The Good Funeral Guide Blog
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.
Davina Kemble’s pebblewood coffin was unveiled at the Ideal Death Show 2013. Reviews were mixed. Some undertakers thought it would be impossible to persuade a dead person to conform to its rounded shape; others reckoned there was no problem. Since then, Davina’s partnership with her manufacturer reached a conclusion, but she’s carried on working away at it and a full-size pebble-shaped coffin will soon be on the market.
In the meantime, she has just launched her pebble-shaped ashes urn. It is taking off nicely. She is selling direct to the public through Etsy – here – and of course she’d be pleased to hear from discerning undertakers. Davina’s website is here and her Facebook page here.
Hats off to Davina. She’s stuck the course – she’s done what she’s had to do and seen it through without exemption, etc. There have been forbidding lows that would have done for most of us.
Here at the GFG-Batesville Shard the consensus is that Davina’s pebble urns are rare and lovely. We hope you like them, too.
Posted by Thomas Staley
“All living things seek to perpetuate themselves into the future, but humans seek to perpetuate themselves forever. This seeking – this will to ‘immortality’ – is the foundation of human achievement; it is the wellspring of religion, the muse of philosophy, the architect of our cities and the impulse behind the arts. It is embedded in our very nature” Stephen Cave
So if it is embedded in our nature, what potential do we have to perpetuate ourselves as humans in the 21st century?
In 2011 Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov employed leading Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems, proposing the transfer of personality to an advanced non-biological carrier at the end of an individual’s natural lifetime. The ultimate objective of this project is the development of a hologram-like avatar with an artificial brain to which human personality is transferred.
Whilst many remain sceptical, and are concerned by the ethical implications of such technological developments, our physical presence in this world remains limited, for the time being, and is set to remain indefinitely so.
This is why the emergence of online digital legacy tools, that provide us with the opportunity to record our lives online and leave an everlasting legacy, provide a meaningful solution to the aforementioned conundrum concerning ‘immortality’.
Such tools have the potential to capture every aspect of our lives, enabling future generations to obtain a complete understanding of who we truly are; including what we achieved, the values we upheld, the causes we represented, and what we held dearest during our time on this earth.
Loggacy is one such digital legacy tool; founded with the intention of connecting generations of family and friends, so that our most precious memories and experiences may be preserved perpetually.
Loggacy was very much born from a personal desire to never be forgotten, as I find it a sad reality that I am only able to remember my ancestors through snippets of physical information, such as photographs or writings that were supplemented by short narratives from living relatives. I hope that my vision now means that when I pass this won’t be the case, and that my children, grandchildren and beyond will be able to learn about everything that I embodied throughout the course of my lifetime.
I contend that this feeling extends well beyond myself, and indeed, I believe that there is an innate human desire within us all to create a personal narrative, to leave something behind, to pass something on and make a mark on this world; which is as much future-oriented as it is an immersion in the past.
As such I created a platform that is available for all to use; because it is a fundamental right to be remembered, to achieve some form of immortality.
The beauty of the tool is that the account provided by Loggacy is yours to control, manage and share; and therefore you determine exactly what people learn about you and what they are subsequently able to remember you by. Whether it be detailing a romantic getaway, your wedding or your child’s first steps, Loggacy welcomes you to create a log documenting your life from birth through to the present day and share it only with those most precious to you.
Many of us make plans for end of life, whether it be in the form of a funeral or pension plan, but little emphasis is currently placed on how we may utilise technology to record our lives, and as such, preserve our legacies. I intend to change this through the creation of a safe, secure and intuitive platform that allows users to record the most poignant moments of their life; so that future generations may truly know and understand their heritage.
Regardless of how seemingly menial our personal stories or achievements may appear to us on an individual level, we all have memories and experiences that are of interest to others and it’s important that these endure.
I therefore encourage you to consider what you might want your legacy to be, and record it with Loggacy; so that we may all stand the test of time, and satisfy man kinds perennial quest for immortality…