The Good Funeral Guide Blog
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
“The barrow, its shape, its natural stone, its location, instantly gave me the same feeling of the past being an essential part of the present, of our lives being a shared history. Of peace and calm and connection. And I am drawn to the barrow as a place of rest and pilgrimage for exactly those reasons.” Anna Pugh, Bedford.
Last week we visited Willow Row, the round barrow destined to house hundreds of cremated remains that is being constructed in Cambridgeshire by Sacred Stones Ltd. Three of the company directors were there to meet curious locals and others fascinated by the prospect of a Neolithic style barrow being built in the 21st century.
Toby Angel is a former business development manager who met stonemasons Martin Fildes and Geraint Davies just after they had completed work on the long barrow at All Cannings in Wiltshire. Thinking back to his aunt’s cremation service, Toby recalled just what an impersonal experience it had been ‘at an ugly, municipal building’. He felt that there had to be a better way, and when he met Martin and Geraint, he realised that the privately commissioned barrow that they had just created in Wiltshire was it.
A vision of providing a modern interpretation of ancient burial mounds across the UK was born, and now the first of their sites is becoming a reality, in a secluded spinney on farmland near St. Neots. Willow Row round barrow, once complete, will have 345 niches where urns of cremated remains can be placed in hand crafted niches. Most will have space for two urns but there will also be some larger ones where four or five urns can be placed together. Single capsules will also be available, made of Portland Stone and sealed with beeswax.
Sitting in the inner circle of what will become the central chamber, we quizzed Toby and Martin about their ambitions. There was no mistaking the passion that has gripped them personally as the project has taken shape, and both men talked eagerly about what the creation of Willow Row meant to them. There was a strong sense of connection to our ancestors who toiled with stones thousands of years ago to create barrows for their dead to be laid to rest in sacred surroundings. Even Geraint the stonemason, a man of few words (but immense forearms..) became animated when he was explaining how the beautiful limestone being used in the construction tells him where it wants to go. “If it’s not the right place for it, it doesn’t work,” he said.
The organic growth of the barrow belies the years of craftsmanship involved in its design and construction, and even in this early stage it is clear that Willow Row is going to be a beautiful and very special building that will blend into its surroundings in a totally natural way. Sheltered from the environment by the surrounding trees and bushes, the barrow will eventually be covered with topsoil and look as if it has been there for thousands of years. The only sound you hear as you approach it is birdsong, and despite the surrounding fields being part of a working arable farm, there is peacefulness in the chosen spinney around the barrow that is perfectly in keeping with the reverence of it becoming a final resting place for hundreds of people.
We have asked Toby to write a guest blog for us over the coming months as Willow Row reaches completion, and to keep us updated with how his vision, inspired by ancestral rituals and rites, becomes a reality. We liked the idea tremendously. Only time will tell if the people of Cambridgeshire and the surrounding areas do so too, but in the meantime Toby and his co-directors have plans to build more barrows in Hampshire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Buckinghamshire, Somerset, Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales.
We have seen the future and it’s electric.
Back in 2013 we told you about the Brahms electric hearse, the highlight for us of that year’s National Funeral Exhibition.
Three years on, we dropped in on Steve Cousins yesterday to see how business was going. He’s a man who doesn’t give up, even when faced with an implacable wall of disinterest from the funeral industry. Other than Leverton and Sons of course, who have been running their Eco-Hearse and accompanying passenger Eco-car around London for some time. Over 10,000 miles worth of funeral travel in fact. Have a look. http://www.levertons.co.uk/#!eco-hearse/c1ofy
Why aren’t funeral directors flocking to follow suit? Steve doesn’t know. But he’s not deterred. He’s introduced a hire option for funeral directors who don’t want to commit to purchasing one of these really lovely little cars – although at under £30,000 purchase price for a fully fitted converted Nissan Leaf with a walnut motorised deck and additional safety features the price sits quite nicely in comparison with the circa £135,000 for a traditional style gas guzzler…
Oh, and there’s obviously no gas guzzling with an Eco-hearse. Just a recharge of the battery every 80 miles or so. So the running costs are next to nothing in comparison. And the silent glide with no engine noise is just perfect for arriving at a funeral.
We loved the compact size of the Eco-hearse. It’s more intimate, less showy, a really elegant little car, with beautifully thought through adaptations to enable it to function as a hearse. The tilting deck lowers the foot of the coffin so that the driver can see safely out through the glass where the passenger window would have been – now replaced by a sweeping curve of side glass, which allows the entire coffin to be seen as the car goes by.
Maybe FDs are worried about the performance we thought? So we asked an expert driver to take it for a test run. The GFG Stig had never driven an electric car before, but having quizzed Steve and his colleague Andrew in detail about the design and development, he set off for a trial ride – and came back smiling. “Handles very nicely,” said our Stig, “It’s solidly built, the weight of the battery under the floor keeps it sitting beautifully on the road and the tilting deck means there’s good visibility with a coffin in place. And there’s a lovely little turbo whistle just audible as you go along. I like it a lot.”
He liked it so much that he did a few 0-60 accelerations to check the power, and reported back a surprising 10 seconds to achieve that speed. We pointed out that this probably wasn’t high on the criteria of funeral fleet managers when considering a new hearse, but he’d had so much fun that we let him off.
So come on all you funeral directors out there. What’s stopping you from getting an electric hearse? We can’t see any good reason why they aren’t a regular sight queuing silently up crematoria drives. Tell us why they’re not?
Or tell Steve Cousins. He’d love to know. See the Brahms website here for his contact details: www.brahmselectricvehicles.co.uk
Thanks to Robert De Baahr from the London Society of Death for bringing this to our attention – from Insider Media Ltd.
‘European private equity firm Montagu has acquired a majority stake in a Berkshire-headquartered funeral services provider which has more than 130 branches throughout the country.
Founded in 2007 by chief executive Phillip Greenfield, Funeral Services Partnership (FSP) is the third largest provider in the UK. The Reading-headquartered company employees about 500 staff and oversees 10,500 funerals per year.
FSP’s model is based on acquiring independent funeral directors and putting in “investment, training and improved processes”.
Montagu will partner with Phillip Greenfield and his management team to grow the business by making further acquisitions and through organic expansion.
Greenfield said: “We want to continue to grow our presence in the UK market and we are confident that Montagu will be great partners given their previous experience of the sector. We look forward to working with Alex and the team going forward.”
Alex Dabbous, director at Montagu, added: “We are proud to be investing in FSP, a strong brand name in a sector we know well. FSP provides important and essential services, and we will work hard with Phillip and his team to help build the business further in the years to come.”
The financial details of the deal were undisclosed.’
Funerals ain’t what they used to be. Today’s emphasis is more on celebrating a life past than honouring the future of a soul. While I am not averse to a celebratory element, the funeral is morphing into a spiritually weightless bless-fest. This was brought home to me last week at the funeral of Enid, a lady I knew only through our mutual attendance at bingo in the community centre.
I was uncomfortable from the moment we gathered outside the church, where my sombre suit set me apart from the Technicolor crowd of family and friends. The atmosphere was more akin to a wedding, even a hen do, than a funeral, the air drenched in perfume and aftershave. Inside, there was pew-to-pew chatter, wall-to-wall music (Robbie Williams’s ‘Angels’, inevitably), not a single moment of silence, and not a single sacred song, let alone a prayer (an inaccurately mumbled Lord’s Prayer excepted). There were two readings, one by a grand-niece of perhaps eight, snivelling, bless, a poem about being only next door; then a nephew offering a eulogy, the main point of which was that his aunt had been a keen gardener ‘and she will plant her flowers in heaven’.
I know I shouldn’t sneer. Religion, the Anglican version anyhow, is a broad church with a wide liturgical spectrum. But I could not help feeling that such celebration missed the point. It somehow connected with a virtual life rather than a real death. It was spiritual displacement activity.
You can read the rest of the article by clicking here.