Recommended Funeral Directors
Poppy’s Funerals Ltd.
Address: The Gatehouse, Lambeth Cemetery, Blackshaw Road, London SW17 0BY
Poppy Mardall and her colleagues Isabel, Kate, Rosanna and Philippa. Poppy, a fine-arts graduate, started the company after leaving her previous role as deputy director at Sotheby’s to work out how to do something with her life that was ‘meaningful and frontline’. Personal experience had led her to do some research into the funeral industry, and although never planning to be an undertaker, she was shocked to find how rigid and stereotypical the business was. She had been drawn to the subject of death and dying because it seemed to be an unfashionable subject, and this made her feel it truly needed work. Given some wise advice from the Natural Death Centre that ‘families don’t need lots of ‘middle-men’, they just need someone who can help them with practical things’, Poppy set about becoming just that.
She had never seen a dead body before deciding to enter the funeral world, but after researching the training options available and being disappointed by what she found, Poppy decided to try and gain experience by spending time with undertakers. She visited funeral directors and asked to spend time in their businesses, then spent months mostly in mortuaries and behind the scenes before launching Poppy’s Funerals in 2012.
From the beginning, the company was different – Poppy has clear ideas about what is important and her mission is to empower and support people to have the funeral that is right for them She believes passionately in helping people to take creative control of their funerals, with the support and encouragement from Poppy’s Funerals’ staff if needed. Poppy is very hands on, but also strongly supportive of her growing team and keen that they feel empowered to run funerals themselves. “They are all legends, fabulous, kind, genuine people who are quite capable of helping families with their funerals. I step in when I’m needed, but I’ve had to move my office out of the main office to stop myself getting involved in everything.” With a one year old daughter and a determination to keep a good work life balance, Poppy spends time away from work with her husband and family and friends, and loves live music, travel, and swimming in the sea.
The business operates from the most beautiful premises, a lovely light Victorian building in the grounds of Lambeth Cemetery. Formerly the cemetery office, Poppy’s Funerals now has the use of the entire building, with three airy reception rooms downstairs used for family meetings, and the offices located upstairs. A few steps away is one of the original chapels which now houses Poppy’s bespoke mortuary – unlike any other we have visited – and a small family room where families can spend time with the person who died. Everywhere in both buildings there is the same feeling of light and air; the meeting rooms are comfortable and stylishly furnished, uncluttered by any brochures or funeral-related displays, with the trademark poppies branding in vinyl on the glass of the windows ensuring privacy from passing eyes. The mortuary space is high ceilinged, with sunlight streaming in through the arched windows. The new hardwood flooring complements the light wooden paneling on the walls left over from the days that this building was used for funeral ceremonies – there is no plastic flooring here. Large fridges in one corner face coffins on neat racking, and there is a spacious washing area where families are welcome to come and help wash and dress their relative ready for their funeral.
Since the early days, when the office was in Poppy’s bedroom and she rented facilities firstly from other funeral directors and then from a public mortuary and hired equipment as she needed, the ethos of the company has been the same. Kind, genuinely warm people helping bereaved families have a better experience of funerals by supporting them with whatever they want or need at the time. Poppy herself completely embodies the values of her company, and she has drawn some of the nicest people to work with her.
Isabel Potter was on her way to work one day when she read an article about the then fledgling company and immediately felt a strong urge to hand in her notice and go and work with Poppy doing funerals differently. She lasted a few weeks before meeting Poppy and starting work with her, doing whatever was needed, and is now one of the two senior managers in the small team of six. Isabel is passionately devoted to her work, and her enthusiasm for it is as strong as Poppy’s. “She’s so infectious,” Isabel said, “Poppy is so determined to change the world of funerals for the better and you just can’t help being inspired by her.”
Kate Brewer, the other senior manager, is an artist who was working as a florist when a friend told her about Poppy’s Funerals. She has now been with the company for two years, and loves every day and every aspect of her work. We asked her if she found her job fulfilling? “More than I could ever have dreamt,” she replied, becoming quite emotional as she spoke. “I can’t imagine ever doing anything else.” Both Isabel and Kate look after funerals as well as working closely on projects with Poppy to develop the business.
Philippa joined the company a year ago. Her role is Office Co-ordinator, and as well as being the main answerer of the phone, she deals mainly with the logistics, ordering coffins, booking crematoria, cemeteries and churches and liaising with coroners, vicars and mortuaries. Like all the Poppy’s team, she is hands on with funerals whenever needed, and when we visited she and her colleague Rosanna had just completed a Simple Cremation at Lambeth Crematorium just across the way. It is a perfect arrangement, as the coffin is simply taken from the mortuary in the old chapel through the grounds of the cemetery to the crematorium early in the morning – simple, straightforward and cost effective.
Rosanna is the newest of the five women in the team – like all the staff at Poppy’s, she came into the job from outside the funeral business so had no preconceptions of how a funeral ‘should’ be carried out. Rosanna’s main role is running funerals, something she completely loves. The sixth member of the team is Frazer, the only man currently full time. This isn’t a deliberate thing; it just happens that the best people for the job have so far been mostly female. Other freelance staff, both men and women, come and help as and when they are required.
All five of the women at Poppy’s take turns looking after the phones after hours, and once a family makes contact with the company, they will deal with the same member of staff throughout, from the family meeting to the day of the funeral and beyond.
If you want a traditional style black funeral with a hearse and limousines then Poppy’s can do that. Or if you want a simpler version with either the silver Ford Galaxy or the ‘Poppymobile’ (a decorated Mercedes Vito with a lovely hand made wooden deck) then that’s what you get. Or any variation in between. They will do whatever it is that you want. Their standard attire is either a smart green fleece with black trousers and shoes or black suits, though they will wear anything that a family wants them to. They’re very keen to encourage family involvement too – family members of any age, from 8 to 80, are welcome to carry the coffin if they want to and are encouraged to do so. Poppy’s also offer an stripped down ‘A to B’ service, transport only for families in Greater London wanting to organise a funeral without a funeral director but who need a little help with getting the body ‘from a to b’ on the day.
Everyone at Poppy’s has the same passion for down to earth, personal, professional service for the families that choose them. Everyone utterly believes in giving families whatever they want or need from a funeral, and they pride themselves on giving honest, straightforward advice – as much or as little as is needed. Overridingly, Poppy and all her team believe in caring for the dead people in their charge with gentle, careful hands and looking after them as if their families were standing beside them. Each dead person is called by name, there is no ‘deceased’ at Poppy’s, nor is there any embalming. Simple, natural and caring, completely professional yet totally human, the Poppy’s team brings a refreshing new approach to funerals that attracts admiration and respect from all they encounter.
Pretty much everything. The best way to see this is to look at their excellent website. If you like it, then Poppy’s Funerals is probably just right for you. If your reaction is different, then you’ll probably be better looking for another type of funeral director. Everyone at Poppy’s is very conscious that their way of approaching funerals is not for everyone, and would be completely unfazed if a family decided not to use their service after meeting them. They positively encourage clients to be sure they are comfortable with the way they work, nothing worries them more than a family not being completely happy with the funeral arrangements. They are fiercely proud of what they do and conscious of how incredibly important it is to get everything right, every time. They would much rather you went somewhere else than stayed with them and weren’t happy.
Poppy is very keen to spread the word about doing funerals differently, and takes education very seriously, providing myth busting / behind the scene talks for local healthcare professionals or anyone else who is interested. The company also runs a very successful rolling five-day internship programme for people who are keen to come and spend time behind the scenes. They are always on the lookout for great people to join their team and fall in love with the work just as they have all done.
- Prices here and here. Simple cremation £1950 all-in - A to B service for those wanting minimal help £750
- Your first call will be answered by Poppy, Isabel, Philippa, Kate or Rosanna – whoever is nearest the phone (or whoever is on call if after hours).
- Home visits – Yes, totally happy to make arrangements either at your home or at their premises. Just tell them which you’d prefer.
- Family participation – Absolutely yes – this is positively encouraged. As much participation as you want.
- Same sex person to wash and dress? Yes, no problem.
- Embalming – There is no embalming at all at Poppy’s. Bodies are left in their natural state with no invasive procedures.
- Ethnic specialism ‘We help anyone who wants our help. The only thing we don’t do is embalm but this has never got in the way of helping a specific ethnic group.’
- Home arranged funerals – Of course. Poppy’s are happy to act as a helping hand or consultant for families caring for their dead person at home and do so quite regularly. Their A to B service is available for families who need assistance with transport but otherwise want to do everything themselves.
- Local celebrants – In their experience choosing a celebrant is a very personal choice so they might suggest three to five and suggest the family call them to find someone they really connect with.
- Website – Superb. Good looking, reflecting completely the look, feel and values of the company. Prices clearly displayed and an option to create a ‘Wish List’ noting down funeral plans and estimated costs, either for now or for the future, which can be saved or e-mailed to family or friends.
- Client support – Extremely good. You will have one person taking care of your funeral arrangements throughout. E-mails and phone calls answered straight away, and for families needing a little more support the staff member looking after you will happily call you daily to make sure everything is proceeding as you want.
- Money matters – Very good value. The prices are clearly displayed to one side of the home page of the website so you can see at a glance the costs involved in the various options offered. There’s nothing hidden, and no up-selling. They provide only what you want and need, and believe everyone has the right to an affordable funeral.
- Parking – Absolutely loads of space to park. As you drive in the gates to Lambeth Cemetery Poppy’s offices are in the gatehouse on the right, and there is free parking on the roads inside the grounds.
This is a business with a huge heart. Not only do they give their clients unstinting support and encouragement, they truly believe that a meaningful, authentic, personal funeral has the power to change lives for the better, and they consider it their duty to try and achieve this for everyone that comes to them. Poppy Mardall has created a wonderful, ground-breaking new type of funeral directing in London, and her team of equally lovely people are passionately involved and completely devoted to what they are doing. Their aim is to change the world they operate in for the better, one funeral at a time. From what we saw, they are doing this every day. London is lucky to have them.