, to include them in a conversation about the one thing that will happen to each and every one of us.
They presumed, as we all should, that people can handle more than the protective narrative that is fed to them.
They were right.
It was thought wildly radical then, now it just seems honest and transparent.
I said funeral world because I refuse to use the word industry. Making computers is an industry. Fashion is an industry. Even getting fit is an industry. I don’t decry industry. It’s necessary.
But death is a true mystery, and working with it should be a vocation, a real calling, and if you’re not meant to be here, if ego, or an understandable search for meaning in your life has misled you here, then death has a way of calling your bluff. You are either initiated, in or out.
This work, the real work of dealing with death and loss is not glamorous, however closely it nearly rhymes with sex, however interesting it makes us appear to those who unfortunately have to work in jobs they hate to pay the bills, and that matter little.
This work, done properly, is incredibly stressful.
It’s exhausting, frightening, physically, emotionally and existentially challenging, but it is also deeply, deeply rewarding.
Burn out is a real risk, or worse, an unconscious hardening of your outer emotional skin – these are the risks you face depending on whether you fully engage with it or not.
Breakdown or bravado. Truly a metaphor for our times.
So, if you work with death – florist, celebrant, undertaker or chaplain, particularly if you are new to it, you really have to let it in.
Feel it. Fear it. Don’t pretend to love it , because the only thing worse than death is not death – and then, if you can, let it go.
This world is also open to all.
Undertaking is completely unregulated, and should remain so in my opinion, not just because no amount of qualifications can teach you what to say to the mother of a dead child, that is an instinctive language that rises unbidden from the heart, but also because we are all amateurs when staring into the abyss, all professionals when faced with a dead body.
And they are OUR dead, yours and mine. We are all funeral directors eventually.
It is a shared mystery and your guess as to what it means, and your actions as to what to do are as valid as mine, or the Church, or the Humanists.
Nobody knows for sure.
The mechanics of what needs to be done are easy, I promise. Keep bodies cold. Put them in a suitable receptacle. Carry them, bury or burn them.
The rest, the words, the rituals, the how we do this, you KNOW, deep down what is right for you. You know.
But here I am, bringing you all down at a funeral award convention – I should get a prize for that!
But just indulge me one last time before we start bringing on the champs, and this celebration of the real change that has happened gets underway –
They cover the kitchen floor of bereavement like a spilled cat litter tray.
They protect no-one, they fool no-one, they confuse children. They are well meaning, but they are wrong.
I’m only going to take on one here, and I apologise if anyone has to amend their speech or their website as a result.
Not everyone is loved, some because they have led sad, lonely lives, others because they did bad things.
They die too. They need funerals and their families are broken, and the depth of their pain makes the phrase ‘Loved one’ seem like a jeer.
So call them the dead, the dead one, the dead person, anything other than ‘loved one’. Call them by their name!
I know it’s awkward, but it will spare you the look of contempt you get when you say it to the wrong person.
And here they are – after hundreds of entries and hours of deliberation by the judges, the winners of this year’s Good Funeral Awards have been named and honoured at the fabulous ceremony at Porchester Hall today.
Most of the well deserving winners were there to receive their awards from former GMTV host Penny Smith at the event with more than 250 people attending to applaud their friends and colleagues.
Unprecedented interest from the media and guests including representatives from both major trade organisations has confirmed that the Good Funeral Awards are now something to be taken seriously – funerals are changing, the unsung heroes are being appreciated, and the best party in funeralworld takes place every September!
If you missed out this time round, nominations for next year’s awards open in April 2017…
With thanks to our main sponsor Funeralbooker, all the category sponsors, and everyone who worked so hard to make the day such a brilliant success, from all the team at the Good Funeral Awards, we would like to congratulate the 2016 winners.
Minister of the year
Revd. Canon Gill Behenna Chaplain among Deaf People in the Diocese of Bristol
Celebrant of the Year (sponsored by Civil Ceremonies Ltd)
Embalmer of the Year
Coffin Supplier of the Year (sponsored by Ecoffins)
Florist of the Year
Debbie Western Flowers
Gravedigger of the Year
David Homer of D. T. H. Burial & Churchyard Services
Cemetery of the Year
Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery
Crematorium of the Year (sponsored by Scattering Ashes)
Thornhill Crematorium, Cardiff
Best Internet Bereavement Resource
Best Funeral Caterer
Best Alternative to a Hearse
Best Green Funeral Product
Brahms Electric Hearse
Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death (sponsored by Final Fling)
Tamworth Co-operative Funeral service
Best Maker of Hand Carved Memorials in an Indigenous Material
Low Cost Funeral Provider of the Year
Coulbert Family Funerals
Green Funeral Director of the Year (sponsored by The Association of Green Funeral Directors)
Higher Ground Family Funerals
Funeral Arranger of the Year
Sarah Lee of Holmes & Family Funeral Directors
Most Promising New Funeral Director (sponsored by The Church of England)
Judith Dandy of Dandelion Farewells
Modern Funeral Director of the Year (sponsored by The Natural Death Centre)
A Natural Undertaking
Traditional Funeral Director of the Year (sponsored by A. R. Adams Funeral Directors)
Trevor E. W. Hickton Ltd.
Most Innovative Death Public Engagement Event 2016
Mortuary Assistant of the Year (APT)
Louise Milligan at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust
Crematorium Assistant of the Year
Steve Biggs at Mortlake Crematorium
Bridging the Gap Award
Special award for the industry supplier doing most to move the funeral business forward:
Julian Atkinson of J. C. Atkinson
Lifetime Achievement Award (sponsored by Paula Rainey Crofts)
Nicholas Albery (posthumously) & the Natural Death Centre Charity.