The Good Funeral Guide Blog

I can’t afford to die so now I sell coffins on Norwich Market

Monday, 12 September 2016

Borca Wicker Baskets & Coffins

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.

Borca Traditional Willow Coffin

Wise words

Saturday, 10 September 2016

ru-callender

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.

Go deeper.

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 –

Euphemisms.

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.

Loved ones.

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.

Just saying.

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.

Lecture over.”

The Winners

Thursday, 8 September 2016

gfawards-2016-winner-877x620

 

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.

 

The 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)

Stevie Glover

 

Embalmer of the Year

Andy Holder

 

Coffin Supplier of the Year (sponsored by Ecoffins)

Musgrove Willows

 

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

Muchloved

 

Best Funeral Caterer

Claret Catering

 

Best Alternative to a Hearse

Respect Bentley

 

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

Stoneletters

 

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

Bristol Culture

 

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.

 

Richard Sage / Mark Kerby release date

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

RSage

 

Reports have reached us that the infamous fraudster Richard Sage also known as Mark Kerby is due for release on 12 January 2017. His stated intention, we learn, is to return to the Southend-on-Sea area. We have not been able to verify these reports, but our source is trusted. If you don’t know who Richard Sage is, click his name in Categories below. 

Going for Guild

Monday, 22 August 2016

Circle of friends

Hot on the heels of the unprecedented British medal success at the Rio Olympics, we think we have found a way of keeping the golden feel-good feeling going.

Over the last fortnight, like the rest of the nation,  at GFG Towers we have felt the camaraderie of sharing the joy of the British athletes as they reaped the rewards of years of hard work and dedication.

The morning after the closing ceremony, with no more ecstatic TV coverage of medal ceremonies, we bring you an opportunity to feel again that warm glow of belonging.

We are delighted to announce the arrival of The Good Funeral Guild.

Let’s get connected!

 

 

Access All Areas

Saturday, 20 August 2016

The shiniest fridge we've seen in quite some time.

The shiniest fridge we’ve seen in quite some time.

Fridges & Funeral Horses
“Come see my Daddy’s shop,” exclaimed Aoife, aged five and dressed in the loveliest summer dress, as she pulled her little friends through the front door and headed straight for the embalming room.

It was Access All Areas today for the launch of Don O’Dwyer’s lovely new funeral home in Acton, West London.  We had accredited O’Dwyer Funeral Directors as one of only six funeral directors in London with the official GFG seal of approval before he’d even officially launched.

“There’s absolutely nothing to hide here,” Don told me, as curious members of the community had a look around his new funeral premises, taking a peek inside the (brand new and empty!) fridge as they enjoyed coffee, cake and champagne and chatted to Don’s family.

The ever lovely funeral horses put in an appearance, as did local MP Rupa Huq, who was shocked to discover that the UK funeral industry is entirely unregulated, but was pleased to hear that the Good Funeral Guide is hard at work telling the public about the the good guys like Don.  One of the two Chapels of Rest was blessed by the local Catholic priest, and celebrant and funeral director Rob from Crumpton Rudd funerals conducted a mini service, funeral style, to celebrate.

Don's 1983 Daimler hearse.

Don’s graceful 1983 Daimler hearse.

O Dwyer's GFG Recommendation proudly on show

O Dwyer’s GFG Recommendation proudly on show

The star of the show!

The star of the show!

In other news…
There hasn’t been much, if any, good news from the world of crematoria recently.  Back in July, we exposed the appalling state of West London Crematorium.  We’re still awaiting comment from the General Cemetery Company, who have yet to get out the hoover and clean up the mess, according to our well-placed sources.

We’ve also had a run-in with a crematorium who refused to allow mourners their choice of music during an early morning contract funeral.  ‘Crem choice’ seems to mean no choice in a certain borough just west of London.

So it’s been refreshing to see a spirit of friendliness, openness and transparency being embraced at Mortlake Crematorium.  It’s undergoing a spring clean and a lick of paint in preparation for taking part in Open House London in September.  Superintendent Natasha Bradshaw promises it will be Access All Areas for members of the public to not only enjoy the 1930s art deco building, but also to see what happens behind that mysterious curtain.

It’s wonderful to see the good guys of the funeral industry like O Dwyer’s Don and Mortlake’s Superintendent Natasha Bradshaw embracing openness and transparency and welcoming the often sceptical public through their doors.

There’s nothing to hide, after all.

The view from the catafalque at Mortlake Crematorium, taken by Steve Biggs

The view from the catafalque at Mortlake Crematorium.  Photograph taken by Steve Biggs

 

Why Funeralbooker are backing the Good Funeral Awards

Friday, 19 August 2016

Funeralbooker at the Ideal Death Show

Guest post by Ian Strang and James Dunn, Directors of Funeralbooker

‘Dear all,

For those of you who haven’t come across Funeralbooker before, we are a website which helps connect people with the best funeral director for them.

When we decided to set up Funeralbooker and were researching the market, it was evident that the Good Funeral Guide provided the leading independent voice in the funeral community. We had spent countless hours scouring its blog for valuable insights into this new world – and so one of the first meetings we looked to set up was with its founder, Charles Cowling.

Heading down on the train to Weymouth, we felt slight trepidation over what type of character this Mr Cowling might be – perhaps a firebrand activist or maybe a dour auditor? Therefore, we were delighted to discover an incredibly amiable and engaging Charles, who escorted us to a local pub where we spent a very pleasant few hours in the sunshine discussing the industry. Tough market research indeed!

Since that time, we have continued to value Charles’s thoughts and input and have further strengthened our relationship with the GFG since the appointments of both Fran Hall and Louise De Winter.

In particular, we view several elements of the GFG’s ethos as mirroring ours:

  • • A relentless pursuit of what is best for customers – particularly through empowering them to make their own decisions
  • • Championing the great work done by the many outstanding funeral directors
  • • “Openness” to new ideas, innovation and change

We allow consumers to quickly and easily understand who the best funeral director is for them – using clear pricing entered by funeral directors themselves and reviews from actual customers who have used the platform.

For the funeral director, we provide a way to easily reach a whole new set of customers that they might not usually be able to serve. Before we launched, people who searched online would typically end up with the larger chain companies, and we can compete against that, increasing visibility for the smaller, independent funeral directors.

Last year, as wide-eyed newcomers, we attended the Ideal Death Show and Good Funeral Awards at the very last minute with only a hastily designed banner and some preliminary designs of what our website might look like when we had finished building it.

A year on and we return as proud sponsor of this event, with almost 500 funeral directors signed up with us and our website helping people connect with these great independents every day. These awards provide a fantastic way to celebrate all that is great within the funeral industry and sponsoring them is a very proud moment for us.’

To find out more about Funeralbooker visit their website here: funeralbooker.com/

The Longest Long List Ever

Friday, 5 August 2016

Papers

The judges’ desks are looking not dissimilar to this…

Finally, we can reveal the successful contenders who have made The Long List for the 2016 Good Funeral Awards 

This year we have received more nominations than ever before, and with 24 categories, there are over 170 individuals or companies who will be considered for a chance to win one of the most covetable accolades in Funeralworld.

We don’t envy the judges their task this time around; the standard of entries is extraordinarily high, and the supporting testimonials that have been pouring in are heartfelt and often deeply grateful – many hundreds of people have taken the time to write in to tell us about the kindness, the skill or the care they received from their nominee when they were bereaved, and how much this meant to them.

Every letter or e-mail received in support of those named on the Long List will be handed over next week for the final decision making by the Good Funeral Awards judges, those eminences whose identities remain a closely guarded secret.

Their final choices of the winning entrants will be revealed at the glittering lunchtime Awards Ceremony on September 8th, which is being hosted by comedian and author Shappi Khorsandi at London’s grand Porchester Hall – an event made possible by the generosity of our main sponsor Funeralbooker,  a donation from our good friends at Greenfield Creations and the support of our individual category sponsors (shown  below).

Everyone is welcome to come along, whether or not you were nominated, or are on the 2016 Long List. The Good Funeral Awards are a day to celebrate the changing world of funerals and the wonderful people that inhabit it. And this year it’s going to be a very stylish occasion. Wear your best frocks. There will be cameras and journalists a-plenty; a London awards ceremony for the funeral industry is intriguing the media!

If you haven’t already booked your place at the best party in town, click here to order your ticket for the Awards Lunch, or e-mail us for an invoice.

And if you have made it to the 2016 Good Funeral Awards Long List, congratulations. Really, really well done. You should be immensely proud to see your name below.

 

The 2016 Good Funeral Awards Long List

1. Minister of the Year 

Revd. Canon Gill Behenna (Chaplain among Deaf people in the Diocese of Bristol)

Revd. Kate Bottley (Vicar of the churches of Blyth, Scrooby and Ranskill and Chaplain to North Notts College)

Revd. Richard Mitchell (formerly of the Parish Church of St. Paul, Shurdington, now Canon Precentor at Gloucester Cathedral)

Revd. Melanie Toogood (Former Vicar of St. George & All Saints, Tufnell Park)

2. Celebrant of the Year (sponsored by Civil Ceremonies Ltd.)

May Andrews

John Banks

Tina Bowden

Gill Coltman

Janice Cubis

Emma Curtis

Christine Cuzick

Tiu De Haan

Tamara Dickson

Rebecca Dinsdale

Victoria Fisher

Stevie Glover

Diana Gould

Vashti Hodge

Pauline Hyde Coomber

Rosalie Kuyvenhoven

Jane Morgan

Kate Spohrer

Rosemarie Teece

Frances Tulley

Claire Turnham

Angela (Basira) Ward

Sally Ward

Pat Winslow

3. Embalmer of the Year

Steve Fooks

Andy Holder

Angie McLachlan

Matthew Newton

4. Coffin Supplier of the Year (sponsored by ECoffins)

Colourful Coffins

Greenfield Creations

J. C. Atkinson

Musgrove Willows

5. Florist of the Year

Colonnade Florist

Dazzle Me Daisy Do

Debbie Western Flowers

Flower Workshop

Flowers By Susan

Flowers on Main Street

Louise Taylor Flowers

Inspired Flower Design

Old English Rose

Passionate Flowers

Flowers By Rosie Orr

Tuckshop Flowers

6. Gravedigger of the Year

Ivor Davies (Caerphilly County Borough Council)

Martin House (Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground)

Will Pearce

D. T. H. Burial & Churchyard Service

7. Cemetery of the Year

Blandford Cemetery

Dewstow Cemetery

Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground

Greenacres Woodland Burials Chiltern

Higher Ground Meadow

Moulton Cemetery

Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery

Porchester Memorial Gardens

St. Woolos Cemetery

8. Crematorium of the Year (sponsored by Scattering Ashes)

Thornhill Crematorium, Cardiff

Gwent Crematorium

Kettering Crematorium

Mortlake Crematorium

Redditch Crematorium

9. Best Internet Bereavement Resource

Death Goes Digital

Funeral Stationery 4U

Muchloved

Once I’ve Gone

Social Embers

The Grief Geek

10. Best Funeral Caterer

Claret Catering

Rocket Catering

Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Service

Tea & Sympathy

11. Best Alternative to a Hearse

Bon Voyage Citroen Hearse

Harrison Funeral Home Electric Vehicle

Leverton’s Eco-Hearse

Morris Minor Hearse

Respect Bentley

12. Best Green Funeral Product

Bellacouche Leaf Shroud

Brahms Electric Hearse

Eco Urns

Respect EveryBody Shroud

Sacred Stones

Secure Haven

13. Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death (sponsored by Final Fling)

Lucy Coulbert

Jane Duncan Rogers

Lucy Talbot & Sarah Troop

Claire Turnham

Sandy Weatherburn

Beyond Goodbye

Bristol Culture

Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Service

The Corpse Project

The Natural Death Centre Charity

14. Best Maker of Hand Carved Memorials in an Indigenous Material

Bierton & Woods

The Cardozo Kindersley Workshop

Stoneletters

15. Low Cost Funeral Provider of the Year

Coulbert Family Funerals

Evelyn’s Funerals

Funerals on a Budget

Only With Love

Express-Burials & Express Cremations

Secure Haven Cremations

Wallace Stuart Funeral Directors

16. Green Funeral Director of the Year (sponsored by The Association of Green Funeral Directors)

Higher Ground Family Funerals

Only With Love

The Green Funeral Company

Woodland Wishes

17. Funeral Arranger of the Year

Angela Bailey at Harrison Funeral Home

Emma Fisher at Colin Fisher Funeral Directors

Sarah Lee of Holmes & Family Funeral Directors

Sarah Wolsey at Daniel Ross Funerals Ltd.

18. Most Promising New Funeral Director (sponsored by The Church of England)

Chloe Middleton (Rosedale Funeral Home)

C. S. Boswell Independent Family Funeral Services

Compassionate Funerals

Crumpton Rudd

Dandelion Farewells

Divine Ceremony

Edd Frost & Daughters

Final Journey Funeral Directors

The Modern Funeral

Youngs Independent Funeral Services

19. Modern Funeral Director of the Year (sponsored by The Natural Death Centre Charity)

A Natural Undertaking

Albany Funerals

Bewley & Merrett

Compassionate Funerals

Harmony Funeral Care

Harrison Funeral Home

Heart & Soul Funerals

Mark Catchpole

Only With Love

Respect Direct Funeral Services

Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Service

The Individual Funeral Company

Town & Country Funeral Directors

Wallace Stuart Funeral Directors

20. Traditional Funeral Director of the Year (sponsored by A. R. Adams Funeral Directors)

David Crayton of John Lucas Funerals

Suzan Davies of Abbey Funeral Services

Oliver Holmes of Holmes & Family Funeral Directors

Albany Funerals

Leverton & Sons

Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Service

The Individual Funeral Company

Trevor E. W. Hickton Ltd.

Wallace Stuart Funeral Directors

21. Most Innovative Death Public Engagement Event

Louise Winter

Bristol Culture

Brum YODO

London Society of Death

Respect Drivers Pageant

22. Mortuary Assistant or Team of the Year (including Anatomical Pathology Technicians)

Wayne Day at T. E. W. Hickson Ltd.

Lara-Rose Iredale at Guys & St. Thomas NHS Foundation Trust

Louise Milligan at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust

Hannah Nutbeem at Heart & Soul Funeral Directors

The team at The John Radcliffe Hospital

23. Crematorium Assistant of the Year

Steve Biggs at Mortlake Crematorium

Roy Paget at Solihull Bereavement Services

Gary Paterson at Breakspear Crematorium

Paul Rayner at Solihull Bereavement Services

Carolyne Reeve at Teesside Crematorium

The entire team at Golders Green Crematorium

The entire team at Redditch Crematorium

24. Lifetime Achievement Award

Nicholas Albery (posthumously)

Anne Barber

Anne Beckett-Allen

Lucy Coulbert

Howard Hodgson

Rosie Inman-Cook

Susan Morris

Richard Putt

Josefine Speyer

Susan Thompson

Jon Underwood

Tony Walter

 

Look what’s waiting to land in your e-book library…..

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Adventures in Funeralworld

Fresh out of the box and ready for reading, here’s the e-book that is essential for the library of anyone with an interest in anything funereal.

Or actually anyone with an interest in life.

Enough said.

Published today.

Buy it here.

 

“Sensitive incineration” – definition please?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

incineration of clinical waste

Guest post by Tim Morris from the ICCM

“Sensitive incineration of Pre-Term Babies”

Is this a valid option for bereaved parents alongside burial and cremation? Believe me, it has been accepted in some quarters. If you are a bereaved parent or of a sensitive disposition, I apologise for any cold technical and legal terms used however they are in use, I mean no offence.

The Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management has opposed the option of ‘sensitive incineration’ as an option for the disposal of pre-term babies, on the grounds that such a thing does not exist.

When the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) consulted on the disposal of pregnancy remains following pregnancy loss or termination in March 2015, the ICCM made its position very clear. Is adding the word ‘sensitive’ an attempt to make the disposal of babies as clinical waste sound acceptable? The (re)introduction of incineration was a surprise when the HTA Guidance was published, as the year prior to this, 2014, the then Health Minister had branded the practice ‘totally unacceptable’ and ordered it to cease – see here.

Scotland, ahead of the game at present in matters of burial and cremation and the disposal of the dead, banned the sending of lost babies to incineration plants in 2012.

Well done Scotland.

Having attended various events and gatherings, and more recently speaking at the Child Funeral Charity seminar just a week ago, I have taken the opportunity to ask those gathered if they could describe sensitive incineration. To date nobody has, not even the HTA and organisations that have supported it.

Whist it could be understood and accepted that some women might not want any recognition for their baby, whether miscarried or aborted, the suggestion that it would be their wish to have no record of nor recognition for their baby does not follow. There will always be a record at the hospital or clinic on medical files, and the hospital or clinic would need to retain a signed consent form, plus the record of waste transfer to the incinerator (in the form of a waste transfer note required under waste management legislation) is yet another record in the chain of events. In other words an audit trail.

If the final act takes place at a crematorium or cemetery, a hospital or clinic record will be maintained albeit the name of the mother being substituted with a case number in order to maintain confidentiality required under the Abortion Act if the mother so desires. No record of the mother would be held at the cemetery or crematorium, hence confidentiality maintained. Whilst there might be audit trails in respect of incineration, burial and cremation the overriding fact is that parents are not revealed and confidentiality is maintained. Recognition of a lost baby could only be given or not by parents.

Anyway, an attempt at a description of sensitive incineration comes via the HTA Guidance that suggests that these babies should be placed in a container and not with other clinical waste, and that a minister of religion could accompany the container (yellow plastic bag??) on its journey and to its end.

It also suggests that these babies are incinerated separately from other clinical waste. Is this possible in a commercial, continuous, industrial process? Could someone explain? The ash, even if it could be separated from the ash produced from the burning of other waste, would surely not be respectfully scattered in a pleasant area of grounds but will be dumped in a landfill site.

I really feel for those hospital staff that might be required to attempt to describe sensitive incineration alongside descriptions of burial and cremation. Perhaps some might refuse? Perhaps some bereaved parents will be shocked into making complaint? Time will tell. Perhaps hospital managers should visit both crematorium and incineration plant and draft a truly accurate description of the process observed at each in an attempt to help their staff?

Note Clause 5.3 in the Royal College of Nursing Guidance

The MoJ published its response to its consultation on review of the cremation regulations on 7th July, just last week. The review was required as it was evident that action was required in light of the Baby and Infant Cremation Investigation Reports, the Commission report in Scotland, and the Emstrey report in England. It was music to our ears as the Institute had long since campaigned to bring the cremation of fetuses into regulation. The first Institute policy statement issued in 1985, (yes 1985!) entitled ‘Fetal Remains, an IBCA policy statement’ was basically an attempt to cease sending pre-term babies to waste incinerators (Note that IBCA is the former title of the Institute). At that time, all babies born prior to 28 weeks (now 24 weeks) gestation and showing no signs of life, were consigned to the incinerator. Only stillborn babies had recognition and were either buried or cremated. Various legal and ethical arguments for and against cremation of pre-term babies were aired at that time, including the fact that fetuses have no legal status and that an attempt was being made to turn crematoria into waste disposal sites. Whilst fetuses still have no legal status today and the vast majority of crematoria will cremate them, the fact that cremation is technically unlawful has been avoided by government in England and Wales until now.

Good for Scotland and Lord Bonomy for recommending the regulations of the cremation of fetuses in 2014 in his Report of the Infant Cremation Commission, the Scottish Parliament bringing the regulation of Baby and infant cremations into a new Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 and hence leading England and Wales along the same path.

There is a big difference though. Incineration is banned in Scotland yet condoned in England and Wales.

The Institute stuck to its aim and reviewed and revised its policy and guidance on the Sensitive Disposal of Fetal remains over the years and numbers of burials and cremations slowly increased so perhaps incineration decreased.

Not surprisingly the MoJ response includes ‘definition of ashes’ in its list of items to be dealt with, as this was the fundamental issue in at least three of the inquiry etc. reports. The response also speaks of an inspector of crematoria and statutory forms and register, the latter two items being the masterstroke of Lord Bonomy in bringing the cremation of fetuses into regulation. At last.

The only part of the MoJ that was not music to our ears was reference to ‘sensitive incineration’. The mention of sensitive incineration mirrors the view of the (HTA) that it should be an option for bereaved parents alongside burial and cremation. I don’t recall that this option was discussed in the MoJ consultation. The spectre of sensitive incineration exists and has been reinforced.

So back to basics:

Can anyone describe the sensitive incineration of babies?

Why is sensitive incineration being given a push?

Are the words of the Minister ‘totally unacceptable’ made in 2014 being ignored?

The Institute’s description of sensitive incineration is ‘disposal at a waste incinerator that conducts a continuous, industrial process in accordance with waste management legislation’. Any advance on this or perhaps a more ‘sensitive’ description?

Has the word ‘sensitive has been highjacked?

Finally, are we are supposed to be a sensitive and caring society? Seems that Scotland has the lead on this as well.

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