TEL: Braintree: 01376 551951 — Broomfield: 01245 353978 — Danbury: 01245 221444 — Great Baddow 01245 268993 — Ingatestone: 01277 350988 — Writtle: 01245 422622 — Great Dunmow: 01371 875542
Chelmsford Star Funeral Services is an example of the finest types of co-operatives. It is not part of the Co-operative Group, nor is it a member of Co-operative Funeralcare, of which the Good Funeral Guide is fiercely critical.
It is owned by the local co-operative society, Chelmsford Star, which was founded in in 1867. They’ve been doing funerals since 1936. Chelmsford Star Co-op is affiliated to the wider co-operative movement but remains proudly independent and self-governing.
As a co-operative, Chelmsford Star is more than just a business. It is supposed to demonstrate a strong social mission to the people in its locality. It is pledged to uphold values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. We took care to find out if it lives up to these values and we reckon it most certainly does.
Chelmsford Star operates out of 7 funeral homes in: Braintree, Broomfield, Danbury, Great Baddow, Ingatestone, Writtle and Great Dunmow. We spent have visited every one of them, talking to staff, testing customer service and, to the best of our ability, assuring ourselves that people who have died are cared for here with the greatest respect, dignity and privacy. The good news is that it scores top marks in all respects. Nobody at Chelmsford Star is on commission. They will not try to upsell you. They regard all that sort of thing as horrifying.
The premises are all roomy, comfortably furnished and painted in un-gloomy, pale colours. They have a nice, homely, welcoming feel. When we visited, all branches had window boxes and some had hanging baskets. This is not a wealthy business, you’ll be pleased to hear, but they do try hard to make a good impression. We spent time behind the scenes too and were hugely impressed. They are meticulous in everything they do and we especially like the very careful way they protect the privacy of all who come into their care. When they come in, everyone has their own pillow and soft blanket. A test we always apply is: Would this be good enough for my Mum? We felt 100% sure that it would.
The frontline staff are great. Craig Jackson, Funeral Operation Manager, makes sure that he only employs the best, and this is what matters most to you. Everyone we met was good at their job, of course. But they’re not cold, efficient professionals, they are lovely, warm, normal human beings just like you who give you all the time you need. It is this human face of the business that made the greatest impression on us. Everyone we met genuinely cares about every client. They really are outstanding.
The person with whom you arrange the funeral is called a family liaison officer, and she will be there for you up to the day of the funeral.
At Braintree you will be looked after by Pam Goldberger, who’s been with the company for 26 years and knows pretty much everyone in town. Pam’s retiring in November although she’ll very likely be popping in regularly once she’s officially left. Braintree is a busy branch and has a spacious room for arrangements as well as a large room that can be used for small ceremonies. It is also the branch where the beautiful Book of Remembrance is kept.
Broomfield is the administrative hub, where you will find Jane Milbank, Sheila Hodgetts and Jenni Carrick in the main office when they are not helping families with arrangements. There are two rooms for families to discuss funerals, one with a large table where you can spread out paperwork and the other laid out like a lounge. There is no chapel of rest here, so if you want to spend time with the person who has died you’ll go to Great Baddow.
Danbury was perhaps our favourite branch, it has a lovely open feeling with a spacious reception area and an area behind this with sofas where you can make arrangements in comfort. It is also the branch where bereavement counselling sessions take place, and is looked after by Jill Rushbrook.
Great Baddow is the branch where people who have died are looked after and made ready for their funerals. The behind the scenes team work here, (Mark, Rob, Anne-Marie, Danny and Alice) and the very nice cars are garaged here too. Craig is based at Great Baddow when he’s not out on funerals (he goes on all the Chelmsford Star funerals ‘to ensure we keep our standards up’) and it’s Mandy Freyer who looks after families who come in here. Mandy’s been with Chelmsford Star for 15 years, and, like Pam at Braintree, this experience helps in the busier branches.
At Ingatestone you will meet either Jackie Carrick or Kim Myers, who share the role of family liaison officers here. It’s a busy part of town and lots of people pass by on their way to the shops – in response to this notices of upcoming funerals are shown on the door, and people are used to glancing at these as they pass by.
The Writtle branch is a small one near the green and opposite the busy Rose and Crown pub. It’s looked after by Alexis Carr, who’s been with the company for nine years and who lives in the village. The arranging room is comfortably set out like a lounge, and paintings on the walls are by a local artist.
Great Dunmow is the other branch where there are two family liaison officers sharing the role – here you will find Helen Morris or Clare Smith who will look after you.
The last member of staff who you may come across is Cara Field – Cara has the important role of covering any of the branches when she is needed, whether to help out at particularly busy times or to stand in for sickness or holiday cover. Cara could be anywhere, we met her at Danbury.
On the day itself, the funeral will be conducted by Craig, Mark, Rob or Anne-Marie and they’ll introduce themselves to you beforehand. Your family liaison officer will not automatically attend the funeral too, but if you’d like her to be there, a familiar face on a difficult day, just ask and they will arrange it for you. We think this very important.
Once the funeral is over, they are still there for you. Some clients like to pop in for a cuppa – some have been doing it for ages. You’ll be very welcome. Others join the bereavement group, and this is how Chelmsford Star best demonstrates its commitment to the social and emotional wellbeing of local people. There’s no charge and anyone can join, not just Chelmsford Star clients. The accent is very strongly on self-help – people who come share their experiences and feelings and cheer each other up, and also do what they can for each other in practical ways. This is so popular that some people stay for years – just so that they can go on helping others. Every year there’s a coach trip to the seaside or a fun venue.
For those badly affected by grief, Chelmsford Star offer a specialist, one-to-one counselling service – again, free not only to their own clients but to anyone bereaved. Bereavement counselling is offered by Jill Rushbrook and takes place in a private room at the Danbury branch. We met Jill. She’s highly qualified and a lovely person.
People hereabouts tend to favour a formal traditional funeral, and this is something that Craig and his staff do extremely well. They dress up smartly in uniforms trimmed with blue, wearing blue ties and cravats. They run a modern fleet of spotlessly maintained Jaguars.
Perhaps you don’t want a traditional funeral, or perhaps you’d like a traditional funeral with a few personalised touches. We found that Craig is very aware of, and sensitive to, the changing needs of the people he serves and we were really pleased by the way in which he gladly accommodates those needs. So if you want family members to walk in front of the hearse, Craig will happily take a back seat. If you want to carry the coffin, no problem. If you want to lower the coffin into the grave, no problem. They’ll be there for you to make sure you do it safely!
If you want a less formal funeral, or something more alternative, talk it over with them. They’ll do their best to get it right for you.
The Chelmsford Star team pay the greatest attention to detail. As a local funeral celebrant Chris Cornell told us, what marks them out is that “they go the extra mile to get things just right”. For this, all credit must go to the head of funerals, Craig, a born funeral director if ever we saw one. He lives and breathes his job, and he inspires the highest standards in everyone who works here. Everyone here is focussed on getting it just right for you.
Because it is a part of its local co-operative, Chelmsford Star is extremely well-integrated with its community and, as a social enterprise, can draw on the strength and support of its parent body in delivering social value. It also benefits from the critical oversight of its parent body, and this stimulates its very high standards. Its holistic support of the bereaved makes it very much more than just a business. Its people make it exceptional.
Highly professional and anything but slick and soulless. A regular winner of customer awards and an Investor in People. An extremely well-run business staffed by lovely people who are kind and open-minded, and who will work hard to enable you to arrange exactly the funeral you want. No package funerals here!
Any decisions you take on engaging the services of a funeral director should be based on your views and research. You should not rely solely upon the views and opinions offered by us.