Back to Top

Higher Ground Family Funerals

Higher Ground Family Funerals.jpg
Underhill Farm, Hackney, Corscombe, Dorchester, DT2 0PA
Hackney England DT2 0PA GB

Even though she has just been named Green Funeral Director of the Year at this year’s Good Funeral Awards, we don’t think that being defined as a ‘funeral director’ works for this extraordinary woman. Jo Vassie is the person who you will speak to, who will come and collect the person who has died and who will listen to how you want to create the funeral, but she is so much more than just a funeral director.

For many years, Jo has been highly respected in the natural burial world for the beautiful natural burial ground she owns and manages on the family farm near Dorchester. In 2016, after being runner up for a number of years, Higher Ground Meadow was named Best Natural Burial Ground in the UK in the People’s Awards organised by The Natural Death Centre Charity and was also runner up in the Cemetery of the Year category of the 2016 Good Funeral Awards.

Hundreds of people have chosen Higher Ground Meadow as the final resting place for a family member or friend, and many hundreds more have chosen their grave there for their own future use. The stunning views from the burial ground are matched only by the extraordinary personal care with which Jo and her son Tom look after the land, and the families who visit there.

Right from the start, back in 2009, as they were walking together back to the ceremonial barn after choosing the spot for their grave, people would say to Jo, “Now when we pop off, can you come and pick us up?” The answer always had to be “No, I’m sorry, it’s only the burial ground that we have,” but there was clearly a need and Jo saw that there could be an opportunity to expand their business. Her husband Peter had a different view.

“When I mentioned it to Pete, it was always a NO. I’ve never had many of those types of ‘no’s’ but it was the sort not to argue with, or bother keeping on about,” says Jo. She resigned herself to continue sending families to local funeral directors for the undertaking part of the funeral, but the thought didn’t go away.

As time went by and the burial ground became busier, conscious that they weren’t getting any younger, Jo and Peter looked to their son Tom who lived nearby with his wife and young family. “It was make your mind up time, and he decided that he would take it all on one day, so he and Lorna came home with their sons to live and work. They moved into their own part of the large farmhouse, and Tom joined Jo working daily at the burial ground. He took over the grave digging from his parents, a welcome relief for the couple in their sixties after many wet and muddy experiences ‘up top’ preparing graves, and he attends every funeral alongside Jo. A former DJ, he also takes charge of playing any CDs.

Obviously, before too long the same ‘when I pop off’ question about providing undertaking services came up again, but, unlike his father, Tom was happy to try it. “Why not?” he said. That was enough for Jo, and within no time at all some barn space close to the farmhouse had been converted into suitable premises and they had acquired a nine seater Peugeot Expert. Tom removed the two back rows of seats and built a shelf with rollers that a coffin could sit neatly on top of, with space underneath for the stretcher that is used for collecting people. The next family who asked the ‘popping off’ question were told yes, and Higher Ground Family Funerals was born.

By the time we visited, in September 2016, Jo and Tom had already carried out almost eighty funerals without really advertising their service at all. If someone calls them because a relative has just died, or knowing that time is short for someone, Jo asks whether they have decided on a funeral director, and if the answer is no she advises them that she and Tom can help them if they wish. Most people see the obvious advantage of this and Jo and Tom have got used to going out in the middle of the night or finding their way to hospital mortuaries to collect people who have died.

For families choosing a burial at Higher Ground Meadow, having just one person to deal with throughout the whole process must be an immense relief. Word of mouth has spread about HGFF, and Jo and Tom have also organised a number of cremations, (which has opened Jo’s eyes to the bizarre world of doctors refusing to travel less than ten miles to see a body, something which incenses her!) Nonetheless, the undertaking side of her work has added yet another layer of job satisfaction to an already fulfilling existence, as Jo gets to know much more about each family they help. “It is such a privilege to be able to assist them to have just the type of service that they want, the thank you letters and e-mails are so special,” she says.

And they are. Over and over, in cards and letters and e-mails from families, relief and gratitude is expressed for the patience, thoughtfulness and humane approach with which Jo and Tom have both helped them with the arrangements and cared for the person who died.

The building where people are looked after prior to the funeral is just across the garden in sight of the farmhouse kitchen window, and has been designed to make families feel confortable and at home. The timber clad barn has been converted to provide a light and comfortable sitting room (where the funeral arrangements can be made, or where families can spend time if they are visiting their dead person), an adjacent room with sofas and chairs which is used for visiting the person and a toilet and kitchen for families to use. Further back is the spotless mortuary area, fully equipped with refrigeration space for eight people and everything that Jo and her daughter in law need to care for bodies.

They don’t embalm. “It’s horrible. I wouldn’t want it done to me and all the families that I deal with don’t want it, especially when it’s explained what it is.” Nor do they stitch mouths together, or put plastic caps under eyelids. Jo tells families this, and invariably people are pleased. Instead, she and Lorna take care in making the deceased look as nice as they can naturally for their families. “Lorna has better eye-sight than me when it comes to using a razor or applying some make-up,” says Jo. Every body is laid on a thick calico sheet before being placed in their coffin, Jo prefers the cream colour material against the skin rather than white, and those who are not dressed in their own clothes will be laid to rest in a simple cotton gown.

In keeping with the natural ethos, all coffins are biodegradable, even those offered for cremation, and Jo will suggest that rather than use the chapel at the crematorium for the service, the family use Higher Ground Barn where they can have the time needed to avoid the ‘conveyor belt’ feeling.

Specific Gravity

In Jo’s own words, “The one important thing we offer is time, nobody must ever feel we are in a rush. Don’t make people feel shy of asking any question they may have, never talk down to people, just explain every step of the way. One lady said to me ‘thank you for just being human’.”

What's Important?

Helping any family have a farewell that is a really personal one and which is carried out in the way they feel is right for them.

Jo’s attention to detail is unrivalled, and she adds many little touches that feel right to her, preparing ashes plots by decorating them with fresh flowers from the garden, carefully removing the turf before digging a grave and then immediately laying it back on top when the burial has been completed so that the grave looks beautiful straight away. She instinctively does what she would want done for her, and her thoughtfulness is evident in everything she touches.

What's Different?

Jo and Tom are as far away from the traditional funeral director image as it is possible to be. They are ordinary lovely people who have seen a need for a different way of doing things, and who have just got on and done it. Their simple, straightforward approach to the practicalities of looking after dead people is absolutely normal, and will be welcomed by many families as a breath of fresh air.

Services
  • Your first call will be answered Jo. If there’s nobody in, the answerphone will take a message and she will call back as soon as she picks it up.
  • Home visits – yes if that’s what you want. Most families come to the premises at Underhill Farm but Jo will come to you if needed.
  • Same sex person to wash and dress? Yes, just ask.
  • Embalming? No. Nor any stitching or intrusive meddling with bodies. People are just cared for naturally and made to look as nice as possible.
  • Ethnic specialism? Jo and Tom will work with people from every ethnic background but locally the population is not very diverse.
  • Home arranged funerals – absolutely, you can have as much or as little help as you need.
  • Local celebrants – there are several local celebrants who are rated as fantastic by Jo, she believes a good celebrant is vital for a ‘good’ funeral. She generally gets a feel for which celebrant would be right for a family and is normally right.
  • Website – straightforward, clear and easy to navigate. Peter is nominally in charge of the website (under Jo’s supervision!) and he feels it is important for older people who may be less familiar with the internet to be able to find relevant information easily.
  • Client support – really good. Many of the letters from bereaved families mention how much they appreciated the support from Jo in particular before, during and after the funeral
  • Money matters – Exceptionally good value for money. They didn’t set out to offer a cheap price funeral, they just worked out what they felt was a fair price and they are very comfortable with the prices set. The cost of hiring bearers is not included in their fee as the majority of families are pleased to do this part themselves with help and guidance from Jo and Tom, but they do have four strong local men who will help out if needed.
  • Parking – Plenty of space for parking at Underhill Farm,
Remarks

Jo is a one off, a tiny dynamo of energy who had an idea and has just got on with it. She treats everyone as she would want to be treated, and with practical support from Tom and Lorna, and with an eight year old grandson already interested in helping out at the burial ground, she seems to have started a quiet revolution in the world of funerals.

She will probably hate to read this, as she is self effacing and dismissive of praise, but we think she is a leading light who is blazing a trail for a more human approach to death. Jo herself just thinks she’s ‘incredibly lucky to have a good man beside me who’s always helped me to create my dreams’. Peter Vassie, the quiet man behind the scenes running the family farm should be immensely proud. His wife and son are doing great work.

 

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.

Higher Ground Family Funerals.jpg 4 weeks ago
Showing 1 result
A. G. Down.jpg
66 South Street, Bridport DT6 3NN, United Kingdom 13.56 km
A. G. Down belongs to the family of Eric & Joyce Dunford and Julian & Karen Hussey, who own and between them are director in six funeral homes, four in East Devon and two in West Dorset. The business has grown from the original single branch at A. G. Down, built up by Eric, as retiring fa...
Matthew Lucas.jpeg
Down House, Widcombe Street, Poundbury DT1 3BS 21.92 km
Matthew Lucas Funeral Directors is a joint venture between Matthew Lucas and the family business of A. G. Down. There are three directors of the business: Matt, Eric Dunford & Julian Hussey.  Matt is Dorchester born and bred with over 17 years experience as a local Funeral Director. Eric is B...
A. G. Down.jpg
William Potter House West Street Axminster EX13 5NX 22.79 km
W. G. Potter belongs to the family of Eric & Joyce Dunford and Julian & Karen Hussey, who own and between them are director in six funeral homes, four in East Devon and two in West Dorset. The business has grown as retiring family funeral directors, recognising the qualities and values of...
A. G. Down.jpg
Chapple Court Queen Street Seaton EX12 2RB 30.96 km
Overmass and Chapple belongs to the family of Eric & Joyce Dunford and Julian & Karen Hussey, who own and between them are director in six funeral homes, four in East Devon and two in West Dorset. The business has grown as retiring family funeral directors, recognising the qualities and v...
Crescent Funerals.JPG
The Old Coach House, Crescent Park, Taunton TA1 4ED 34.42 km
Simon Helliar-Moore. Born and brought up in the town, Simon is well known in Taunton from his ten years working for a local independent funeral director. When that company was taken over by one of the large corporate funeral companies two years ago, Simon found it increasingly difficult to give f...
Wallace Stuart.jpg
73 Fore Street, North Petherton, Somerset TA6 6PZ, United Kingdom 35.5 km
Wallace Stuart is a new business established by two remarkable, intelligent  and capable women, Sarah Stuart and Lesley (Lel) Wallace. Lel always wanted to be a funeral director, but her parents gently nudged her away from from her childhood dream. She trained as a graphic designer instead. But t...
A. G. Down.jpg
0.00 (1 review)
Stamps Building, King Street, Honiton EX14 1AF 35.64 km
Exeter Road, Ottery St. Mary EX11 1RE 44.99 km
E. A. Dodd & Son belongs to the family of Eric & Joyce Dunford and Julian & Karen Hussey, who own and between them are director in six funeral homes, four in East Devon and two in West Dorset. The business has grown as retiring family funeral directors, recognising the qualities and v...
Sophie May and Carol Spalding.jpg
Martha’s House, Broadway, Frome, Somerset BA11 3HA 63.66 km
7, Windsor Place, Upper Bristol Road, Bath BA1 3DF 49.77 km
489b, Bath Road, Saltford, Bristol BS31 3BA 63.98 km
Carol Spalding owns and runs the business jointly with her daughter Sophie May, and they have attracted the very best staff to work alongside them looking after families in Bath, Frome and Saltford. When you meet them, it’s clear to see why Clarkson’s have such an excellent reputation – Carol’s w...
GFG 2017 Recommended logo.jpg
2 The Boulevard, Weston-super-Mare, BS23 1NA 59.47 km
Howard Goodman is a relatively new business – it was opened in 2014 by Tracey and Martin Challenor with Gavin Burnett and Shirley Morton. All of them are well trained and have years of experience behind them. They all worked for a big, corporate funeral director’s where they felt they were unable...
gareth-coles-01.jpg
792 Newport Road, Rumney, Cardiff CF3 4FH, United Kingdom 79.81 km
Gareth Coles, the managing director and the inspirational heart of Coles Funeral Directors is the principal funeral director, ably supported by fellow funeral directors James Rogers and Steven Long. Alongside them is a team of exceptionally well trained and highly skilled people led by Claire Rob...
Heart & Soul Funerals.jpg
7 High Street, Totnes TQ9 5NN, United Kingdom 83.99 km
Heart & Soul Funerals is the new name for Green Fuse Funerals. Funeral Directors: Simon Smith and Jane Morrell were jointly awarded Good Funeral Guide’s Funeral Director of the Year 2012. They are two people who campaign tirelessly for better funerals. In addition to being funeral directors, ...
GFG 2017 Recommended logo.jpg
122 The Hundred, Romsey, Hants SO51 8BY, United Kingdom 85.53 km
Simon Peace (centre) and his son Michael (right) are at the heart of this family business, ably helped by a small and loyal team of staff. The Peace family came to Romsey in 1966, when Simon was just five years old. His father Peter moved the family into the house at 122, The Hundred where the b...
Richard Steel & Partners.jpg
Alderman House, 12 – 14 City Road, Winchester SO23 8SD, United Kingdom 99.34 km
Chesil House, 4, Chesil Street, Winchester SO23 0HU 99.91 km
Iain Steel, his father Richard and co-director Mark Allery are the three directors of the company and are all actively involved with funerals (after 55 years with the family firm, Richard’s involvement is less hands on these days, although he will always be available to conduct a funeral for a fa...
Showing 17 results