Category Archives: Co-operative Funeralcare

Basket cases

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


A real Fair Trade coffin from Ecoffins


Here’s an interesting claim from The Co-operative Group

“The Co-operative has a long tradition of leading the way on fair trade and the launch of the first-ever Traidcraft endorsed fairly traded coffin range at our funeral homes is a natural, if unusual, progression.” 

This first-ever status is endorsed by Traidcraft:

Larry Bush, Marketing Director, Traidcraft, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with The Co-operative in a brand new area of fair trade.  We have a strong track record of working together with the Co-operative Group to launch fair trade firsts.’ 

The Co-op must have put out a press release about this (we can’t find it) because the story is everywhere. We pasted a sentence from the article into Google and it threw up 213 results, all of them, pretty much, newspapers. That’s a fantastic strike rate for a press release, a coup for the Co-op – and an insight into the quality of what we are urged to believe is bona fide news, not propaganda served up as news. 

The Daily Telegraph version of the ‘story’ further tells us that: 

‘Green funerals, where clients choose materials from sustainable sources and carbon emissions from the day are kept at a minimum, have grown by 20 per cent in recent years and are now worth more than £8 million.’   

Goodness only knows where they sourced those figures. The article goes on to tell us that:

The bamboo and willow coffins are made in Bangladesh, where communities are given a fair price and money goes toward schools and health care.

Although wooden coffins approved as “rainforest friendly” have been fashionable for some time, these are the first coffins to be designated “fair trade” by official certifiers.

Traidcraft, a charity that promotes Fairtrade around the globe, said the coffins are the first to bring in money and fair working practices to a community in the developing world.

An early version of the story states that these coffins are being sold by the Co-operative Group ‘as part of its ethical strategy’. A more relevant and pressing ethical strategy, we’d suggest, would be a rededication to foundational values and the provision of affordable funerals to the poor and the disadvantaged. 

Because we’ve been very busy here at the GFG Batesville-Shard we never got around to finding out what William Wainman at Ecoffins thinks about all this. After all, he has been selling fairtrade coffins for as long as anyone can remember. We assumed he might be cross. So we very grateful to those of you who sent in his riposte:

Ecoffins started manufacturing bamboo coffins in 1999 and is the only World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) manufacturer of coffins in the world. We were accredited as a member of the WFTO in 2007 following two rigorous independent assessments of our factory in China. This allows us to use the WFTO logo, providing a guarantee that we are Fair Trade suppliers. Additionally, all the companies which we buy products from outside the EU are also fully accredited members of the WFTO. 

This is absolutely not the case with those coffins Co-operative Funeralcare will now be selling. Their manufacturers are not WFTO accredited and therefore will not be able to claim Fair Trade status for their bamboo or willow coffins. They should also not make claims that imply that they are the first to do this in the UK. 

Copies of the WFTO assessors’ report on our own factory can be viewed at 

Are we to suppose that Co-op Funeralcare was ignorant of the Ecoffins accreditation? Or that they simply didn’t let it get in the way of a good story? 

As for those who credulously published the story, shame on your fact-checking. 

Hat-tip to MJ, DB and JU

Why did we delete that blog post?

Monday, 11 February 2013

This morning we received an email which had been forwarded in error by Mr Potts, Customer Relations Manager at The Co-operative Funeralcare, to a bereaved family – not we hasten to add one of the families referred to in the message – who forwarded it to us.  On reading it, we immediately deleted the blog post describing the incident referred to out of respect for the wishes of the families concerned.  We have redacted those parts of the email which indicate the location of the incident and the date of the press story; and those which reveal contact details. 

We thought the email worth publishing for its own sake – because it isn’t often we get an insight into what goes on in the engine room.


From: Neil Walker (CLS-Exec) 
Sent: 11 February 2013 09:11
To: Anna Osborne (CLS-Probate Consultants); Sanjeev Chahal (TS) (CLS-Probate Operations)
Cc: Ziad Shukri (TS) (CLS-Legal Advisory); Karen Morgan (CLS-Wills); Jon Potts (Funeralcare); David Collingwood (Funeralcare)
Subject: Incident within Funeralcare



Funeralcare had an incident in the  XXXXXXX    part of the country a few weeks ago.  As you would expect Funeralcare dealt with the matter in a sensitive and appropriate way with the 2 families involved; to the extent that neither family wanted anything to appear in the press.  Unfortunately the press in the local area published a story relating to the matter xxxxxxxxxxxx

In the unlikely event that the probate advisory team get questioned on the matter by a client who has any concerns whatsoever, could you please could you ensure that the client is offered the opportunity to receive a phone call from Co-operative Funeralcare.  Please could you ask your team members to capture name and contact details of the client and pass them onto yourselves as team managers? 

Could I then ask that you pass the client details onto Jon Potts, Customer Relations Manager, Funeralcare.  Please ensure that you follow up any e-mail with a phone call to ensure that Jon or a member of the team has picked up the details?  Jon’s contact details are: 




Fill in the blank

Friday, 8 February 2013



This post has been taken down in respect for the wishes of the families involved. 

Driving up personalisation to the next level

Thursday, 10 January 2013


This is The Cooperative Funeralcare’s new telly ad. Lorinda Robinson, Head of Marketing, The Co-operative Funeralcare, said: “The advert focuses on personalisation and The Co-operative Funeralcare’s ability to deliver personal touches to make a funeral more memorable and respectful. The business has been a pioneer in TV advertising in the funeral industry and the new advert highlights how, as the UK’s leading Funeral Director, we ensure that every funeral we arrange is completely personal and unique.”

Piece of mind for the man with the plan

Thursday, 22 November 2012


There’s an unsparing piece in The Times, 11 November, on financial products associated with funeral planning:

Hundreds of thousands of the poorest pensioners are losing thousands of pounds by buying into poor-value funeral planning products offered by some of the most trusted high street names.

Funeral benefit plans offered as add-ons to over-50s life insurance promise to help those aged between 50 and 80 to set aside a pot of money for their families to pay for their funeral … First, the majority of people who invest in over-50s plans end up paying in much more money than their relatives receive in the cash lump sum. Second, in many cases the funeral plan add-ons are assigned to particularly expensive funeral directors, and, finally, the lump sum payouts are not protected against inflation or linked to specific funeral costs so they are likely to cover only a small proportion of the cost of a future funeral.

Sales of over-50s policies rose 25 per cent between 2008 and 2010, with 346,128 people buying policies last year alone. Sun Life Direct, for example, has 750,000 such customers … This type of insurance policy does not have a “cash-in value” so policyholders often find themselves facing the dilemma of whether to continue to lose money paying premiums until they die or close the account and forfeit the cash lump sum.

The funeral benefit option on these products effectively assigns the cash lump sum to a funeral provider with whom it has a commercial deal, usually Dignity or the Co-operative.

Insurers are also pushing policyholders’ families towards funeral directors that charge the highest fees. The two main providers that arrange funerals as part of a funeral benefit add-on are Dignity and the Co-operative.

Dignity and the Co-operative argue that it is worth paying more for their service … A spokesman for Dignity says: “Dignity provides an allinclusive service with no hidden extras.”  A spokesman for the Co-operative says: “The Co-operative provides customers, and their families, with the invaluable peace of mind afforded by planning for their funeral in advance. We believe that, when compared on a like-for- like basis our charges are fair and reasonable and highly competitive for the standard of service that we provide.”

Age UK, an organisation that helps the elderly, has been accused of exploiting its reputation to sell unnecessarily costly funeral plans. A former senior employee of Age Concern is critical of these plans. He believes that Age UK is trading on its good name to sell overpriced products to vulnerable pensioners. He says: “Age UK uses its local branches as a route to a market where it can sell its branded products. Very often it is the less well-off pensioners using day care centres that are sold these products. Age UK funeral plans are particularly poor value because they encourage families to use expensive funeral directors rather than a cheaper local director.”

Age UK’s unholy alliance with Dignity brings in something like £9 million a year. 

The last point the article makes is that funeral plan funds are not regulated by the FSA. Did you know that? Ah, you always assumed they must be. Well, they’re not; they’re regulated by the Funeral Planning Authority — whose shareholders are trade associations for pre-paid funeral plan companies, creating a conflict of interest.

Coming soon: more thoughts about the ticking time bomb of the pre-paid funeral plan. In the meantime, stash it under the mattress. 


Pay up or else

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Ian Godfrey’s brother Michael died intestate aged 40 in August of this year. His funeral arrangements were undertaken by Ian’s sister, Sally. The chosen funeral director was the Nailsea branch of Co-operative Funeralcare, who duly prepared an estimate. Click on it to bring it up to full size (Sally’s full name and address have been redacted): 




The funeral went ahead and, throughout, the people at Nailsea weren’t just exemplary, they were lovely.

Ian and Sally did not have ready funds to pay for Michael’s funeral but they explained (this happens all the time, doesn’t it?) that there was money tied up in assets which would have to be sold. 

They explained this also to Michael’s credit card company, who froze his account and will add no further interest payments to the outstanding sum. They, together with Michael’s other creditors,  are happy to wait until funds are available. “We understand that these things take time,” they all said. 

All, that is, except for Co-operative Funeralcare who, Ian tells me, are “threatening to sue my sister, who paid the deposit and is therefore now considered to be the customer.” There have been demanding letters. Here is the latest demanding  letter. Again, click on it to brig it up to full size. 




The staff at Nailsea have continued to be sympathetic and helpful. It’s the people at “‘credit control’ or whatever they like to call themselves” who are, Ian and Sally feel, being very hard-nosed. Ian adds: “it is on the phone that the threat to sue was more explicit – however they do make it clear that they will not hesitate to do that in their letter.” 

Ian and Sally are desperately anxious about Funeralcare’s behaviour and feel that, though they have kept in constant touch and tried to keep them informed, they simply haven’t been listened to. They don’t want to be sued and they don’t think it’s right that they should be sued. But they don’t know who they can speak to in the organisation to ask for the time they need to liquidate Michael’s assets. 

In their position, what would you do? 






Tuesday, 9 October 2012


From a Co-operative Funeralcare press release:

Staff at The Co-operative Funeralcare in Copson Street are holding an open day between 10am to 2pm for residents to find out more about the work of a funeral director.

The horse-drawn hearse and  Only Fools and Horses’ fan hearse will be on display to illustrate how funerals can be tailored to individual needs and can help reflect the life of the deceased. A jazz band and piper will also be present, as other examples of how funerals can be personalised.

Visitors will be offered a guided tour of the funeral home, which features an arranging room and a remembrance room, be able to ask questions and view the distinctive hearses.

This is not the first open day Funeralcare has staged recently. They held one at Crouch End in September with the same format. The words of the press release are mostly interchangeable, showing how such a communication can be personalised. “Visitors will be offered a guided tour of the funeral home, which features an arranging room and a remembrance room.”

 They held one at Stockton, too: “It was a huge success,” said Manager David Knowles. “Around 60 people came throughout the day and were given a guided tour of the funeral home, which features an arranging room and three remembrance rooms.”

 The Good Funeral Guide applauds this spirit of openness. We think it will go a long way towards demonstrating to funeral shoppers that their dead will be beautifully looked after when in the tender care of Co-operative Funeralcare. 


A syphilitic blister on the face of funeral service

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Dear Mr Greenfield,

This has been a horrible week for you. 

Or has it? 

You will have by now appraised your reputational vulnerability, conducted a jeopardy assessment and learned how many people watched The British Way of Death.  Taking heart from the recovery of Co-operative Funeralcare, you may be reckoning your best move is to lie low and wait for the storm to pass. 

You could get lucky. 

Judging by your combative response to the film, you are not a man to roll over easily. Your clear-eyed intellect and tenacity may have calmed your investors, and this may well have been your priority. But how’s your conscience? Do you feel shamed and dishonoured? You displayed no compassion towards those bereaved people who must live with what has been done to them. Your repeated apology, offered without reservation (whatever that means), lacked (I feel) the heartfelt sincerity with which an apology must necessarily be invested. 

You did not give the impression of a man suffering from either remorse or a trashed reputation. I can only put that down to a diminished sense of jeopardy. 

The film’s revelations call into question your competence to run a business. That must hurt. You repose much of your defence in company policies designed to prevent the conduct we witnessed. A policy, Mr Greenfield, is so much hot air, wishful thinking and bumf in a boxfile if it is not supported by a regime of compliance. 

I was unable to watch the film until two days after it was broadcast so I expected, having heard the views of others, to be angered by the behaviour of the staff at Gillman’s. I wasn’t, but I concede that mine is a minority opinion. I was saddened. I witnessed the behaviour of people whose personal standards had been, in my view, corrupted by the culture of their workplace – they had lost touch with decency and right conduct. I am inclined to suppose that a much better version of these same people might have been apparent had they been working for a firm whose vision, values and working conditions they bought into and were proud of, and whose insistence on high standards was reinforced by a rapid-response disciplinary framework. That you should have reckoned Merv Moyes a fit person to be general manager is beyond baffling. You’ve got some great people working for you. Don’t you know the difference? 

Can you tell us, Mr Greenfield, why you opted for brand invisibility? You know perfectly well that the FPL/FSP brand has virtually zero public recognition. The funeral industry is ripe and ready for a great brand to roll out a great service. As we like to say here, if John Lewis did funerals… 

An unexpected upside to the sullying of the good name of Roger Gillman is that any undertaker presently contemplating selling up would have to be mad to include their own name in the sale. So here’s a backhanded compliment: you have played an important part in the cause of transparency of ownership. 

I’ll finish with some reflections by Rory Sutherland on the price of a good reputation. This is extracted from something he wrote in the Spectator on 21 July 2012. Mr Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.

Reputation acts as a kind of cashless deposit in human dealings. As any mafioso or game theorist knows, you can only trust people who have something to lose.

Look at where capitalism works best and you’ll find a business sensitive to shame. 

I recently arranged for my family to fly to the US. What struck me when I clicked ‘buy’ on the BA website is that I now feel less anxious when paying an airline a few thousand quid to hurtle my family across Arctic wastelands in a tin tube than I do when handing £2,000 to a financial institution. Why does the aviation industry make very little money doing something immensely complicated astoundingly well, while the finance sector makes a fortune doing a simple thing badly?

There are a few game-theoretic reasons to explain this. Reputation is one. When even a minor aviation incident occurs, it makes headlines. There is also a healthy sharing of risk. Unlike banks, airlines make the pilot sit at the front of the plane.

Intensifying consumer scrutiny, together with exposés like Undercover Undertaker and The British Way of Death, are contributing incrementally to enhancing the reputational vulnerability of undertakers, especially those stealth consolidators whose brand dares not speak its name.

Whereabouts are you sitting on your plane, Mr Greenfield? Yes, and you Mr Tinning? And you, Mr McCollum? And you, Ms Kemp?



How do I love me? Let me count the ways

Friday, 28 September 2012


WARNING: Readers of a snorting disposition should position themselves beside a supply of industrial strength tissues before watching. 

Hat-tip to Andrew Plume

Problem solved

Friday, 21 September 2012


When Co-operative Funeralcare reported itself to the NAFD in the aftermath of Channel 4’s Undercover Undertaker, it is doubtful whether the industry’s major trade body greeted the ploy with glee. A problem shared is a problem doubled. 

Was it really necessary for Funeralcare to hand themselves in? Inasmuch as the film revealed practices which fell far short of consumers’ expectations of an undertaker, no — obviously. It was clear what they should have done: they should have said sorry. To the public. They needed to have a conversation with the public. 

Why then did they hand themselves in? Presumably they had considered the Cleggalike hands-in-the-air option of apologising and rejected it in the hope of something less disagreeable. They pinned their hopes on the wording of the NAFD code of practice to make it better.

The code of practice is the instrument used by the NAFD to fend off those who would apply external regulation to the funeral industry. Its purpose is to require funeral directors to “observe at all times the basic rights of clients as consumers. To render good service at all times and make fair charges in respect of services rendered and for merchandise supplied.” It is the self-policing manual. 

The NAFD’s  Code of Practice Committee and Professional Standards Board ground into action to consider the case. The review remit was established. According to the report in NAFD house magazine Funeral Director Monthly, “It needs to be understood that the NAFD perspective in considering the programme content has a clear objective to relate the issues raised in the programme to the Rules and Guidelines and the Code of Practice of the Association.”

The first snag they encountered was that standalone hubs are not covered by the code because the code is out of date. The code only covers hubs which incorporate a retail funeral operation — ie, a shop: “The NAFD Rules require that Category A) and B) members notify us of all trading outlets, ie main offices and branches, coming under the membership trading name. Accepting that this requirement has been in the Rules in this form for many years means that, with present day modes of operation, premises as portrayed in the programme do not need to be notified to the NAFD.” (Our bold)

Whoops. (Something stronger, perhaps?)

The report in FD Monthly does not describe with what embarrassment, if any, this was acknowledged. However, Funeralcare helpfully came forward with an undertaking: “It was readily agreed by Funeralcare that the NAFD would be provided with  details of all such “Hub” units operated by Funeralcare, and that we now have immediate access to them at any time without giving notice. For the NAFD, it highlights a need to amend our Rules and procedures to meet the present day operating practices within our varied range of memberships, and to establish clear inspection processes in relation to all premises.”

So that’s all right, then. 

The NAFD went on to consider Funeralcare’s exhortation to its arrangers not to make known the availability of the simple funeral. Verdict? Not guilty. “The programme gave the impression, as other commentators have recently, that the NAFD Code requires funeral arrangers to discuss the availability of the Simple Funeral package with all clients as a matter of course. lt is clear from the Code wording that this is not necessarily the case.”

So there.

Actually, it’s not as bad as that. The NAFD admits it’s got a problem: “It would appear that there may be expectations from a public perception standpoint that require us all as members to consider and maybe review our approach to the Simple Funeral and how we offer it to our clients. For the NAFD, we need to give consideration as to how we strengthen our approach to the subject in the educational materials and the training options provided. The monitoring of compliance aspect is another area we can examine.”

While conceding that Undercover Undertaker was damaging, the NAFD wants to focus on positive outcomes. It asserts that “the future clients of Funeralcare will receive an enhanced service” and the NAFD will up its game a bit. 

Another storm cloud blew away subsequently in the course of a meeting with the Office of Fair Trading. “It was reassuring to know that, whilst they were aware of the programme, they did not view it as a cause for concern on their part, being comfortable in the knowledge that the NAFD has an input into resolving issues the programme raised.”

ED’S NOTE: Apologies for the less than timely treatment of this matter. It’s because we’ve been incredibly busy. Next week’s looking like a bit of a beast too, so if you’ve got something you’d like to blog off steam about, do send it in:



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