The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Modern Funeral Director of the Year

Monday, 3 October 2016

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Fran Glover & Carrie Weekes of A Natural Undertaking

Carrie and Fran run a funeral business in Birmingham where they have enjoyed rapid success by facilitating highly personalized, non-traditional funerals.

Carrie Weekes and Fran Glover launched their business in Birmingham in 2014 because they felt that current funeral and commemorative practices in Birmingham, where funerals remain very traditional, don’t meet the needs of everyone. Social change, Carrie and Fran reckon, means that people now live less formal lives; their views and commitment to religion have changed. Carrie and Fran said: “We live our lives as consumers, demanding products and services that add and hold value and which reflect our individuality. The internet is used intensively to research and review. And yet the funeral industry on the whole doesn’t seem to have acknowledged any of this.”

Neither Carrie nor Fran comes from a funeral business background. Their previous experiences of the industry were as consumers and mourners. They felt that the funerals they had attended were a poor reflection of the people being farewelled.

So they set out to disrupt the pattern of ‘conveyor belt’ funerals by making a wide range of choices available and involving mourners in both planning funerals and also encouraging them to process their feelings better by playing their part in a really personal farewell on the day – if they want.

Carrie and Fran’s goals are to:

  • Create meaningful funeral events which reflect the personality and values of the person who has died
  • Encourage the involvement of those who knew them
  • Create an understanding that there are many different ways to hold a funeral
  • Help bereaved people to break away from the norm.

Among many supporting testimonials received for A Natural Undertaking, the judges felt that this one speaks most appropriately:

They are passionate advocates of a funeral to suit the deceased and their loved ones. Their business model is truly modern in an industry that is otherwise very staid.

My uncle died earlier this year and although he was in his sixties, he was by no means an ‘old man’. His death was a shock to the family and we were unprepared. We only knew he wanted to be cremated. After that, we were at a loss as to how to best honour his spirit and celebrate his life.

As is my usual default when looking for information, I turned to the Internet. Among some frankly appalling examples, the fabulous website of this company stood out a mile and really resonated with me. It is a modern, clear and concise site which has been very thoughtfully designed – detailed prices are given, along with other information that I really needed to read before making the important decision of who to employ to handle my uncle’s funeral.

From the first time I spoke to one of the owners, she became a trusted and valuable friend. Crucially for me, she was available by text and email (as well as by telephone). Her calm empathy and understanding helped me more than I can say.

With their warm support we discarded the ‘rule” book’ and thought about the person who counted – Trevor. My once vibrant, gorgeous, wonderful – and completely modern – uncle. His funeral was all about him and everything was perfect thanks to the vision and ability of these two women to offer a bespoke service. I think that Trevor’s service will prove quite the inspiration for anyone who was there and might find themselves arranging a funeral in the future – and that is a lovely thought.

They might run a funeral business, but for these two is so much more. They are, in my opinion, modern-day pioneers. Aside from their day-job, they spend a great deal of time out in the local communicating educating people about end of life decisions and encouraging discussion. Their dedication to this side of their business is remarkable as, let’s face it, most busy people don’t generally place such importance on going the extra mile for the good of society.

I thank my lucky stars that they happen to be based in the place where my uncle lived. I know that we would not have gotten the same funeral in my own local area. It would be wonderful to see the their business model spread nationwide. What a difference this could make to people’s perceptions and experiences of death and funerals. In my personal opinion, they deserve every award and accolade available.”

 

Runners Up in this category: The Individual Funeral Company & Wallace Stuart

Most Promising New Funeral Director

Friday, 30 September 2016

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Judith Dandy of Dandelion Farewells

Judith is an outstanding example of a new wave of breath-of-fresh-air funeral business owners – what the Good Funeral Guide terms ‘artisan’ funeral directors. Some people call them alternative funeral directors. Typically, they reject what they regard as the arcane traditions and mystique of funeral service, presenting themselves as people first, funeral directors second.

Dedicated to transparent business practices and a highly flexible and personal service to bereaved people designed to enable them to create a bespoke funeral which best expresses their wishes and values, Judith’s humanity and intelligence place her at the forefront of this new wave of funeral directors

Having worked in two large corporate funeral companies in 2014, Judith set out to create a personal, flexible, thoughtful and cost-moderate service to support bereaved families. Dandelion Farewells was founded in January 2015, reflecting principles of client-centred support and professional standards of care derived from her previous career as a social worker. Judith is involved in all the aspects of care for the person who has died and their family. The business has gone from strength to strength.

Judith has dedicated much time and energy to travelling nationwide to learn alongside the very best in the industry – those with many years’ experience and others who themselves have begun their business a few years earlier. She has developed strong, mutually supportive relationships with other professionals and is able to draw upon a valuable network of colleagues, suppliers and mentors. In the same spirit, she has been called upon to support the work of other funeral directors who have identified her professional and interpersonal strengths. Coupled with valuable empirical learning alongside others, Judith has completed formal training programmes to provide a firm theoretical and professional foundation to her work. In March 2016 achieved the BIFD Certificate of Funeral Services and is now on the pathway to achieve the Diploma qualification in 2017.

Judith operates from a unique village premises from which she provides modern funeral care.

  • Judith has developed a planning workshop for small groups, called My Wishes My Way. This was launched during Dying Matters Week this year. The core of this session is to freely provide information about end of life choices and funeral planning and encourage people to write down their funeral wishes.
  • Dandelion Farewells provides personal, meaningful funeral occasions whatever form this may take for each individual family. It is an unhurried approach. Time is spent listening and working alongside the people making the funeral arrangements to ensure that their decisions resonate with their lives and preferences. The person who has died is cared for with tenderness, kindness and dignity.
  • Judith continues to support families beyond the day of the funeral. This may be through meeting at intervals after the funeral and if necessary sign-posting them to appropriate bereavement services.

Mary Hughes, Director of Affinity Funeral Services Ltd, said: “Judith’s enthusiasm for creating the perfect farewell is matched by her wealth of knowledge and her patience and availability to her families. Nothing is too much trouble. Dandelion Farewells is a rising star.”

A client said: “Judith immediately understood what I was going through, she was very approachable and kind, extremely patient and knowledgeable. Judith was always available, reassuring me in every way. Her attention to detail was touching. Judith continued her care wonderfully after the funeral too.”

 

Runners Up in this category:

Edd Frost & Daughters

Final Journey Funeral Directors

Young Independent Funeral Services

Funeral Arranger of the Year

Thursday, 29 September 2016

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Sarah Lee of Holmes & Family Funeral Directors

Sarah offers an exceptionally caring service to bereaved families and has carried on doing so while coping and coming to terms with the sudden death of her mother.

There are hundreds of superb funeral arrangers throughout the country but Sarah stands out from the rest of them this year.

Sarah works for a funeral director, David Holmes. The employer-employee relationship is not characterised by deference on Sarah’s part. Exceptionally dedicated and caring, she makes sure her bereaved families get what they need and deserve, no matter how many extra miles that might take. She spends all the time she needs with her families – a very great deal of it – and helps them to arrange exactly the right sendoff for their relative.

Sarah is always focused and uncompromising. She has an eagle eye for detail. She is warm and caring. She supports and guides the arrangers in the firm’s other two offices. She juggles her work with her two teenage children. David Holmes’s two boys, Toby and Oliver, are like sons to her.

Just a few weeks ago, Sarah lost her own Mum. The death was unexpected and the two of them were very close; they were a part of each other’s day-to-day lives. Not only did Sarah arrange the perfect send-off for her Mum, (of course) she carried on dealing with the funerals already in hand, hardly missing a beat. Her emotions were – are – all over the place, but you’d never have known.

David Holmes said: “I have been a funeral director since 1989 and in that time, I have known and employed some amazing people. However, it is impossible to think of anyone better at her job, more dedicated or caring than the woman I call our pain in the ass funeral arranger, Sarah. If she ever left our little firm, she would be truly irreplaceable.”

Runner Up in this category: Angela Bailey of Harrison Funeral Home

Green Funeral Director of the Year

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

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Lorna and Jo Vassie of Higher Ground Family Funerals

Jo Vassie is one of the leading figures in the world of natural burial; her site near Dorchester currently holds the Natural Death Centre’s People’s Award for the Best Natural Burial Ground in the UK.

With a custom built facility and a determination to be able to provide undertaking services for the many families that asked for her assistance, Jo is a great example of the no-nonsense, sensible and down to earth approach, which does away with any fluff or complications when it comes to caring for the dead.

She has an unfussy, straightforward and completely unassuming nature and brings this approach to her work caring for both the dead and their families, and she and her small family team are successfully growing this complementary business alongside their main love, which is of providing the highest quality natural burial.

In 2013, after years of trying to encourage her husband to consider offering an undertaking service for families choosing to be buried at Higher Ground Meadow, Jo and her son Tom decided that it was time to bite the bullet. They converted some space on their farm to suitable premises for caring for dead people, and bought a 9-seater vehicle that Tom adapted by removing the two back rows of seats and adding a shelf with rollers.

At the time of entering for the awards HGFF have carried out 71 funerals including some cremations, although invariably the majority of funerals involve a natural burial at Higher Ground Meadow. Bodies are cared for naturally, no toxic chemicals are involved and they don’t embalm, nor stitch mouths together or use plastic eye caps. Jo and her daughter in law, Lorna, take care of the bodies in their mortuary, and they take pride in making people look as nice as they can for their families. Some are dressed in their own clothes, others in a cotton gown supplied by HGFF, and all are laid on a thick cream coloured calico sheet before being placed in their coffin. All coffins are biodegradable, and the very reasonable costs are all displayed online.

Families are encouraged to be involved with the funeral, and hired bearers are rarely used – where necessary, four local men will help out but most families are pleased to do this part themselves with Jo’s help and guidance.

One of the many testimonials received reads; ’ How can I ever thank you enough? You have been there for me and my daughter every step of the way during this terrible, bewildering and heart breaking time. Everything you have done for us and for my darling husband has been so perfect. What you do for the grieving and the passed over is so very, very special. You are an angel, I am certain. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart”

 

Runner Up in this category: Only With Love

Best Green Funeral Product

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

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Andrew Briggs Of Brahms Electric Vehicles

‘This is a category that the judges think will grow over the years; with a number of strong contenders already jostling to win, the market for green funeral products is, forgive the pun, a ripening one.

The Brahms electric Eco-hearse is the only one of its kind and the only green alternative to the gas-guzzling motor hearse.

It was chosen as the winner not least for the dogged persistence with which the founders, Stephen Cousins and Andrew Briggs, have persevered against setbacks, and refined their product and their offering in the face of little take up by the funeral industry, well known for their love of the current, very non green mainstream way of doing things.

Funeral director David Billington said: “At a funeral earlier this year, the Brahms eco-hearse was requested by the family, who were very keen to make everything involved in the funeral as environmentally friendly as possible. The Eco-hearse fits seamlessly into this experience, and was a large talking point during the wake due to its striking and unusual appearance compared to a more traditional hearse.

With the Eco-Hearse being part of our fleet, we feel confident that we can offer a higher level of personalised service to every family. Although, this may not be everyone’s first choice as a hearse, I can say that every person who has seen the Eco-hearse has been extremely positive about it. Not only about its appearance, but also what it represents in regards to the funeral industry.

We believe that industry has been very slow to move with the times, and with the arrival of a product like the Eco-hearse, we are hopeful that this is just the tip of the iceberg, in regards to what the future holds for everyone within the sector.”

brahms-electric-hearse

 

Runner Up in this category: Eco-Urns

Low Cost Funeral Director of the Year

Monday, 26 September 2016

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Lucy Coulbert of Coulbert Family Funerals

Having geared her business specifically to help families of limited means arrange dignified and respectful funerals, Lucy was the only funeral director in England and Wales to give evidence to the 2016 DWP Bereavement Benefits Enquiry.

Lucy gives a 100% customer-focused service, unconstrained by the traditions of funeral service. In an industry which sets great store by conformity and mystique, Lucy is somewhat of a maverick. She does what she believes to be right and pays no heed to gainsayers.

She is at the forefront of a new, open way of doing things and her practice is a beacon to anyone contemplating establishing their own funeral business. She has been brave and outspoken and richly deserves this recognition.

Lucy has committed herself to supporting people of limited means, helping them create an affordable funeral. Funeral poverty has become a major issue in these times of austerity. Lucy created Coulbert Family Funerals to exclusively help people applying to the DWP for financial help paying for a funeral.

In the furtherance of the cause of combatting funeral poverty, Lucy gave evidence the Bereavement Benefits enquiry conducted by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) this year giving both oral and written evidence about the causes of, and solutions to, funeral poverty with Baroness Altmann and the DWP. She was the only person asked to attend all three meetings in the capacity of a funeral director.

Lucy is highly responsive to what her clients ask for. She publishes all her prices online, thereby achieving a transparency that all funeral directors would do well to emulate.

Lucy said: “I help people arrange the funeral they want in the way they want, and I do so in the most ethical way I can. I listen to what people want and don’t try to push them into having things they don’t want or need.”

 

Runner Up in this Category: Funerals on a Budget

Exploring the stigma around baby loss

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Big Buddha Films

Guest post by Debbie Howard – Director/Producer –  Big Buddha Films

During the making of my previous short film Peekaboo, I had already built up close relationships with many families who had lost babies, so I had their trust from the beginning of this documentary and was able to gain remarkable access to their personal lives. I had become passionate about telling these parents’ stories over the past six years, as I had discovered how much of a taboo talking about stillbirth is and how this impedes the healing of the families involved. I had met courageous, humorous and generous people and desperately wanted to share their stories with others.

Over 3,500 babies are stillborn in the UK every year – shockingly, the highest stillbirth rate for any country in Europe. Approximately 15 babies a day are stillborn in the UK.  Only 10% of stillbirths happen because of a genetic problem that meant the baby had no chance of surviving. The reality is that with more awareness and more research, thousands of babies’ lives across the UK could be saved. Taking ten times more lives than cot death, stillbirth is more than a personal tragedy, it is a public health crisis. Urgent advances are needed to understand and raise awareness of the causes of stillbirth and how it can be prevented.

“…This is one of the most neglected, marginalised, stigmatised issues in global health today. We simply don’t talk about stillbirths.”
Richard Horton, Editor in Chief, The Lancet

People need to understand that it’s not abstract when a baby dies. It’s someone’s child that has died. Saying things like ‘never mind you can have another’ aren’t helpful, in exactly the same way that we wouldn’t say that to someone who lost a ten year old child. We need to be able to feel comfortable to talk about their babies, to say their name. I hope this film will bring much more understanding around what happens in a family when their baby dies.

In Still Loved we focus mainly on three families’ distinct and unique stories, supported by other families to punctuate and enhance the three main narratives. These are cleverly woven together into one story arc, telling a common story with different voices. This helps to illustrate the frequency of baby loss and how it affects so many more people than just the parents, including siblings, extended family and friends.

We look closely at the role of the fathers. Dads often feel marginalized when a baby dies, most of the focus being on the mother. In Still Loved the dads express their feelings about losing their baby and about the way our culture and society expects men to handle this, not really giving them a place or time to grieve. We are passionate about giving the fathers a voice in this film and they relish the opportunity to speak candidly about how they really feel.

The challenge I face is to engage audiences to watch a film about such a difficult subject matter and for this film to have further reach than those that have lost a baby themselves. In order to tackle this, I chose stories that offer hope, love, resilience and courage. Ultimately it’s a human story uncovering the incredible ability to triumph over adversity. The participants are very candid about their feelings, and although heartbreaking in places, we use humor to offer relief and create light and shade throughout the film.

Watch the trailer for Still Loved here: https://vimeo.com/145618118

We are about to release Still Loved into cinemas during October, for International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. This has been extremely difficult due to the subject matter being too much for people. A lot of programmers simply wouldn’t watch it, or just told us “There is no interest in this subject.” This was challenging, being that they are the Gatekeepers, a big wall between our audience and the film itself. Only a handful of cinemas came on board to screen the film, so the rest of the screenings we have booked through Ourscreen. The cinema books you in and you have to pre sell a lot of tickets through your own networks two weeks before the screening or it’s cancelled. This is incredibly difficult, because very few people book cinema tickets weeks in advance and no press will cover the event until it’s confirmed.

We have been doing a huge amount of promotion and publicity ourselves, with the support of Tommy’s and Sands. But we want to reach a wider audience. It’s no use preaching to the converted. Those that have lost babies know exactly what happens when a baby dies. We want the film to reach those that don’t know. It’s an incredibly valuable film for midwives and health care professionals, but also for anyone supporting someone through a loss. Ultimately it’s a film for anyone who has ever, or will ever lose someone they love.

“The subject matter of Still Loved is emotionally challenging, it should be, this is not a film to make the viewer feel comfortable. To make progress, we must break the silence, the stigma and the taboo that surrounds the death of a baby, Still Loved begins this process it provides an accessible, original and profound insight into the effects of the death of a baby.”
Alexandra Heazell, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Obstetrics and Clinical Director of the Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre

If you would like to see a screening of Still Loved please see the screening list on our website and follow the instructions on how to book:

http://www.stilllovedfilm.com/screenings.html

To find out more about the film visit www.stilllovedfilm.com

Best Maker of Hand Carved Memorials in an Indigenous Material

Sunday, 25 September 2016

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Hannah Wessel of Stoneletters

Fergus Wessel, founder of Stoneletters, is a master of his craft, and provides a personal, sensitive service for bereaved families. He operates from his workshop in the Cotswolds with his small team, and prospective clients are encouraged to go and meet him there to see his work up close and discuss the options.

Fergus believes in a personal service and that the best ideas for wording for a headstone come through talking and learning more about the person the stone is to commemorate.

Slowly, through exploring choices of the different materials, ideas for wording and different designs, Fergus and the client together create a memorial that is totally unique: “As the maker, I feel a strong obligation to talk through every aspect of the inscription with the client so that every mark we make on the stone is purposeful and deliberate.”

Always using British materials wherever possible, every headstone is made with love and care from conception to completion, in close collaboration with the client, and with no limitations on the size or shape of inscription.

Stoneletters believe in choice without boundaries, and that almost anything is possible, but at the same time Fergus and his team have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the necessary requirements of local authorities and Diocesan regulations.

 

Runner Up in this category: Bierton & Woods Stonemasons

Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death

Saturday, 24 September 2016

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Amanda Woodward of Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Service

Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Service is leading the way in working with their local community to understand the myriad of emotions and potential difficulties they may have to endure during a bereavement.

Around six years ago, the company took the bold decision to invest in this area of communicating knowledge, and opened a bereavement service in the centre of Tamworth. This was launched in the local press, inviting people who had any type of question relating to a future or past bereavement to simply walk in their door and ask. Initially there was much skepticism over the idea, but in a short space of time, with regular newspaper prompts reaffirming that free advice is just a phone call or step through a door away, many people of Tamworth use the bereavement centre for guidance and advice. Cheryl Dutton, who mans the centre is not only part of the dedicated staff, but also a trained counsellor available to offer a listening ear and gentle support when needed.

Tamworth Co-op also use social media as a way of linking with the local community, not just as a vehicle for promoting their business. They offer innovative awareness raising events, support local organisations working with bereaved families and host many physical events that encourage bereaved people to come together, giving a greater understanding of perspective and in turn helping individuals find some company and comfort.

The judges felt that this low key, community based, thoughtful approach to bringing the difficult subject of death and bereavement into general awareness is of huge value, and believe the work being done by Tamworth Co-op deserves to be widely applauded.

 

Runner Up in this category: Beyond Goodbye

Best Alternative to a Hearse

Thursday, 22 September 2016

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Gordon Tulley of Respect Bentley

Gordon’s 1948 Bentley Birkin Special is this year’s classiest and most distinctive addition to the range of alternative hearses available to bereaved people who want to personalize their funeral.

Gordon Tulley is a restlessly entrepreneurial innovator in the funerals business. He owns natural burial grounds, is a specialist in direct cremation and direct burial and he is inventor of the Respect Everybody shroud – http://shrouds4all.blogspot.co.uk/

Gordon’s hearse is a 1948 Bentley Birkin Special, one of only 20 survivors. The bier is from a 1912 Viceroy carriage and is suitable for most coffin sizes. It is available nationally.

In launching his vintage Bentley hearse, Gordon has married his love of motorcars to his commitment to offering bereaved people imaginative ways of personalizing the sendoffs of their loved ones.

Gordon is a huge character.

respect-bentley

Runner Up in this category: Harrison Funeral Home Electric Vehicle

 

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