Recommended Funeral Directors
Address: 130-132 High Street, Rainham, Kent ME8 8AR • 25 New Road, Chatham, Kent ME4 4QJ • 127 Watling Street, Gillingham, Kent ME7 2YY • 31 Parkwood Green, Rainham, Kent ME8 9PW
The business is owned by John Weir, who runs it with his wife Beverley. John has been a funeral director for 47 years (having served an apprenticeship as a young man) and he embodies the passion and dedication of someone who lives and breathes their work. "It's not a job, it's a way of life," he said. "When I first started working in funerals I couldn't understand why the two owners of the company, Mr Norman and Mr Colin, would be in every day at 7.30 in the morning and still there at 6 in the evening. Now I find myself doing exactly the same!"
John started his business after the firm he was working for was taken over and the focus shifted from serving families and carrying out impeccable funerals to looking at the bottom line and making more profit. With the support of his former bosses he managed to persuade the local bank manager to lend him enough money to start up in Rainham, and now decades later, his company is a flagship for all that is good about funeral directing. John has brought the values and standards from the past and married them with a modern approach to funeral directing, resulting in a smart, wholly professional and yet welcoming business.
John takes great pride in his staff, their premises and the standard of service they provide for bereaved families. He has been a magistrate for 23 years, and was the national spokesperson for SAIF (the national society for allied and independent funeral directors) for 18 years. He is also a doting grandfather.
The Rainham branch is on the site of the original business that John started. It is large - and spotlessly clean, both the public areas and the offices and mortuary areas. It is a source of pride that anyone can ask at any time to be shown around all parts of any John Weir branch, there is nothing to hide and the same high standards of cleanliness are everywhere.
John has recently invested in bariatric fridges and equipment to enable funerals of larger people to be conducted with the same dignity as those of less weight, and the procedures and systems he has implemented ensure that everything runs like clockwork behind the scenes. Checks and double checks are in place for everything important, and comprehensive records are kept of each funeral arrangement and then stored away after the funeral has taken place. (If you had arranged a funeral thirty years ago at John Weir's they would be able to find the original paperwork and bring it out to show you if you wanted).
Debbie Anderson (Dip. FD) runs the Rainham branch, and John and his wife Beverley are based there, along with Deana, Sharon, Mel and Amanda. Hayley is responsible for keeping it sparkling clean - every time we saw her she had a different cleaning product in her hand.
The Parkwood branch is run by Julia Stevens (Dip. FD). Formerly a hairdresser and then working for some time caring for people with mental health problems, Julia has been with the company for 12 years and absolutely loves her job. "There is never a day when I wake up and think that I don't want to go to work. Every day is different and it's so nice to be able to help people, to tell them about what options they have and what things they can do. I can't imagine doing anything else, ever."
The Gillingham branch is run by Theresa, and has the same smart decor and spic and span interior as Rainham and Parkwood. There are two chapels of rest and a holding area at the back where flowers can be received on funeral days. Theresa has been with the company for seven years and has the same feeling about her work as Julia does - she loves the autonomy of running her own branch and enjoys having people pop in to see her after the funeral has taken place.
The Chatham branch is run by Ben and Carol, and is slightly different to the others due to the tall narrow Victorian building that houses it. Two arranging rooms enable both Ben and Carol to be with families at the same time, and there are two chapels of rest on the ground floor. Upstairs there's a coffin showroom and an office, while steep winding stairs lead to the basement mortuary and prep room. There is a new bariatric fridge here too. Ben has been with the company for 13 years and also holds the Dip. F.D. - John is a keen advocate of formal training and encourages his staff to sit the Diploma if they want to.
Out of hours your call will be answered (and the person who has died will be collected) by Jim, Kevin, Malcolm or Ben.
There's a strong heritage of traditional funeral-making, but over the years they've also become highly regarded for their work with the Sikh, Hindu, Chinese and Traveller communities. The population of The Medway Towns is around 250,000 people, a constantly shifting and changing population as people come and go and move in and out of London. John Weir's work with all ethnic and cultural communities. And if you want something different they will be happy to help.
John will only very rarely recruit anyone with previous experience, so that he can train them the ‘Weir Way’. In turn, this lets him empower them to do what it takes so that the funeral meets your expectations. No wonder, then, that his staff are immensely loyal, many of them having been there for well over 10 years.
John is a stickler for detail and obsessed with ensuring that fail-proof systems are in place to cater for Plan B, Plan C and beyond. The arranger will call you the day before to double-check the details for the funeral and we reckon you can be sure that John and his team deliver on their promises each and every time. And if they don’t, they have a complaints procedure (which seems to be rarely invoked). Then the day after the funeral there will be a follow up call to make sure that everything was as you wanted. If, for some reason it wasn't, they want to know straight away so they can address it.
Many of the staff live in the community they serve. The arrangement process is well organised, but they are keen to point out that they encourage families to take their time, and change their mind if necessary. We liked all the arrangers - they are caring, creative and confidence-inspiring. We inspected the mortuaries at Chatham and Rainham and both are spotlessly clean, tidy, private, dignified and quiet.
We were very impressed that at Rainham they also have a large chapel of rest with a separate entrance, complete with lounge, toilet, and a kitchen and they will give you your own entry code so you can come and go as you please, any time of day or night. Many families have welcomed this, along with the freedom given to personalise the space. Some people have spent every night with their relative until the funeral, others come and go as they feel the need. One family asked if they could bring in their mother's furniture while she was there - the answer of course was yes.
All arranging staff are encouraged to train for the Diploma in Funeral Directing, and John likes the drivers to be members of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. In the garage, a large sign over the door under which each procession passes reads “Remember... you would expect nothing else other than excellence for your own family”.
- Prices here. Direct cremation £950 exclusive of third-party fees, eg, crematorium and doctors. Details here: DIRECT CREMATION SERVICE
- Your call will be answered by a member of the staff on a rota. They're all very nice.
- Home Visits - yes, they are happy to come to your home to arrange a funeral and often do this.
- Embalming - yes, but they explain what it is, and let you decide.
- Continuity of Care - the people who collect the person who has died will also take them to the funeral. The arrangers sometimes go to funerals (and can do on request). The company policy is that the funeral arranger has conduct of all matters prior to the funeral service taking place and for contact with clients afterwards.
- Family Participation - Yes, they have excellent preparation facilities - if you’d like to come in and wash and dress the person who has died then they’ll be there for you, to help you or leave you to it.
- Same Sex person to wash and dress - yes: just let them know.
- Ethnic Specialism - they are experienced in arranging funerals according to a wide range of customs, including Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Chinese and Traveller communities
- Local Celebrants - most people hereabouts favour a religious funeral. Good relationships with local clergy. If you want a secular celebrant (and a growing number of families do, John has noted a 25.5% increase in the use of secular celebrants in the last twelve months) they have a number on their books -- and they'll make sure they find you one you like.
- Home arranged funerals - Yes, they run a self help service where, if you want to handle some or all parts of the funeral yourself, you can buy in the services you need separately. If it's just a coffin you want, they'll be very happy to sell you one. Most funeral directors do not offer this service. and there is a detailed price list on their web site.
- Education - John and the staff speak to various groups (e.g. the WI, Mothers’ Union) about funerals and elderly-care issues and also appear on local radio phone-ins. They also have a well-equipped seminar room which allows them to host training for medical and police professionals.
- Web Site - they have a comprehensive website, with lots of information and showing prices for a wide range of coffins and other products and services.
- Client Support - you will be given a helpful booklet packed with information needed to register the death, arrange the funeral and begin to administer the estate. You will also be given a grief book, written by Dr Bill Webster. A local church holds a regular coffee morning and elderly bereaved customers are encouraged to attend. Should you need it, they can recommend a couple of bereavement counsellors. Each year they hold an annual service of remembrance, and when we first visited each branch had a Christmas tree adorned with tags bearing poignant messages from recently-bereaved customers.
- Parking - Rainham and Chatham have client parking behind the building, Parkwood has a large free car park adjacent, and at Gillingham there are residential roads just behind the branch where parking is available.
John is an immensely dedicated and likeable man and the team at John Weir are well trained, caring and efficient. Their priority is to look after the bereaved families that come to them, and to care properly for the dead people in their charge. The company motto is "The answer is yes, now what's the question", and they will do their utmost to ensure that each client gets the very best service possible.
Their prices are middle of the road, and they offer a direct cremation service as well as the self help service, with prices on the website and a transparent approach to everything they do. Their premises are well appointed and clean. We believe that they are committed to helping you create a good send-off and will do everything in their power to deliver on their promises, whether you’re looking for a traditional funeral or something a little different.
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.