We need no more out of town death malls

Charles 10 Comments

Q: What’s Big Money to do? The industry big beasts, Dignity and Co-op, can’t make scale pay except by hiking prices (this may be incompetence). And funeral plans are beginning to look… well, decidedly subprime. 

A: Burn, baby, burn!

Yes, buying and building crematoria is the Next Big Thing in Funeralworld. Already we’re in the midst of our first nasty public spat. Mercia Crematorium Developments is in a ruckus over plans to build a crematorium at Hackington, Kent. Nearby Barham crematorium, owned by Westerleigh, is allegedly priming protestors, including  five undertakers and the Dean of Reculver, to abort the development. You can read about it here. There’s going to be more of this sort of thing according to senior analysts here at the GFG, just you watch. 

Memo to Big Money: Building crematoria is next best thing to feeding money into a blast furnace. Why? Because the way we do things now is bonkers, and when something’s bonkers someone’s bound to notice eventually, and when they do notice your bottom will fall out and we’ll all look back on the way we did things as the Age of Stupid

A funeral venue with an incinerator attached is nuts. More of the same won’t help us out of our present problem, which is: 

We’ve got too many incinerators and not enough venues

Our incinerators don’t work hard enough because they only function for an average of 6 or so hours a day, 250 days out of 365. The way to fix this is to house incinerators in nice wee buildings in around an acre or so of nicely landscaped grounds serving a number of funeral venues and operating round the clock all the days of the week. This would bring down the cost of cremation hugely. Add staffing costs to the raw cost of cremating someone — presently less than twenty quid for gas, leccy and reagent — plus the capital cost of the equipment, and you’re probably looking at something under £100. 

Okay, but what about the venue shortage, you cry. 

We’ve got more of them than we think. All manner of public and private spaces in the hearts of our commmunities are under-occupied from village halls and cricket pavilions to churches.

Yes, churches. Lovely things. We’ve got thousands of them, all echoingly underoccupied. Except that:

In Aberdeen, every Friday, Imam Ahmed Megharbi leads Muslim worshippers in their lunchtime prayers inside St John’s Episcopal Church in the city centre. His mosque had become too small for all his worshippers, so the incumbent, the Rev Isaac Poobalan, invited them in. Imam Megharbi and his flock seem wholly at ease with the Christian inconography all round them. You can read the full story here(£)

Let’s applaud the C of E for its ecumenical spirit and, at the same time, let us recall the words of CS Lewis: “A church is the only organization that exists primarily for the benefit of non-members.”

So it is that, down in Slough, an interesting thing has happened to the local C of E school. 75 per cent of its pupils are now Muslim, so it is conducting its assemblies without Christian hymns and has allocated separate prayer rooms to boys and girls. The headteacher, Paul McAteer,  says: “The Church of England describes itself as a faith for all faiths … Our assemblies consider humanitarian and spiritual issues that concern everyone. We don’t have it as part of our philosophy to do assemblies based on the Bible.”

Might our churches therefore be prepared to extend a welcome to all those who presently huddle outside the crem waiting for their 20 mins-worth?

Well, pretty much every funeral in Britain considers ‘humanitarian and spiritual issues’. Pretty much every funeral expresses spirituality of some kind. An awful lot have a Lord’s Prayer and The Lord’s My Shepherd. If the elastic of the C of E stretches to embrace worshippers of another creed, it seems already to have stretched quite far enough to embrace the troubled Vale and his ilk. Might it be agreeable to inviting them all to come on in and take all the time they like — and, if you want, the vicar can pop in at the end and dispense some juju?

I think it’s time we asked them. 


  1. Charles

    What a brilliant story of loving thy neighbours…..i love that image of the imman and the vicar in the joint place of worship – holy communion indeed.
    Timely post for me and my world at the moment, I have just been talking to a local baptist church who hires out its whole building facility to local businesses, charities, councils and local groups , to ask about their feelings if I hired the place for a civil funeral . They are very interested to meet and explore the concept and to hear more. In fact they are having a non religious funeral there next week…. CS Lewis – dream on ….Church is really supposed to be for the unchurched – go out and preach the Good News…. but all too often the feeling is that it’s a very cosy, very closed, members only local club….. ‘ for local people’…
    Obviously i realise some people would object to going there on the ‘church ‘ grounds but as many of the ceremonies I take include Christian elements I’d be surprised. … And it’s 2 miles from the Crem.

  2. Charles

    Invaluable post, great lateral thinking. Thanks.
    I’m all for village halls/community centres, if they are nice enough or can be made nice enough. Churches? Great idea. Some people might not want “churchy” surroundings, however much compassion the C of E shows by inviting them in if it’s a “probablist”/atheist ceremony.
    But any pleasant large enough space will do, given time to prepare it and make it your own (bit of an issue with churches, I guess!) After all, what we need is temporary “Shelter From The Storm” whilst we do this big stuff, with, I hope juju (new big word round here) of whatever sort and origin. And this also applies to green/natural burial grounds. Nice woodland one near ‘ere, but I’m getting a bit tired of watching elderly people get soaked, worrying about them, and curtailing the ceremony to get them inside asap!

  3. Charles

    Good luck Jed!
    Where I live there are some non-churchy churches. With state-of-the-art sound systems and projectors crying out for more funerals.

  4. Charles

    The dear old Church of England could reap the benefits of this. VAT could be easier to reclaim if their buildings were to become true multi-faith centres?

    Many Churches, like crematoria are seriously under-used.

  5. Charles

    Mosques wouldn’t reciprocate for Christians, and certainly not Jews. I also doubt atheists would actually respect Anglicans for their openness. They’d see it, not as ecumenism, but as a way of evengalising their non-faith, of eroding and diluting faith. An abuse of naive generosity.

    1. Charles

      I must have been in a foul mood when I wrote the above. The bit about atheists anyway. I retract it. I’m sure churches could be used more by non-religious people (if they don’t mind the religious symbols etc). As a proposed alternative to out-of-town crems, this is worthy of further consideration, certainly not outright dismissal.

  6. Charles

    Loving this idea, Jed.

    Today we’ve held a funeral chez Kingfisher, at which the local catholic priest came and said prayers, followed by coffee, followed by an essentially humanist ceremony (complete with I vow to thee my country, Jerusalem and the Lord’s Prayer). The priest said he felt uncomfortable, but all credit to him, he still came and played his part. He didn’t have to, and I have total respect for him because he did it.

    If a catholic priest can do this, there is surely untold potential for the C of E to get involved and diversify.

  7. Charles

    That’s encouraging Andrew. Well done him (and you.)

    I know of some RC and C of E Priests, who will not take a funeral at all unless it goes into their Church first. I respect them, but in practice this tough stance means many local FD’s encourage families to avoid them and pick a retired Minister who IS prepared to do 20 minutes at the crem – which is so much more convenient for the group FD with a busy diary to manage 🙂

  8. Charles

    Will resomation make cremation outmoded in the years to come? If so, will this help liberate funeral services from ‘chapels’ attached to the factory? I guess that depends on whether resomators are merely installed into existing crematoria as machinery upgrades, or new buildings are designed without the dual role.

  9. Charles

    This rich post is STILL giving me food for thought which I’ll share below the line for a change.
    In the next few years, the UK population is projected to rise by another five million to around 67 million, according to the Office of National Statistics.
    With around 260 UK crematoria burning around 426,000 bodies each year, they struggle to meet demand with their nine ‘til five office hours 250 days out of 365.
    Despite the ‘in and out’ processing of these out-of-town funeral venues-come-incinerating factories, the 72% of the population opting for them continues to rise.
    The companies profiting from meeting burgeoning demand logically conclude the answer is to build more, and in so doing improve service by lessening the burden on existing crematoria.
    It’s out-of-the-box thinking to provide the alternative of separating the funeral venue from the incinerator. There are indeed more central and congenial venues for funerals which, if adopted, would allow the crematoria of the future to be smaller, cheaper and quicker-turnaround incinerators.
    If business leaders in the industry aren’t seeing this, any change in the status quo will be grassroots, consumer-driven. The initial setback might be a reluctance among bereaved people to entrust a body to a factory without the additional trappings of a community centre for funerals.
    However, if alternative venues—whether town halls or churches—proved more fit for purpose than crem chapels, then they’d make the transition to separating funeral from cremation, re-uniting with the ashes at a slightly later date for their chosen form of committal.
    Another alternative is making the burning process more part of the funeral ritual, pyres witnessed by attendees rather than incinerators hidden from view. In the unlikely event of this ancient practice becoming widespread in our sanitised times, there’d no doubt be opposition from spokespeople from health and safety and air pollution outfits.
    And another alternative would be a return to fashion of burial, stimulating expansion of cemeteries and woodland burial grounds, and a change in the laws about re-using existing graves. Again unlikely in our death-denying and hygiene-obsessed age?

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