Hasina Zaman and Allistair Anderson. A former teacher, lecturer and artist, Hasina founded the company back in 2012 when she perceived a need for a completely different type of funeral service for the diverse community of East London where she had lived and worked for over 20 years.
“We saw a lack of compassion and care in the way funerals were being carried out. They were becoming meaningless processes, with little or no personalisation or involvement from family and friends. I knew we could do something different – provide a support service where the family was at the heart of the funeral, and tailor what we provide to exactly what each family needed from us. We began with arranging funerals in the bereaved families’ homes or their work place. Initially we worked closely with Quaker Social Action, supporting them in providing affordable funerals, buying in services from other local funeral directors as we needed to keep costs low.”
Allistair joined Hasina in 2013, when he left his position at City of London Cemetery and Crematorium, just a few hundred yards along the road from the Compassionate Funerals premises that were officially opened in February this year. With 20 years experience working in a wide variety of roles with some of the best local undertakers, cemeteries and crematoria in London, Allistair has the calm confidence of a man who knows his stuff, and more importantly, knows what he wants to do differently from the status quo.
Together, Hasina and Allistair worked from home for the first few years, with their kitchen table serving as an office base. In October 2015 they acquired their premises on Aldersbrook Road, and after some major renovations to the building they held an official launch party, opening the doors to their beautiful space for the general public. It’s the most unfunereal funeral parlour we have visited – light, open, airy and beautifully furnished with comfortable sofas and a low coffee table on a richly coloured rug. Rainbow coloured chandeliers are suspended from the high ceilings, and Hasina’s mosaic art is scattered around, giving flashes of colour like jewels glinting in the sunlight that filters through the leaded windows.
The arranging area space is large enough to be used for Death Cafes, training sessions and even a charity fundraising music evening, ‘Bold or Bollywood’, where around 40 people gathered to listen to different live artists playing. “We wanted this to be a space where families would feel at ease and be comfortable when they are at the most delicate and vulnerable,” said Hasina. “And we also want to use it for awareness raising events in our community.”
Through a plain wooden door is the room used for families to spend time with the person who died, whether washing and dressing them with help from Hasina and Allistair if needed, or just sitting alongside the coffin and being in their presence. Simply furnished, with a wooden dresser containing the rose essential oil that every body is anointed with, the room is quiet and peaceful without being somber or dreary and shares the same high ceiling as the arranging area, with a similar blue chandelier.
Great Death Care is at the heart of the way Hasina and Allistair work – they are gentle in their handling of each person and actively cultivate mindful presence of the person whose body they are caring for, whether the family are present or not. Hasina comes from a Muslim background, and within the Muslim faith it is believed that once a person dies their soul hovers above their body and they can hear and feel everything that takes place.
Gentle movement and awareness of the person whose body they are caring for are second nature to Hasina and Allistair, and they train anyone assisting them in the same reverent approach to the body. Even the embalmer (who is occasionally called in to carry out embalming where a funeral is taking place several weeks after death and an open coffin is required by the spiritual practice of the family) has learned that when he is working for Compassionate Funerals, he needs to honour their ways of handling the dead.
When someone dies and comes into their care, they will be brought to Compassionate Funerals a few days before the funeral to be washed, dressed and placed in their coffin. They will remain in an air conditioned viewing room until the day of the funeral.
Likewise, additional services are hired in as needed, keeping the costs lean and non-exploitative. The company has just two vehicles, an estate car used to collect people who have died and an eco car for work use. Allistair is keen to explore hiring an eco-hearse for families who have strong environmental ethics, and is also interested in the idea of a bicycle hearse or a hand bier to enable families to take their dead to the nearby cemetery in a completely green eco-friendly way.
A recent addition to the team is Sarah Tully, who has been with Compassionate Funerals for three months and is soaking up the knowledge she is learning from her colleagues. Formerly from a media background, Sarah had personal experience of the bespoke, personal and compassionate service Hasina and Allistair provide when they were engaged to carry out a funeral for her husband’s family, and now, some time later she is sharing every aspect of their work.
All three of the team at Compassionate Funerals share the same dedication to meeting each family’s personal needs, and have an instinctive understanding that one size does not fit all. Each funeral is bespoke and arranged to fit the budget of the individual family involved, with the focus always being on empowering bereaved people to have the perfect send off for their loved one.
Whoever you meet when you first make contact with Compassionate Funerals will be with you from that day onwards, until the funeral and beyond. They offer to visit clients at home the same day a call is received, or arrangements can be made at a time to suit the family, either at home or at Compassionate Funerals HQ (as Aldersbrook Road is called). From that point onward, you have a person who will walk alongside you through the days leading up to the funeral, being with you when the celebrant or faith leader meets the family to ensure seamless continuity. On the day, he or she will co-ordinate the funeral exactly as you have created it, offering as much or as little support as you need.
After the ceremony, they will always accept an invitation to join the reception if it is offered, believing that for many families this is an important thing as they have been so involved with planning the funeral from the onset. “I have never forgotten what happened once when I was driving a limousine for a national company years ago,” said Allistair, “The funeral conductor was invited by a family to come in for a drink after the funeral. He declined, saying he had to get away. Then the gentleman held out his hand to shake hands and passed him a gratuity, which was gratefully accepted. The man was seriously unimpressed. ‘So you’ll take my money but you won’t take the time to have a drink with me’ he said. I have always remembered that. If a family asks us to be there after the ceremony, we are honored and will always accept.”
Two weeks after the funeral, each family is offered an After Care meeting where they can talk about whatever they want – it’s an opportunity for Compassionate Funerals to signpost individuals to bereavement support if they think there might be a need for it.
Hasina is a strong advocate of training in all aspects of the work they do, and training opportunities are taken where and when possible. Both she and Allistair are in the process of doing the DipFD course, whilst also offering training to the community around them; Funeral Awareness Workshops aimed at carers and CQC friendly Level 2 in Death, Dying and Bereavement courses are both provided by Compassionate Funerals.
They also have strong links with many diverse groups in the locality, and have an extensive community engagement programme, running Death Cafes, Advance Planning, Difficult Conversations, Fun Days, Jumble Trail – and they have a mobile ‘Before I Die’ wall that they use as a conversation starter at events locally. They fund raise for both local hospices, and are a Drop Spot for recycled goods for one of them. They are also often asked to speak publicly with various professions: GPs, nurses, hospitals and adult social services, and do radio, TV and print interviews whenever they can.
A holistic, bespoke funeral service that puts the family at the heart of each funeral.
Hasina and Allistair wanted a fresh approach to funerals, and to support each family in leading the funeral, and they have created an undertaking service that does exactly this. Intelligent, sensitive and creative, they listen intently to what is said and, where appropriate, make suggestions based on the inspiration and information each family provides. Compassionate Funerals is a business that is meeting the needs of the community it belongs to, providing gentle, deeply personal support for those who are bereaved no matter what their background or circumstances.
What each family wants. And personal, compassionate care, both for the bereaved and for the person whose body they are caring for – they treat every person with the utmost respect for their dignity and modesty, even though they are no longer alive.
We could have stayed for hours talking with Hasina, Allistair and Sarah. Their dedication and passion is rooted in a clear-eyed understanding of the importance of their work within the wider sense of doing death properly. Here is Hasina’s explanation of what their work is all about – we wholeheartedly agree with her:
‘We are fortunate in that we always put the family and their loved one at the centre of the funeral. This has given us the edge to ride the wave of change that is happening throughout the UK. We feel that great consideration must be given to the state and care of bereavement, otherwise as funeral directors, we are allowing families to live with deep effects of loss, which settles into our cells and then get carried on out into our future. We feel that there is lots of healing work that is required by our profession.
The funeral industry requires upgrading and this is an exciting time that we are in. We feel privileged to be in the position of this transformational conscious change.’
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.
Thursday 22nd June 2017 at 9:39 pm
What a great service. I will recommend Compassionate funeral again and again.
From the first day I called, till the end of the funeral, the service has been fantastic. Thank you Allistair for your professional advice and been compassionate indeed. Keep it up.
Monday 10th July 2017 at 3:59 pm
Thank you for your wonderful feedback.
Stay blessed and take great care, Hasina.
Monday 13th March 2017 at 5:05 pm
I found Allister and the team at Compassionate Funerals to be very helpful, professional and experienced in dealing with the arrangements for my late uncle. They were able to provide a quick and well organised funeral service which was exactly what we needed as our family live overseas. They saved me a lot of traveling back and forward with the efficient service they gave at a very difficult time for my family.
Monday 10th July 2017 at 4:03 pm
Thank you for allowing us to support you with your Late Uncle’s funeral. We are grateful that we were able to support you from here in London.
All the best, Hasina.
Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 9:54 am
Allistair and the rest of Compassionate Funerals were excellent. They were always responsive, kind and gentle, providing just the right amount of help that we needed to guide us through the process. Extremely professional and high quality.
Monday 10th July 2017 at 4:05 pm
Thank you for your kind words and experience.
Stay well, Hasina.
Thursday 24th November 2016 at 5:42 pm
I found Compassionate Funerals to be very helpful, reliable and economical. I have recommended them since and would do so again.
Thursday 24th November 2016 at 5:41 pm
When you lose a loved one the last thing you should worry about is how to prepare for the funeral! Sadly it has to be done so you want it done with ease! This was my second time using compassionate funerals and they really did take the load off with ideas and suggestions! From price planning to finding a music piece to be played, they were really helpful! Everything was organised quickly, which made the day perfect! I kept thinking I had forgotten to do something (which I hadn’t) but an email or phone call always reassured me! They respond promptly and always offer a friendly ear! I had time to grieve the passing of my sister without worrying how to make her day perfect!
Monday 10th July 2017 at 4:07 pm
Thank you, may you and your family stay well.
Sending you all lots of peace and love.
Thursday 24th November 2016 at 5:39 pm
Compassionate funerals were a great support to us at a very difficult time. They accommodated our bespoke needs, making suitable suggestions that did not require purchases but enhanced the care and personal touch that we were able to give our loved one for the last time. They didn’t try to ‘sell’ us anything that we hadn’t asked for. Allistair was a helpful grounded soul through the lead up to the funeral, visiting us at home more than once and offering to attend Jacks resting place with us while we chose his plot.
Despite Allistair having input when needed on the lead up to the day he managed to become invisible while still being present on the day, patiently allowing the mourners to feel it was an intimate event despite the presence of a stranger.
Thank you compassionate funerals, we are so glad that we chose you.
Monday 10th July 2017 at 4:09 pm
Thanks for choosing us and allowing us to look after your friend.
All the best,
Peace and blessing, Hasina
Thursday 24th November 2016 at 5:38 pm
Nothing is too much trouble for Compassionate Funerals. We arrived on their doorstep without warning, distressed, bewildered and confused. The team made us welcome and, in a very friendly way, guided us patiently through the complicated process of planning a funeral. After the initial meeting, Allistair was always on the end of a phone, or, if he was busy, he rang back within an hour. No detail was too small for his consideration, and he always gave us his full attention, even though he must have been busy. He appointed Rachel Bass as our celebrant, and she was both conscientious and caring, taking a lot of time to find out about the person whose life she was helping us to celebrate, organising the music and leading the service calmly and sensitively. Allistair thought of everything, so the service ran very smoothly, and he even came with us to the wake to pay his respects. The result was a sad day, but one to add to the happy memories of our loved one.
Monday 10th July 2017 at 4:12 pm
Thank you for your lovely and extensive review.
Stay well and sending you lots of love and peace.
Thursday 24th November 2016 at 5:35 pm
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and your team for the guidance and support you gave me, at what was a very challenging time in my life to arrange the funeral of my dear mother.
This was one of those occasions that you are never truly prepared for even though you know it will happen one day.
I am a very hands on type of person and wanted to be very much involved in ensuring my Mother’s farewell was the best it could be. Hasina and her team embraced my involvement and guide my Niece and I through the process. I was pleasantly surprised how easy everything was. This was primarily due to the experience and professionalism of Hasina and her team.
On the day of the funeral, everything that had been agreed was delivered. The attention to detail and the empathetic way in which the team at Compassionate Funerals worked with my family and I made my Mother’s funeral although very sad, it was a joyous occasion, a celebration of her wonderful life.
As and when you find yourself in my situation having to deal with the passing of a loved one I would not hesitate to recommend Hasina and her team to work with you to fulfill their wishes.
THANK YOU ! THANK YOU ! THANK YOU !
Yours most gratefully
Monday 10th July 2017 at 4:15 pm
Thank you for your amazing and extensive review. It was a privilege and honour to serve you, your family and your mum.
Sending you all abundant love, joy and happiness, Hasina.
Tuesday 9th August 2016 at 10:01 pm
Thoroughly impressed by the tailored service provided by Compassionate Funerals after my father’s passing. From the funeral to the headstone, Compassionate Funerals made sure my family could take the time to grieve. Top quality people with a very high standard of professionalism – thank you.
Monday 10th July 2017 at 4:18 pm
We’re grateful that we’re able to serve from the funeral to overseeing the headstone work.
Thank you for a great review.
Stay super blessed, love Hasina.