Recommended Funeral Directors
Heathfield Funeral Service
Address: Hailsham Road, Heathfield, East Sussex TN21 8AE
The firm comprises two businesses, Heathfield Funeral Service and C. Waterhouse & Sons. Established by Charlie Waterhouse in 1926, the family business still has a base in the pretty cottages in Burwash where he lived and worked 90 years ago, and his daughter Dorothy remains fully involved with the day to day running of the company, which is now in the hands of her son Tim.
The branch at Heathfield is a more recent addition to the company, and is run by Wendy Mitchell, who has been with the company for 14 years. She is the face of Heathfield Funeral Service, and has made it very much her own, training staff ‘The Wendy Way’, as she refers to it. When the branch is particularly busy with funerals one of the team from Burwash will come over and help her, but mainly Wendy is the sole person in the office and the main contact for any Heathfield families who need to arrange a funeral here.
Although it is housed in a very different building to the premises at Burwash, Heathfield Funeral Service is very much part of the same business, so much of the background outlined here is the same as that of C. Waterhouse & Sons.
Dorothy, affectionately know as ‘Mother’ by everyone at C. Waterhouse, is a former nurse who began helping her father with the undertaking business in her early 20’s after the death of her mother. Some fifty years on, Dorothy’s dedication to families and her many decades of deep expertise in all aspects of funerals are part of the fabric of the business, and her values are embedded in the way that the company works. Her touch is everywhere, from the choice of wallpaper to the spotlessly clean and tidy premises, and it is evident that the standards have been set here at the highest possible level. With her (now retired) husband, Dorothy has been a shaker and mover in the funeral industry for years and her mission has always been to provide care at a level where there seems to be no divide between her team and your family.
Dorothy’s son Tim echoes the family ethos and is immensely proud of the close-knit relationship the business has with the community it belongs to. Tim worked for an insurance company before joining the company in 1994, bringing with him his experience from a world outside of funerals. A staunch Rotarian and a Past President of Heathfield and Waldron Rotary Club, Tim is also a keen golfer, although it is hard to see how he has time to enjoy a life outside work as he is 100% focused on ensuring that every single family receives the best possible experience. He has his eye on everything, and doesn’t miss a single detail, ensuring that everything is checked and checked again and that every funeral is as perfect as it can possibly be.
There are no plans for big expansion at Heathfield Funeral Service; Tim is happy to maintain the high level of service that the company offers from its two branches rather than opening more offices and sacrificing their standards. He would rather the company remain personal and local, with a small hand picked team working in and for their community. This is not to say that the business is standing still or complacent – it is quite the opposite. The Waterhouse Family is leading the way for small independent funeral directors in embracing the changes in society that are affecting us all, and they are looking ahead to a future where the local loyalty of clientele will inevitably be influenced by the internet and unparalleled access to information for bereaved families, and changing expectations from clients. The company has seen the changes ahead, and is responding to them now in preparation for the shift in consumer behavior they believe to be coming.
Some things won’t ever change here; the warmth and comfort that the staff meet you with, so that the process of creating the funeral can be rich and sustaining, the reverence with which the dead are cared for, the attention to detail and the spotless, immaculate surroundings will all be maintained as long as a Waterhouse family member is involved, but there have been recent subtle shifts in some of the supplementary things – new, smart brochures, for instance, and a planned improved website.
The family team (which includes Tim’s wife Jacky who works within the company’s stonemasonry and memorials business) is excellently complemented by a group of devoted staff, several of whom have been with the firm for well over a decade. (Dorothy’s stated view is that if a firm takes good care of its people, that ethos of care will flow into the way they do their jobs.)
Sean Martin joined the company five years ago from a former career in banking and international private client management, and has become an integral part of the business. Sean focuses on community relationships as the main part of his work, which frees Tim to concentrate on the operational side of the business, but like everyone else at C. Waterhouse, he does everything that needs doing. Sean also has a keen eye for detail, and has introduced the excellent new client folders which are packed full of useful information laid out in a logical and easy to read way. He has introduced the new C. Waterhouse Direct Cremation option, which uniquely offers families the opportunity to hold a small ceremony in the chapel of rest beforehand. It is Sean who carries out home visits for families, and he also conducts funerals and answers the phone out of hours.
Other staff you may encounter are David Hyland, who has four decades of experience and who conducts funerals as well as looking after the stonemasonry department, Karen O’Keeffe who oversees the Burwash office, David Rhys-Jones, whose duties seem to cover everything, and Reverend Kevin Mepham, who somehow combines his work at C. Waterhouse with being a vicar of two parishes.
Despite the Heathfield office being in a newer building than the old listed cottages that house the older branch, the cosy domestic feel of the Burwash office is echoed in the pretty, comfortable meeting rooms with their unusual wallpaper (chosen by Dorothy) at Heathfield. There is the same sense of quality and attention to detail and the same quiet feeling of welcome at both branches, and Wendy has definitely the same high standards of cleanliness. Both the public areas and behind the scenes are spotless; the mortuary area is newly refurbished and immaculate.
As is probably apparent, this firm has a strong commitment to cleanliness and order: you’d go a long way to find a more thoroughly valeted car. Brian Curtain, who manages the fleet, likes to keep the garage floors painted, as he says it keeps the dust down. The firm is proud of their fleet of vehicles, which alongside the traditional Mercedes hearse and limousine, includes two four by four Subaru estate cars and a baby Range Rover - from a very practical point of view they’ll be able to make your funeral happen even in the worst weather as the Subarus can be used as a hearse and limousine if need be. They are happy to branch out into alternative modes of transport, such as horse-drawn or motorcycle vehicles or an old-fashioned London bus.
Given Heathfield Funeral Service’s location, many of the funerals they arrange have a traditional feel and a church component. They conduct more burials than the average. Though they have a traditional outlook, this does not limit them: they say that ‘If it feels like the right thing to do, it probably is’.
They pride themselves on the smart presentation of their people and vehicles, and on their excellent attention to detail. Their bearers wear navy pinstriped suits rather than black, something that sets them apart from other companies, and they’ll wear ties in any colour you care to prescribe. They’ll take your choices of music very seriously: they’ll study it closely and time it, aiming to match the rhythm of the proceedings with the rhythm of the music. They’ll want to help you get the seating arrangements right: they’ll send some of their people ahead to the funeral venue to be sure that someone is there to welcome your guests.
The watchwords at Heathfield Funeral Service are kindness, immaculate execution, and engaged care. They are very conscious of transparency, and also of the impact that austerity might have on families, and offer affordable options with great sensitivity. They are also exceptionally good at organising highly complicated, high profile funerals for families, they have the confidence and experience that enables them to take on any size or scale of funeral with equal ability.
They want to take the time to get a sense of the person who has died, so that they can make helpful suggestions for the funeral arrangements and support you to create a rich and appropriate event.
Behind the scenes (which are always open to inspection by anyone who cares to do so), the devotion to the care of the dead is beyond compare. They combine a commitment to beauty with a pragmatic awareness of hygiene, taking care to ‘lay out’ in an atmosphere of calm and quiet, seeing the care of the dead as a sacred trust. They are so keen on this aspect of the care of the dead that they run exceptionally good training sessions about it for local nursing homes and hospitals. The dead are always referred to formally, as Mr. or Mrs Surname.
On the day of the funeral, the Heathfield people see their job as being on top of every practicality, so that you can simply concentrate on being present to what is taking place.
There is a dynamism in this company which blends seamlessly with the quality of service inherited from ‘Grandpa’ and ‘Mother’ – Charlie and Dorothy Waterhouse. It is a business that is looking to the future and preparing for it, while concentrating with dedication on every funeral that they are engaged to carry out.
We particularly liked their thoughtful approach to offering direct cremation as an alternative of equal merit to a more traditional funeral, with the offer of a little ceremony beforehand in the chapel, and the suggestion that a family might like to follow the coffin in their own car to the crematorium gates on the final journey – little touches that illustrate the humanity and consideration that informs the running of this business.
We also liked the unique ‘knotty oak’ coffins that are only available from Heathfield Funeral Service and C. Waterhouse, and the choice of navy blue pinstripes for their funeral attire – both features appreciated by the local community.
They also have a skilled stone-masonry department at the Burwash branch (C. W. Memorials) that can offer good information on the subject of memorial masonry. Unusually, they offer hand-cut lettering on headstones as an option, and they can give you informed guidance about the various local churchyards’ regulations. A product of their imaginative helpfulness is the little memorials garden that they have installed behind the Burwash office: the display of examples of real headstones in various shapes and materials enables you to make a better choice than might be possible from looking in a catalogue.
- Your telephone call will be taken by one of the team, day or night. During the day it is most likely to be Wendy. Outside office hours, Sean, Karen, Kevin or David R.J. take turns in receiving calls at their homes. If the body of the dead person is to be collected during the night, they’ll aim for their staff to be with you in under an hour. Whoever takes your call will let you know the names of the colleagues who’ll be coming.
- Home visit: no problem, just ask.
- Embalming: They’ll discuss the pros and cons with you. If you wish to spend time with the person who has died they will suggest embalming where it would avert unpleasant effects.
- Continuity of care: You will deal with just one funeral arranger and one funeral director throughout, both working as a team.
- Family participation: While the people at Heathfield Funeral Service take great pride in preparing the bodies of the dead (styling freshly-washed hair according to photographs, for example), they very much encourage family participation. There are comfortable facilities for you to spend time with the person who has died, and no shortage of cups of tea. Should you wish to have an overnight vigil, they will encourage you to think about having the person who has died at home. They’ll encourage you to carry the coffin at the funeral, if you want, and will rehearse you in the task to build your confidence. They also see the significance of the final closing of a coffin, and will, if you wish to be there, encourage you to take part in that, too. And to ride with the coffin in the hearse, if you like.
- Same sex person to wash and dress: no problem, just ask.
- Ethnic specialism: the people at Heathfield Funeral Service are keen to provide what is needed for people from any background. The key to their engagement is research: they will delve into any cultural circumstance, make an advance recce of any new venue, whether the focus is a military funeral, a Russian orthodox mass or the Chinese provision of accoutrements for the dead.
- Local Celebrants: Wendy and her colleagues are well wired to local clergy, and also work closely with a few carefully selected celebrants for whom they consistently receive excellent feedback from their clients. In house, Revd. Kevin Mepham works as a funeral arranger and a priest at Burwash and he can both advise about funerals and conduct them.
- Home-arranged funerals: they are more than happy to offer whatever level of service you want. For example, they will accommodate your provision of your own coffin or your own transport, and advise you on how to make a good job of keeping a body at home, if that’s what you prefer to do. They are fully supportive of families whatever level of involvement is required of them.
- Website: The website is due for another upgrade soon, but the current version adequately meets its aim of giving a flavour of what the company is like. Staff profiles include notes on their outside interests to give you an idea of the whole person. There are useful links to listings of registrars’ and coroners’ addresses, local hospitals and hospices, national religious and secular organisations, and local florists.
- Client support: They hold an annual remembrance event. They also make introductions to counsellors if you feel you’re not coping with bereavement as well as you’d wish.
- Prices: They will provide you with an informative printed price-list that includes photographs of coffins and ashes caskets. They encourage you to take your time when making funeral arrangements, and to shop around if you want to. They’ll draw up an itemised estimate and make sure you understand its components; you’ll sign it as a contract only when you are happy. Prices here are competitive, and if funds are limited, the Heathfield Funeral Service direct cremation alternative is a sensitive and realistic affordable alternative at under £2,000 in total. What makes them especially good value is the quality of the service you receive, which is simply outstanding. Currently prices aren’t shown on their website but this is due to change with the advent of a new website.
- Parking: no problem, with car-parks adjacent to each of the premises.
This is a place where you can make your funeral arrangements without any sense of having to be on your guard. They aim to do everything possible to put you at your ease and allay your anxieties, offering you the time and space to consider what you want to do.
There’s an absence of cynicism in the Waterhouse Family’s business practice, with effects that you may not even notice. For example, they make no extra charge for handling the charitable donations that people may make in memory of the person who has died. There is no flaunting of the kindnesses that are woven into their approach, and there’s no upselling of features you don’t want or need. Their way of operating comes from a committed and decades-long engagement in their local communities. They are proud of their presence, wanting to offer the same excellent service to everybody, ‘dukes and dustmen’.
We think they are exceptionally good at what they do.