Louise Milligan, bereavement services and mortuary manager at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, is a shining example of caring mortuary assistant whose behind-the-scenes role means that her work is rarely seen by members of the public.
In the case of Louise, the testimony of one member of the public explains why she is this year’s award winner:
“Whilst my mother was at the Christie hospital in Manchester, following her death, we met an amazing lady called Louise Milligan. She was the manager there but I have been told she has now left to work as the mortuary manager at Stepping Hill hospital in Stockport. She sat down with me and listened as I vented all my emotions at her and then offered me a cup of tea, which made everything seem better, which makes me smile now! The post mortem was done by her and we couldn’t tell mum had even had one. I asked Louise to show me the stitches as I didn’t believe it and she showed me that the cut was made to the side so that mum could wear her blouse for her funeral. I was so grateful as my mum looked amazing and no cuts or stitches were seen by anyone, it made the post mortem worries go away.
I spoke to two other doctors at Christie about her and was amazed how she has fought for better care after death for patients and physically goes to the wards to help and train staff in care. If requested she dresses the deceased and makes sure that they leave in a very high standard. It amazes me how one person can have so much passion and commitment to a job and care for their patients. Louise called them her patients as she sees them as people and I’ll never forget when she said ’Everyone deserves the highest standards of care. I treat everyone as if they were my own as everyone is somebody’s someone’. She is so warm and caring it is a pleasure to be in her company and you can see that she genuinely cares for everyone she meets.”
NOTE: The correct term for a someone who works in a mortuary is an Anatomical Pathology Technician (APT). Louise is shining example of caring APT whose behind-the-scenes role mean that her work is rarely seen by members of the public. APTs support doctors during post mortems. They need a strong stomach for unusual sights and smells. In 2016 Louise won a Christie Award for her work – http://www.christie.nhs.uk/professionals/work-with-us/you-made-a-difference-award/
Runner Up in this category: Lara-Rose Iredale of Guys & St. Thomas NHS Foundation Trust
‘Death and the Human Experience’ & ‘Death, is it your right to choose?’
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Lavish, visually stunning and highly accessible for people of all ages, Death and the Human Experience was conspicuously successful in spurring people to think and talk about death and dying.
The death exhibitions and events programme were amongst the most successful the museum service has seen with almost 63,000 visitors to ‘death: the human experience’. Several thousand people attended the events in person, and listened to recordings on-line, such as the Assisted Dying debate, ‘What is a good death?’ talk, Death Professionals in Conversation, and the Day of the Dead celebration and Death Fair
People in the UK are reluctant to talk about death and dying. They are also reluctant to record their funeral wishes and to make financial provision for their funeral.
By means of stunningly visual exhibits this exhibition encouraged visitors to start the conversation. They were urged to consider ethical issues, differing attitudes to death and how different cultures deal with the end of life – and have dealt with death from earliest times.
The exhibition displayed a diverse range of objects, from a modern Ghanaian fantasy coffin to a Victorian mourning dress, and revealed captivating stories from cultures across the world.
Runner Up in this category: Brum YODO
Trevor E. W. Hickton
Trevor EW Hickton Ltd cleaves to funeral traditions and justly prides itself on its ceremonial excellence. The firm is also open-minded about new trends and works in a mutually supportive spirit with other independent funeral businesses.
Cradley Heath-based funeral directors Trevor E.W. Hickton have been carrying out the funerals of Black Country folk since 1909. Hickton’s is an inseparable part of its community and the family firm is now into its fourth generation.
The Black Country is proud of its funeral traditions – as it is of all its distinctive traditions – and Hickton’s gives Black Country people precisely the service they want and expect. The firm says of itself: “We uphold age-old funeral traditions our family have always used still to this day. Top hats, tail coats and paging the funeral cortège is policy.” In everything they do, Hickton’s employees are smart and dignified and the firm’s funeral vehicles are always immaculate.
Traditional in outlook the firm may be, as the vast majority of their clients expect, but Hickton’s also has a genuine passion for and interest in new ideas, opportunities and choices for families. Instead of being threatened by this they are – and this is rare in the funeral industry — embracing it. They are willing to offer families a whole range of choice of services and products which can help make funerals special and personal.
In an industry in which best practice-sharing is patchy and funeral directors regard competitors with hostile suspicion, Hickton’s is laudably and conspicuously collegial. The firm supports smaller independent funeral directors by renting out mortuary space, vehicles and staff. This has created a genuinely supportive community of independent funeral directors in the West Midlands who work to help each other.
Trevor E.W. Hickton’s 5 funeral homes cover the Black Country and Birmingham.
Runners Up in this category:
Suzan Davies of Abbey Funeral Services
The GFG slipped over the border last week to take part in one of three Round Table Discussions on Funeral Poverty hosted by Angela Constance MSP, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security & Equalities. We were in grand company – sitting round the table were a number of fine Scottish independent funeral directors along with representatives from NAFD, SAIF, Co-operative Funeralcare, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Chief Executives of Golden Charter and Dignity PLC.
It was, shall we say, slightly surprising to find Mike McCollum, Dignity CEO and beneficiary of regular and healthy remuneration as a result of the group’s successful steady growth at a discussion on funeral poverty Perhaps the pleas from this post on the blog in 2014 hadn’t fallen completely on deaf ears; maybe his diary is booked up a couple of years in advance, but at least he was there. (Albeit we didn’t notice much in the way of constructive solutions coming from his part of the table.)
Anyways, as they say oop north, the meeting was a fascinating one. Scotland is forging ahead with issues that Westminster just doesn’t appear to want to address. The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill has been enacted and provision has been made for all sorts of far reaching improvements, including licensing of funeral directors, introduction of a funeral director’s code of practice and guidance on the costs of making funeral arrangements. The Round Table discussions are part of a consultation process recommended in the comprehensive (and well worth a read) Review for Scottish Government on Funeral Poverty in Scotland by John Birrell and Fraser Sutherland, published earlier this year, and findings will be brought together at the first national conference on funeral poverty at Norton Park Conference Centre in Edinburgh on 16th November. (Tickets for the conference are free, to register for a place please email firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 4th November).
Much of the discussion ranged over the current inadequacies of the Social Fund Funeral Payment and the things that were needed to improve the system. An online eligibility checker was agreed to be essential, as was swifter decision making by the DWP. Simplifying the criteria required to be eligible and a simplified form were both cited as being necessary to make it easier for families to apply, and the introduction of allowing a funeral director or other body to liaise with the DWP on behalf of a family were suggestions that met with general approval.
Currently, nobody appears to know how many families are in receipt of SFFP payments, this data is not available from the DWP, but there are clearly growing numbers of people who find it difficult if not impossible to find the money to pay for a funeral. Where families are making an application to the SFFP, most funeral directors require a payment in advance to cover the costs of burial or cremation. As Lucy Coulbert pointed out, “I have to pay the local crematorium just under £1,000 per cremation. If the application is unsuccessful and the family isn’t able to find the money, that leaves me £1,000 out of pocket. I can’t afford to take that risk.” Knowing that an application would be successful could alleviate the need to require an impoverished family to come up with such a large amount of money in advance, as the funeral director concerned would be assured of reimbursement for the payment of disbursements.
The current allocation of £700 towards ‘other costs’ once the cremation or burial fees have been paid by the SFFP is the maximum amount available, and the ‘other costs’ have to include the cost of a coffin, a minister or officiant and the undertaker’s fees. Unsurprisingly, there were calls for this capped figure to be increased to a more realistic amount, and to increase in line with inflation, but this led to the old conundrum – and much discussed issue – of defining a simple funeral.
One would have thought that what constitutes a simple funeral shouldn’t be that difficult a thing to agree on, but without the will of the industry as a whole to adopt a specific standard and a reasonable (if locally varying) price for the same, it doesn’t seem to be possible. Having been scrapped by the NAFD in 2014 as a required provision in their Code of Conduct for being unworkable and unpoliceable, there is apparently little inclination to revisit the concept; indeed the idea was described as potentially being considered price fixing, or a cartel, but according to Nick Wilcocks, from yourfuneralchoice.com, the vast majority of funeral directors do offer what would be considered a simple funeral (collection and care of the deceased, a simple coffin, all necessary paperwork and conveyance to the place of committal, usually in a hearse), but the costs for exactly the same service can vary by thousands of pounds.
The subject of licensing brought further debate – licensing of funeral directors will happen in Scotland, the likely timeframe being 2018/9 for the introduction of inspectors of funeral directors and in due course, the licensing of funeral directors. In the first instance, once appointed the inspector(s) of funeral directors will scope the existing provision for funerals, engage in discussions with the trade associations and other interested parties and formulate some advice to government on the form of licensing required. Generally the idea of licensing funeral directors was welcomed by all at the table, with the caveat that it must be done by an independent body, not an existing trade association.
The recommendation of introducing a funeral bond was mentioned briefly, but not gone into in depth. Hopefully this idea will have more of an airing at the conference, as the idea of some kind of a savings scheme supported by government specifically for a straightforward simple funeral available from all licensed funeral directors is one that seems to have real potential.
There was consensus on the need for transparency in the funeral industry, something that needs a great deal of work. Only around 25% of NAFD members currently have prices online, there is no standard descriptor of what is a ‘normal funeral’, and the way that individual firms charge for their services can make it hard to compare like with like.
A representative from a Dundee social enterprise put forward a suggestion that the industry might like to consider creating a foundation or trust fund from some of their profits to be available for those in financial difficulties to apply to. We liked this idea very much indeed. We didn’t have a note of any response to this suggestion from Mr. McCollum.
Finally, we will leave you with Lucy Coulbert’s straight talking conclusion, addressed to the Cabinet minister and her colleagues in Scottish government:
“Accountability. Accountability is very, very important when it comes to licensing, and when it comes to invoicing. For example, I can buy a coffin for £120, if I give you an invoice for £320 most people will say that’s about standard, if you get one from a funeral director that’s exactly the same as mine but mine’s £320 and the other funeral director’s is £900, why would you pay that? There’s a massive gap in funeral directors’ charges, and although we’re not here to point a finger and we’re not here to say you shouldn’t be earning a profit, there is a big difference between funeral directors charges. We’re talking about a very simple funeral for very vulnerable people, and if you’re getting major discrepancies in bills for the same service then why on earth would you pay it?
And the whole point of licensing, if someone’s not doing a good job, if there are complaints about a certain funeral director all the time, look into it. If they shouldn’t be a funeral director, take their bloody license away. It’s a joke. There is no accountability in this industry whatsoever. For so long, really good funeral directors have been doing an amazing job, but there are some really bad funeral directors that have been really taking advantage, and there has got to be accountability. We are supposed to be self governing – it clearly hasn’t worked. So, if you want to regulate people, you’ve got to have the balls to stand by what you’re doing.”
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
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
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
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
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.”
Runner Up in this category: Eco-Urns
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