Category Archives: cremation

Crematorium Attendant of the Year 2017

Thursday, 28 September 2017

     Richard Hooker from Mortlake Crematorium

For such an important role, there were surprisingly few nominations in this category this year, resulting in just three finalists. The judges hope that next year far more celebrants and funeral directors will nominate these unsung heroes who oversee thousands of funerals each year, ensuring that everything goes to plan.

Picking a winner from the three finalists wasn’t easy, but it was eventually decided on by the testimony of the crematorium manager, who wholeheartedly endorsed this person for their quiet, gentle nature, their kindness and generosity, their complete reliability and their care for their work.

Winner – Richard Hooker at Mortlake Crematorium

Runners up – Paul Jansen at Golders Green Crematorium and the team at Cardiff Crematorium Thornhill

 

Category sponsor: The Association of Independent Celebrants

The 2017 Good Funeral Awards were generously sponsored by Greenfield Creations

 Award photograph by Jayne Lloyd

 

 

Best Crematorium in the UK 2017

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

                                     The team from Memoria Ltd.

This category had a good field of entrants this year, with 13 finalists and entries citing facilities, environmental issues, service times, fees, bereavement services, training, events and grounds maintenance.

Selecting a winner from among these entries was not easy, and the judges ended up with three deserving runners up which all deserve mention.

The winner was decided both on the quality of facilities and staff and the testimonials from families and funeral directors:

Winner: South Oxfordshire Crematorium and Memorial Park

Runners up: Kettering Crematorium, Mortlake Crematorium and Seven Hills Crematorium

 

Category sponsor: Scattering Ashes

The 2017 Good Funeral Awards were generously sponsored by Greenfield Creations

Photograph by Jayne Lloyd

The future’s bright, the future’s…..

Monday, 6 February 2017

Inside the ecoLegacy Dublin HQ

Towards the end of last year, we listened to Tony Ennis of ecoLegacy speaking at the ICCM conference about his soon-to-be released new alternative to cremation. What he had to say to the packed conference room was so fascinating that the GFG decided we needed to know more. So on a chilly January morning, Fran hopped on a flight to Dublin to spend the day at the ecoLegacy HQ.

‘I have to say, I went to Dublin not really knowing what to expect. Everything I had heard from Tony made sense, I’d done lots of background reading about him and his project, and it all appears to be 100% genuine. But I also thought that this was too good to be true, and that there had to be a catch.

I have to report, dear reader, that if there is one, I haven’t found it. It is quite possible that I was privileged enough to be among the earliest people to be shown something that is groundbreaking – and game changing – for the ways that we deal with our dead.

Everything that I saw and was told makes sense. The people involved are passionate and genuine. Huge amounts of research have been done. Various processes have been trialled and found wanting, so the engineers started over and tried a different way until they found the solution. The potential issues with current law in the UK have been addressed. There are very eminent bodies overseeing and interested in what Tony is doing (his work is being overseen by Imperial College), and the main players in the funeral industry have all already been to Dublin to be shown the unit and given the tour as I was.

It seems to me that it’s simply a matter of time before the first ecoLegacy unit is available to UK clients – and probably not much time at that. Then we will see how the public respond to something completely new. My instinctive feeling is that it will be phenomenally successful.’

Read the information from ecoLegacy for yourself below.

And if you have any questions, write them in the comments. We’ll get Tony to respond.

“Basically, ecoLegacy has developed “cremation 2.0”, a next-generation, environmental and ethical alternative to burial and cremation called ecoLation. It will ensure a greener planet and cleaner air. The company has its headquarters in Ireland and is currently operating in the UK and the US.

The idea was inspired by Philip Backman, a US scientist and teacher, who came up with the original idea around 1971, the same year Tony Ennis was born. ecoLegacy’s goal is to make Phil’s vision a reality and scale it globally and this is currently happening with initial orders coming in from all across Europe and the US. (more info here http://www.ecolegacy.com/philip-backman-a-moment-of-clarity/)

ecoLation is a flameless form of cremation. It has developed a thermal process that uses cold and heat and pressure. It reduces emissions and poisons from reentering the earth’s precious and delicate eco systems.It is respectful to the body, it is respectful to the family and it is respectful to the planet.

So what happens when a loved one dies and has chosen ecoLation?

First they cool the body to just the right temperature. The body is placed inside a pod, the temperature is lowered and the body is chilled.  Water is released back and forth over the body reducing the remains down into ice particles. These particles are filtered through to a unit that recreates the earth’s natural process that normally takes thousands of years.

All toxins and chemicals we build up while living are neutralised and the result is completely organic nutrient rich remains. A tiny seed – of a plant, a tree or a flower can be placed into this powder and, coupled with soil, water and love, you or your loved one can grow into a beautiful strong tree or your favorite flower.

In terms of efficiency, the unit uses electric energy to get up to temperature and to create the right conditions. However, as the remains are ecoLated, they break down on a molecular level and release a very clean bio gas. This gas is turned into heat energy which is then used to power the system.  Whilst there will always be an energy requirement, it is brought back as close to zero as possible through our technology.

In the next 70 years, the Earth’s population will reach and probably soar past 10 billion people.

ecoLegacy offers an ecological choice to funeral directors and families that will ensure a greener planet and cleaner air and thus a healthier ecosystem.

Unlike burial and cremation, ecoLation offers a pure, more sustainable choice and breathes new life into the earth in plant form.

In the next 100 years, at current rates, we will need to bury or cremate more than 10 billion people. A staggering 54% of the world’s population lives on just 3% of the land, in cities, where the urban landscape cannot accept further burial or afford the pollution side effects of burning our dead. Typically funeral home clients have the two standard alternatives presented to them, but from an environmental, ecological, ethical or indeed practical standpoint, neither of these two methods are sustainable for the long term.

Current burial rates are unsustainable in our modern world.  More and more we can detect the effects of burial from fluids leaching into our soil and water courses. This hazardous waste also contains embalming fluids and, in recent times, a huge degree of chemicals from end of life drugs administered. Not to be overlooked either are the harmful pathogens that live on after we die, or the veneer on the coffins etc. We are running out of space too.

Cremation, a method becoming more popular, has relatively high pollution levels,  releasing on average 400kg of CO2 per body into the atmosphere. Cremation is also responsible for a number of other pollutants and dioxins and of course it consumes fossil fuel in the form of either oil or gas.

ecoLation is clean. There are no emissions of harmful chemicals. The body is ethically treated and all metals and foreign compounds removed. There are no chemicals active, no diseases still alive, no issues in relation to leaching and no carbon / heavy metals or dioxins. The remains are totally sterile, totally natural and totally clean. It’s a new way to be remembered.”

Tony Ennis with one of the ecoLation pods

 

Crematorium of the Year

Monday, 19 September 2016

08-martin-birch-thornhill-crematorium

Martin Birch of Thornhill Crematorium, Cardiff

This year’s winner is particularly praised for addressing funeral poverty in imaginative ways, not least through participation in the pioneering initiative of the local authority funeral scheme, which challenges the rising cost of funerals, while making the funeral purchase more transparent. Approximately 12% of cremations carried out at this crematorium use this service.

Performing around 2,700 cremations annually, Thornhill Crematorium has a 98% satisfaction rating from families who choose it

Rated as providing gold standard provision for both cremation and burial under the Charter for the Bereaved criteria, recent outstanding improvements to their premises have included refurbishing both chapels and changing the structural layout at no additional cost to the Authority through an innovative budget strategy.

With strong environmental awareness and a comprehensive recycling scheme, this year’s winner has attained Green Flag status, an acknowledgement of being one of the best green spaces in the country.

Runner up in this category: Mortlake Crematorium

Category sponsor: Scattering Ashes

Good news for Dignity shareholders

Friday, 16 September 2016

image1

Bereaved families in the Oxford area may be a little less pleased to know that the cost of having a relative cremated at their local Dignity owned crematorium will be £999 from next week onwards.

Just a short journey towards London, a cremation at South West Middlesex Crematorium will cost £490 (source Funeralbooker report on UK Cremation Costs here).

We wonder whether it is just Oxford, or all 43 Dignity owned and operated crematoria that are hiking up their prices?

Quoting from Dignity’s Annual Reports & Accounts 2015:

We are the largest single operator of crematoria in Britain with a growing portfolio of well-established and state of the art crematoria that meet the needs of the local communities we serve. In 2015, we carried out 57,700 cremations representing 9.8 per cent of total estimated deaths in Britain”

57,000 x £999…… just under £56 million according to the GFG intern who was a whizz at maths.

Funeral poverty anyone?

 

Is this the worst crematorium in Britain?

Monday, 4 July 2016

Is this the worst crematorium in Britain?

Every year we celebrate the best of the funeral industry with the Good Funeral Awards.  There isn’t a ‘Worst Crematorium of the Year” award but if there was such an accolade, we have a strong contender.

Introducing our readers to West London Crematorium, as photographed on Thursday 30th June 2016.

Decaying curtains, stained carpets, seating you wouldn’t want to sit on, general disrepair and so much more.

Shoddy’s a good word.  As is lazy.  So is unacceptable.  All befit the state of this crematorium.

Our question: Is this the worst crematorium in Britain?  It’s over to you.

West London Crematorium
Kensal Green, Harrow Road, London, W10 4RA
Owned and managed by the General Cemetery Company
W: http://www.kensalgreencemetery.com/crematorium/index.html
Cost of cremation: £650

Ed’s note – we’ve contacted the General Cemetery Company and asked for a response.  We’ll keep you updated.  

Full disclosure – I took the photographs below when I returned to the crematorium to look for my lost book of funeral poetry, the day after taking a service in the West Chapel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Stones

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Sacred Stones

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.

Keeping an eye on the costs

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Pile of Twenty Pound and Five Pound Notes. Image shot 2007. Exact date unknown.
Hats off to independent funeral booking website Funeralbooker for publishing their findings on the costs of funeral disbursements.
 
Funeral poverty shows no sign of abating as new data reveals the most expensive crematoria and cemeteries in the UK
 
Key points:
 
THE COST OF DYING CONTINUES TO RISE.
 
NEW DATA REVEALS THE SOUTH OF ENGLAND IS ONE OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE PLACES TO BE CREMATED OR BURIED IN THE UK.
 
MASSIVE INCREASE IN COSTS YEAR ON YEAR ASSOCIATED WITH LOCAL AUTHORITY OWNED CREMATORIA AND CEMETERIES.
 
Beckenham in Kent; Crawley and Chichester in West Sussex; Leatherhead in Surrey and Nuneaton in Warwickshire all tie for first place as the locations of the most expensive crematoria in the UK – with cremation costing a staggering £956.
 
The cheapest place to be cremated in the UK is the City of Belfast Crematorium, where it costs just £364.
 
Prices are set by local councils for public facilities or by private companies, like Dignity PLC, for the privately owned  ones.
 
Around one third of the entire cost of a funeral is for cremation; around half if a burial is opted for.
 
They have collated the costs of every cemetery and crematorium for 2015 and 2016 and produced four data-sets with searchable maps.
 
When it comes to burial, London takes the top slot, with four cemeteries in Wandsworth all charging £4,561 apiece.
 
Northern Ireland again is the cheapest place in the UK to be buried.
 
There have also been massive, above-inflation rises in costs for both burial and cremation.  At Crownhill crematorium in Milton Keynes, prices have risen by 29.7%, year on year. The crematorium is owned by the local authority, as are the other crematoria on the list with the largest price rises.
 
It’s the same story when it comes to burials. North Watford Cemetery in London tops the list with prices increasing by 49.1% this year compared to 2015.
 
“Cuts in council funding may mean that many councils are turning to crematoriums and cemeteries to balance the books –  these price increases could be a hidden cost of austerity” said James Dunn, the co-founder of Funeralbooker.
 
 
FOR FULL DATA AND SEARCHABLE MAPS SEE:
 
 
2016 UK Burial Cost % increases from 2015
https://funeralbooker.com/resources/uk-burial-costs-rises-2016
 
 
2016 UK Cremation Cost % increases from 2015
https://funeralbooker.com/resources/uk-cremation-costs-rises-2016
 

Do you know?

Friday, 18 March 2016

Crems

Wednesday’s Budget contained the above intriguing announcement. What’s going on here?

There may be a clue in the small print of the 2015 Budget (which we clean missed) when the Chancellor announced:

The Government will conduct a review into the size and provision of crematoria facilities to make sure they are fit for purpose and sensitive to the needs of all users and faiths. The Government will also review cremation legislation and coroner services.

“All users and faiths.” Is this something to do with provision for Hindus and Sikhs?

Or with the rising cost of funerals, much commented on by the media in the summer?

Who is being consulted?

What outcome is the Government seeking?

All info + suggestions gratefully received.

Bring on the empty corpses

Monday, 17 November 2014

Smoke-Gets-in-Your-Eyes

 

Book review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Caitlin Doughty, graduate in medieval history and author of a sunny thesis entitled The Suppression of Demonic Births in Late Medieval Witchcraft Theory, rejects a promising career in academia in favour of one as a corpse handler and incinerator of the dead.

Anticipating bewilderment she asks, rhetorically, “So, really, what was a nice girl like me working at a ghastly ol’ crematory like Westwind?” And she goes on to tell us what drew her to it. She describes a traumatic childhood trigger event. I won’t reveal what it was, of course; you need to read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes for yourself. Her theory is that she dispelled the consequent denial that insulated her from the traumatic event by confronting her fears and getting on down with corpses. As a result of this self-prescribed and gruelling CBT she is now at peace with the “stillness and perfection of death”.

More than that, Doughty is now the world’s leading cheerleader for death: “Death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives,” she says, “but in fact it is the very source of our creativity.” This is just one of many debatable assertions she makes in this book. Death may inspire urgency and thereby rouse latent creativity, but it is doubtful whether it can put in what God left out.

Doughty is the leader of a clever, charismatic and acclaimed corpse cult, the Order of the Good Death, “a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.” You’ve seen the Ask A Mortician video series — you have, haven’t you? She’s sassy, funny, outrageous and very likeable. She’s a brilliant performer. She spills and splashes behind-the-scenes secrets with a mischievous glee that appals and infuriates industry insiders, who firmly believe that there are Things It’s Best We Don’t Know. To this day, despite a great and growing following, she remains shunned by the National Funeral Directors Association. Her preparedness to bring down, in Biblical abundance, the murderous fear and loathing of old school funeral people takes guts. She’s outrageous because she’s also passionately seriousness.

Like so many progressives, Doughty is essentially retrogressive — in a positive way. Her prescription for the way things are is to get back to doing them the way we did. Nowadays, when someone dies, we call the undertaker and have them disappeared. This, reckons Doughty, is a symptom of a “vast mortality cover-up … society’s structural denial of death … There has never been a time in the history of the world when a culture has broken so completely with traditional methods of body disposition and beliefs surrounding mortality.”

The way to restore society to emotional and psychological health, Doughty believes, is to engage with the event and get hands-on with the corpse. She believes that “more families would choose to take responsibility for their own dead if they knew that it was a possibility.”

This is what working in a crematory teaches her: “Westwind Cremation & Burial changed my understanding of death. Less than a year after donning my corpse-colored glasses, I went from thinking it was strange that we don’t see dead bodies any more to believing their absence was a root cause of problems in the modern world. Corpses keep the living tethered to reality.”

I’m not so sure. I have in mind David Clark’s 1982 paper, Death in Staithes. The older inhabitants of Staithes, a fishing village on the east coast of Yorkshire, could easily recall the way things used to be: “When a person passed away the first thing they did was go for the board – the lying-out board,” which was kept by the village joiner. The lying-out itself was supervised by women qualified by skill and experience. These same villagers had lived through the commodification of death and the arrival of the Co-operative. To them the hands-on past is no paradise lost and they display no desire to return to it.

I question Doughty’s assertion that we suffer from “structural denial of death.” If we were to think about death some more, would it really do us any good? Yes, she says: “I don’t just pretend to love death. I really do love death. I bet you would too if you got to know him.” Elsewhere, she writes: “Accepting death doesn’t mean that you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by the bigger existential questions like ‘Why do people die?'”

Philip Larkin felt sort of the same until he hit 50. In Julian Barnes’ words, “our national connoisseur of mortal terror … died in a hospital in Hull. A friend, visiting him the day before, said, ‘If Philip hadn’t been drugged, he would have been raving. He was that frightened.’” Pretty much the same can be said about the death of another connoisseur, Sherwin Nuland, the man who wrote with spooky prescience “I have not seen much dignity in the process by which we die.” He was that frightened, too.

“Let us … reclaim our mortality,” exhorts Doughty headily. But does the dearth of corpses in our lives really distance us from death? Death was big in the lives of everyone in the past because people died at any age. They don’t do that so much now, they mostly die old, and that’s less tragic, less sensational. But death is arguably bigger in our lives than ever before because the dying spend so bloody long about it. There can be very few children who are not acquainted with a tottering, muttering relative, and very few adults who do not spend years despairingly caring for dementing, degenerating parents. They are in no doubt about what their parents are doing: they are dying a modern death, a slow and beastly death. That’s why there’s such an intense national conversation in so many countries about assisted suicide — come on, how mortality aware is that? Far from being a time of death denial, the present age has focussed our attention on mortality at least as urgently as any other because the distressing dilapidation of legions of almost-corpses starkly and terrifyingly prefigures our own end times, leaving us in no doubt that the home straight is going to be unutterably horrible. If we don’t feel we have much to learn from corpses, we learn as much as we feel we need from the living dead (ever seen a stroke ward?) and from self-deliverers like Brittany Maynard. They teach us the allure of Nembutal. We talk about this. A lot.

What people believe also plays its part in modern attitudes. Religious and spiritual-but-not-religious people are, pretty much all of them, dualists. There’s a soul and there’s a body. It’s a belief reinforced by the appearance of any corpse they have ever seen. Gape-jawed and evacuated of all vitality, a corpse speaks of the absence of self. Whoever it once embodied has gone. The corpse is not the person, so what value is there to be gained from cosseting it? This isn’t a new thing. Radical Protestantism has always taught it. Calvinist settlers in America became very careless of the ‘dignity’ of their soul-less dead and drifted into just hauling them into the forest or pushing them into rivers. In some places it got so bad that neighbours were appointed to oversee next door’s disposal arrangements and held responsible for making sure things were done properly. For these settlers, direct cremation would have been a godsend.

If I take issue with Doughty’s thesis, it is because someone’s got to. For Doughty, the contemplation of the corpse is “the beginning of wisdom.” If you are inclined to believe that, she says, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you you are ‘sick’ or ‘morbid’ or ‘deviant.’”

What does morbid mean, exactly? It is Doughty herself who has pointed out that it has no antonym. Yes, what is the word for a healthy interest in death and dying? How does it express itself? Doughty and her fellow members of the Order of the Good Death express their wisdom exotically, sharing delight in much that others would regard as macabre — transi tombs, taxidermy, mortabilia and of all sorts. All a bit goth for my taste; I think there’s more than a dash of innate morbidity here. It would be idiotic to question the charisma of the cause, because it has attracted a huge worldwide following. How does it play to Mr and Mrs Everyday-Person? It remains to be seen. All I can say is that, speaking as a detached and jaded dullwit, after 6 years of hanging out with funeral people and their charges I remain unconvinced of the value of the corpse in death rituals, and while I acknowledge matter-of-factly the inevitability of death, I hate it as much as I ever did.

If by now you need some remission from my grinding and joyless pessimism, you need to buy this book. It it touches all the right bases — funny, shocking, sad, wise. Above all, it is full of hope and purpose. It is also highly readable. It was only when I re-read it that I became aware just how beautifully constructed it is. This is the work of a highly intelligent person who has got the inspiration-perspiration balance right (1:99). What she has to say is the product of experience, a lot of it penitential. She has captured the zeitgeist. This is a manifesto for today.

ECSTASY OF DECAY №1: Your Mortician from Angeline Gragasin on Vimeo.

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