Category Archives: Natural Death Centre

Lifetime Achievement Award

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Josefine Speyer, wife of the late Nicholas Albery and co-founder and patron of The Natural Death Centre Charity


“Despite the list of contenders for this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award being jam packed with luminaries from the death world, the judges were unanimous in their decision that this year the award would be given in recognition of a visionary pioneer, the architect of social change, without whom the Good Funeral Awards would probably never have come into being.

In appreciation of his memory, and in tribute to those dedicated individuals who continue to fulfil his dream 25 years on, the judges humbly, and gratefully, and with the greatest of pleasure announce that the Lifetime Achievement Award 2016 goes to the late Nicholas Albery and the Natural Death Centre charity.”



Green Funeral Director of the Year

Wednesday, 28 September 2016


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

Wise words

Saturday, 10 September 2016


Ru’s opening words to the assembled guests struck a chord with many who were there, so we thought we’d put them on the blog for the whole world to read. Over to you Rupert.

“Welcome everyone to the Good Funeral Awards 2016!

It started off, as so many good things do, in a sweaty basement in Bournemouth, and has grown into this glamorous Metropolitan lunchtime bunfight.

My name is Ru Callender and I should be standing here with my wife, Claire – sadly, she’s got flu. Together, we run The Green Funeral Company in Devon, and we used to be the Enfants Terrible of the undertaking world. Self taught, stubborn, scruffy, we still use our family Volvo instead of a hearse – but as we’ve been doing it for 17 years, we’re probably just terrible…

Today is a genuinely unusual mélange of the alternative and the conventional funeral world, and it has probably taken longer than the Good Friday agreement took to get everyone in the same room.

You are here because someone thinks you’re great. Let that sink in.

Even if you asked them to.

This gathering is largely due to Charles Cowling and crew of the Good Funeral Guide, and also to the original renegade masters, the Natural Death Centre, both of whose organisations dared to believe that ordinary people could deal with the gritty detail of death, the truth about what happens to our bodies, that a deep, internal understanding of death is part of our birthright, part and parcel of being human.

And what they did – brace yourself, maybe have a glug of wine to steady yourself here, was to treat the public as adults, to include them in a conversation about the one thing that will happen to each and every one of us.

They presumed, as we all should, that people can handle more than the protective narrative that is fed to them.

They were right.

It was thought wildly radical then, now it just seems honest and transparent.

I said funeral world because I refuse to use the word industry. Making computers is an industry. Fashion is an industry. Even getting fit is an industry. I don’t decry industry. It’s necessary.

But death is a true mystery, and working with it should be a vocation, a real calling, and if you’re not meant to be here, if ego, or an understandable search for meaning in your life has misled you here, then death has a way of calling your bluff. You are either initiated, in or out.

This work, the real work of dealing with death and loss is not glamorous, however closely it nearly rhymes with sex, however interesting it makes us appear to those who unfortunately have to work in jobs they hate to pay the bills, and that matter little.

This work, done properly, is incredibly stressful.

It’s exhausting, frightening, physically, emotionally and existentially challenging, but it is also deeply, deeply rewarding.

Burn out is a real risk, or worse, an unconscious hardening of your outer emotional skin – these are the risks you face depending on whether you fully engage with it or not.

Breakdown or bravado. Truly a metaphor for our times.

So, if you work with death – florist, celebrant, undertaker or chaplain, particularly if you are new to it, you really have to let it in.

Go deeper.

Feel it. Fear it. Don’t pretend to love it , because the only thing worse than death is not death – and then, if you can, let it go.


This world is also open to all.

Undertaking is completely unregulated, and should remain so in my opinion, not just because no amount of qualifications can teach you what to say to the mother of a dead child, that is an instinctive language that rises unbidden from the heart, but also because we are all amateurs when staring into the abyss, all professionals when faced with a dead body.

And they are OUR dead, yours and mine. We are all funeral directors eventually.

It is a shared mystery and your guess as to what it means, and your actions as to what to do are as valid as mine, or the Church, or the Humanists.

Nobody knows for sure.

The mechanics of what needs to be done are easy, I promise. Keep bodies cold. Put them in a suitable receptacle. Carry them, bury or burn them.

The rest, the words, the rituals, the how we do this, you KNOW, deep down what is right for you. You know.


But here I am, bringing you all down at a funeral award convention – I should get a prize for that!

But just indulge me one last time before we start bringing on the champs, and this celebration of the real change that has happened gets underway –


They cover the kitchen floor of bereavement like a spilled cat litter tray.

They protect no-one, they fool no-one, they confuse children. They are well meaning, but they are wrong.

I’m only going to take on one here, and I apologise if anyone has to amend their speech or their website as a result.

Loved ones.

Not everyone is loved, some because they have led sad, lonely lives, others because they did bad things.

They die too. They need funerals and their families are broken, and the depth of their pain makes the phrase ‘Loved one’ seem like a jeer.

Just saying.

So call them the dead, the dead one, the dead person, anything other than ‘loved one’. Call them by their name!

I know it’s awkward, but it will spare you the look of contempt you get when you say it to the wrong person.

Lecture over.”

NDC birthday party

Monday, 18 April 2016

Nicholas portrait 2000 by M.Edwards
Nicholas Albery, founder of the Natural Death Centre
 By Josefine Speyer
The Natural Death Centre was 25 years old on 14 April 2016!
Celebrating this event with two Natural Death Salons to benefit the NDC.
There are still places at the next Natural Death Salon on Sunday 8 May. We will be showing the documentary film Death Makes Life Possible with Marilyn Schlitz and Deepak Chopra, including Rupert Sheldrake and many others, followed by a celebratory Death Cafe, which means conversation about death and including issues raised by the film etc. accompanied by delicious teas, coffee and cakes. We ask for a donation of £30. If you cannot afford it, do get in touch as we do not want you to miss out on this wonderful event. For booking and more info contact me. Places are limited. See flier attached. There will be a second benefit Salon on Sunday 19 June, with Rosie Inman-Cook of the NDC and others, which will be more of a party, celebrating NDC’s story so far and looking to the future. More info on this later.
I am so proud of everyone who has become involved in the natural death movement to bring back power to the people and embrace death as part of life, the place it should have. I believe it is to the benefit of everyone, but perhaps not to the big funeral companies who wish to have their pockets lined by families in distress who are unaware of what choices there are and do not realise there is another way than the Victorian way.  Bring on the 21st century!!!
And thank you to Nicholas, social inventor, writer, editor, poet, activist and mentor for all his work in setting up and running the Natural Death Centre, the Association of Natural Burial Grounds and all his inspiration. Wish he were here to see how massive the movement has become and what impact the Natural Death Centre charity and the Natural Death Handbook have had, not just in the UK, but worldwide! A major toast to everyone who has been involved in the past and is involved now! and everyone who has benefitted!! xx I also love the work of the Home Funeral Network, The Good Funeral Guide, Death Cafe, Dying Matters etc. etc. I could go on, the list is long and growing! xx Thanks to everyone! It is a great legacy to be part of.
Please support the Natural Death Centre it help continue its work!

ED SAYS: You can download the flyer for these events here – NDSalon


Dying what comes naturally

Saturday, 29 June 2013


On Thursday the GFG donated an entire day to the Natural Death Centre — an act of generosity which has earned us the highest self-praise. We  agreed to deliver People’s Awards winners’ certificates to those owners and managers of natural burial grounds upon whom the People had bestowed them. As our 54-seater luxury executive coach vroomed away from the GFG-Batesville Shard, we were filled with a keen sense of adventure.

First stop was Upper Bryntalch Farm, Montgomeryshire, Wales, on which is situated Green Lane Burial Field. We were shown round by Ifor and Eira Humphreys and daughter Delyth. The burial ground occupies just an acre towards the top of a swooping slope that runs down to the Severn flood plain, and it commands, as you can see, wonderful views. The site is managed as a hay meadow. Graves – just £500 each – are set comfortably apart from each other, and only a small proportion of the whole site is  earmarked for burial. Everyone wants a plot at the top of the hill, but there’s too much shale up there. The site is bounded by woodland, and we particularly liked the green oak obelisk to which families can affix a plaque bearing the name of their person who’s died. It really does mark this place out as a sacred space. Graves are designated by a single cobblestone with a number — you hardly notice them. The house you can see in the slideshow was once lived in by the composer Peter Warlock, an attraction for musicians. Many families hold their funeral at the graveside in the fresh air. Some come on from church or their village hall.

Verdict: a natural burial ground that keeps it simple, occupies a sensationally beautiful site, provides access and parking that does not scar the ground, and is run by very, very nice people. Our score: 10/10

We celebrated being in Wales by stopping off in the county town, Montgomery. It’s an idyllic place glowered over by one of those (now ruined) castles built to subdue the revolting populace, a symbol of historic minority-abuse that makes English people feel prickly guilt when they visit the Principality. We browsed the market and, as a gesture of appeasement, bought some leaks. We marvelled at the ironmonger’s, one of those old-fashioned establishments that stocks everything.


Next stop was Westhope, some ten miles north of Ludlow. This is a seriously remote place whose approach reminded us of John Betjeman’s line: ‘By roads “not adopted”, by woodlanded ways’. You wouldn’t necessarily want to be a freshly polished hearse motoring to a funeral here. By the time we got through, rain had set in with some vim, but this was not something that our hosts, Andy Bruce and his daughter Fay, seemed to be aware of in the least. That’s countryfolk for you. 

The burial site is an old orchard. It’s been an orchard since time out of mind. In it stands a Victorian estate chapel built on the foundations of an earlier chapel dating back to the thirteenth century. You can hold a funeral here, if you like. It doesn’t have an especially churchy feel, probably because it does not host a lot in the way of regular worship. The site is grazed by Castlemilk Moorit sheep, a rare breed, now. They were bred to be decorative, and so they are, especially the lambs. Andy likes eating them. The apples are highly spoken of, too.

The sheep keep the grass down when it’s growing. They overwinter indoors and have their lambs there. When it’s time to let them out, the abundant spring flowers, daffodils and crocus especially, have begun to die back.

Verdict: Unique, mildly eccentric. Simple and natural. Very beautiful and agreeably remote. Andy and Fay are lovely people and they look after you really well. No website, which greatly enhances the sense of discovery. 10/10.

Finally, on our way back, we called in at Ludford Park Meadow of Remembrance in Ludlow, which had not won a prize but deserved to. How Lin and Roger Dalton came to own it by accident is a long and twisting story. Briefly, the church cemetery is now full, the townspeople still want to be buried there, so the strip of land adjoining was bought and made into a natural burial ground thanks in great part to the perseverance of Lin and Roger. 

It doesn’t appeal to the sort of folk who want the sort of away-from-it-all burial ground characterised by Green Lane and Westhope. Ludlow people want to visit their dead often, so they’re allowed a 15″x15″ stone plaque at the head of the grave – scarcely detectable when we looked round. (The rain was now falling profusely, by the way.) And there’s a gravelled area with vases where people can bring their flowers, rather than place them on the graves. 

What Ludford Park manages to pull off very well indeed is its relationship with its regimented, headstoned neighbour. Its special magic is that it doesn’t feel unkempt. 

The burial ground has been so popular that it is now three years off being full. Lin wants to buy a strip of land from the farmer over the fence, but he won’t sell. This doesn’t dismay Lin at all. She has set her sights. 

Verdict: A burial ground which has its own distinctive identity, yet rubs along very happily with the cemetery next door. Trees at the far end add to its beauty. Admirably and sensitively adapted to the particular needs of its clients. Run by very, very nice people. 10/10. 

I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes. ee cummings







Natural burial ground of the year – the finalists

Monday, 13 May 2013


Higher Ground Meadow, Corscombe, Dorset


Fran Hall of the Earth-lovin’, sometimes subterranean (it is headquartered in a nuclear bunker) Natural Death Centre (NDC) tells us that, to coincide with Dying Matter Awareness Week, and to raise the profile of the great work being done by Association of Natural Burial Ground (ANBG) members, the NDC is announcing the regional winners in our 2013 People’s Awards for the Best Natural Burial Ground in the UK. 

Over 1,000 ANBG feedback forms received back at the bunker were scrutinised and analysed by trustees earlier this year, and the results were collated to produce eight winning natural burial grounds in different regions of the UK. 

In order to ascertain the winner in each region, an average return rate against the possible maximum number of burials was calculated, and then the numbers of stars given both overall and for service were tallied. 

In regions where two or more sites had similar levels of response and stars, the forms were re-read and the number of mentions of the owner / manager in each case was used to ascertain the site providing the most personal service according to the families who responded. 

Winners were chosen in eight of the regions of the UK where ANBG members operate. Three regions, (East, North East and Eire) had no eligible contenders due to absence of forms returned and / or disqualified sites. 

An overall winner is to be chosen by three independent judges, and will be announced in June.

peoples-awards-winner-2013 (1)

The People’s Awards 2013 Regional Winners

Scotland – Clovery Woods of Rest – Alex and Fiona Rankin –

 North of England – Dalton Woodland Burial Ground – Francis Mason Hornby –

 Yorkshire – Brocklands Woodland Burial – Chris & Julia Weston –

 West Midlands – West Hope Green Burial Ground – Andy Bruce – No website – more info 

East Midlands – The Willows Natural Burial Ground – Chris & Jenny Scroby –

Wales – Green Lane Burial Field & Nature Reserve – Ifor & Eira Humphreys –

 South West England – Higher Ground Meadow – Peter & Joanna Vassie –

 South East England – South Downs Natural Burial Site – Al Blake –



May we all unlearn our fear of death

Friday, 12 April 2013



There’s a good review of the Natural Death Handbook, fifth edition, in the Huffington post. Here are some extracts: 

The Natural Death Centre, the charity behind The Natural Death Handbook, exists to help re-open the dialogue about life’s end, offering a combination of practical advice, how-tos, go-tos, and reflections that inspire, comfort and challenge. At the heart of the movement is a commitment to death as a natural part of life. No longer conceived of as a terror, death is refigured as the winding down of life’s frantic clock — and dying as a means of coming to terms with our identities, our loved ones, ourselves. The second major contribution of this movement is the reconsideration of our death practices, particularly the harmful effects of certain preservation techniques on the earth itself, that patient womb to which we are returned.

a new addition to this printing, is a collection — Writings on Death. Aptly described by the editor, Ru Callender, as “smoked glass, through which together we might glimpse death’s outline,” these essays demonstrate a collective wisdom, courage and clarity in the face of our endings. Whether it be the inspired self-reflection of a mourner or the studied vision of the historian — or the creative spiritualism of celebrants, practitioners and questioners of faith — the perspectives offered here might better be described as prism glass, refracting in full color. It is a great relief and respite from our often somber-hued considerations of death and dying, the best accompaniment I can think of for Death’s summer coat.

Read the whole review here

Buy your copy of the handbook here


Death lit

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

More to death


The Natural Death Centre now has its own online e-magazine. Aimed at consumers, it has features which will also interest funeral directors and celebrants. There’s a straight-talking  feature about natural burial, an analysis of the rise of direct cremation, some radical talk about open-air cremation, a caveat emptor article for funeral shoppers by Jon Underwood, the Death Café man (there’s something about them, too), plus all sorts of other goodies. 

Download it, free, and find out for yourself. 

If you like it, email it to a friend. 

Click the link here

Whither consecrated woodland burial sites?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

St Albans Woodland Burial Ground


Posted by Richard Rawlinson


Back in 2001, The Telegraph ran a story about the Church of England opening its first woodland burial site, Arbory Trust, a consecrated 40-acre plot in Cambridgeshire with trees and flowers replacing gravestones.

‘Other sites cater for pagans and ‘New Age’ followers and do not offer a Christian burial,’ claimed the newspaper in its indomitable way, adding. ‘Unlike other woodland sites, the trust does not plant trees on top of coffins because of the implication, which is contrary to Christian teaching, that people are reincarnated in the tree.’

Two years later, The Telegraph revisited the subject, this time stating ‘Churches across Britain are to set up woodland burial sites because many of their existing graveyards and cemeteries are full’.

It quoted the Rt Rev Anthony Russell, then the Bishop of Ely, saying he believed that such burials would prove popular. ‘The woodland burial sites not only provide extra consecrated space, they also meet the wishes of people who want to be buried in an environmentally friendly setting which is close to nature,’ he said.

Almost a decade later, I searched the list of UK natural burial grounds on the website of the Natural Death Centre, and found just two consecrated sites: the aforementioned Arbory Trust and Bedfordshire’s St Albans Woodland Burial Ground, consecrated by the Diocese of St Albans.

Does anyone here know if there are more consecrated sites not registered with the NDC or if the CofE’s bid to unburden graveyards has not yet taken off—beyond people choosing cremation?

Meanwhile, traditional cemeteries from Clitheroe Cemetery in Lancashire to London’s New Southgate Cemetery have established wooded areas for people who wish to have more natural surroundings. Here.


 The Arbory Trust

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