Imagine this: when someone dies we don’t hand them over to strangers

Charles 1 Comment



When the GFG, in conjunction with the Plunkett Foundation, announced a community funerals initiative back in 2012, we supposed that someone might pick it up and run with it. The Plunkett Foundation, far cleverer than us, was pretty confident they would.  They contacted all their community shops and community pubs and we waited with bated breath to see what happened next.

Absolutely nothing. Zilch. Squat.

So we are really pleased to learn of the emergence of a community funerals initiative on the other side of the world – in SE Australia in the steel town of Port Kembla, a place where, according to its community enterprise website, “no one wanted to live” until recently, but “now there is a change in the atmosphere”. It does look a bit like one of those unprepossessing places that brings out the best in people.

The purpose of the Port Kembla community funerals enterprise is to “empower people around death and dying, and offer a not for profit funeral service that is affordable and highly personalised to support healthy bereavement.” It is called Tender Funerals.

Tender Funerals will “offer affordable and flexible services and a transparent fee structure, to minimise the financial impact of funeral care. It will counter the idea that the amount of money spent on a funeral is a reflection of the amount a person was loved.”

“Tender Funerals will offer personalised services that demystify death and dying, and involve a model of community support, to assist healthy bereavement. This will include unique offerings of information and support, funeral services that celebrate and acknowledge both a person’s death and their life, and support and facilitation of active participation and community support in funeral care.”

They will also create an education programme to teach people about issues around death and dying: “We will develop and implement a community development model to provide ongoing support and community awareness … By providing a more open approach to death and the process around caring for the dead it is envisaged that people will become for familiar with death as an inevitable part of life.”

“Tender Funerals is re–imagining the way in which we as a community deal with death and provide a context within which the community is informed and empowered to ensure that the end of life process is one which is meaningful, authentic and good value.

“It will be a community resource and a funeral care provider that responds to shifts in community needs, attitudes, ideas and experiences in relation to death and dying.

“It will also develop a model for not-for profit funeral care that supports healthy bereavement, and empowered decision making at end of life, which can be replicated in other communities.”

The Port Kembla Community Project already has a scheme which offers no-interest loans up to $1,000.

Tender Funerals is presently crowdfunding to raise the money it needs to get off the ground. Check out the vision statement.

Its originators have had a film made about them – you can see the trailer at the top of the page.

Here at the GFG we’ve sent them a few bob to help them on their way. And we wish them every possible success.


  1. Charles

    We looked into this kind of set-up very seriously, inspired by the GFG initiative. We worked on opening our second branch as a community funeral social enterprise scheme, running off the back of our first office, so that St Neots (our existing branch) provided the expertise and the facilities and Huntingdon (our then-branch-to-be) became the ‘social’ centre. We own because we were really serious about the idea.

    Unfortunately, we couldn’t make the business plan of the scheme work, because the figures just didn’t add up. I have no qualms about giving numbers, so to give you an idea – rent, rates, utilities, insurance and one member of staff (we decided this was vital – supplemented by volunteers) gave an operating cost of around about £55,000 per year. That’s before the one-off costs of opening an office – furniture, paint, stationery, computer etc.

    We needed to ‘sell’ the services of our St Neots branch (ie the use of the mortuary and cooling system, coffin, use of a removal vehicle and equipment which need servicing and replacing every so often) for about £400 per funeral.

    So a social enterprise scheme funeral needed to cost £400 plus (£55000 divided by the number of funerals we thought we’d help with) plus disbursements.

    Let’s just say that in the first year we’d help with one funeral a week. A cremation at our local crematorium without a celebrant (because it would be volunteer-led) needed to cost £2266 – compared with our basic funeral cost of £2139 which includes a celebrant.

    To keep the cost below £2000 we’d need to be helping with 70 funerals a year from the word go. The difference in cost between what we offered already and what we’d want to offer was negligible.

    Aside from costs, there was also the question of liability and vetting of volunteers. What would happen if a volunteer went into someone’s house to help with cooking or mowing the lawn, and stole all their jewellery? Who would be responsible?

    We’ve just opened our second office – in Huntingdon. We’ve decided to run it along the same lines as our existing business in St Neots, not as a social enterprise scheme, but we want to develop it to become somewhere that people who have lost someone can come and spend time together. If that fired off just one new friendship it would be worthwhile. We have plans to start a bereavement drop-in group one morning a week, and we’ve been approached by a qualified counsellor with a view to starting something more formal.

    That’s not to say we won’t ever develop the social enterprise scheme or a community interest company. The whole idea needs more work to become a viable proposition. Solicitors, accountants, banks, probably police and criminal vetting need to be involved.

    Sadly that all costs money which has the effect of raising prices – the opposite of the intention of the movement.

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