Guest post by Ruth Phelps of www.borca.co.uk
I opened my stall on Norwich Market in January 2016 and stock sustainably-resourced willow, green ash and rush baskets from household laundry baskets to bike and log and picnic hampers and much more. I additionally stock Fairtrade baskets from Palestine and seek to expand Fairtrade products.
Three months ago, in one of those middle-of-the-night mad idea moments, I decided to sell willow bio-degradable coffins direct to the public. It was an experiment. I decorated with flowers and displayed a big 6’ 6” willow coffin outside my stall.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but hundreds of people from all over the country as well as overseas and locals have stopped to congratulate me on selling coffins in a very visible way and attracted by the price which undercuts Funeral Directors’ charges for something similar by hundreds of pounds. Most of the public, like me, also see the coffin on display as a mechanism to de-stigmatise a topic many are uncomfortable discussing and promote that discourse. The local BBC & Mustard TV came to film and I was featured in the Eastern Daily Press. BBC Radio Norfolk tell me that nearly 17,000 had accessed the feature on their Facebook page within a few days.
Sales are going well with half of my customers buying a coffin to store or to give to family to store and/or make into funky furniture in the meantime. The coffins are being turned into coffee tables, wardrobes and shelving units. My favourite idea is to use one as a wine-storage cupboard.
All the coffins meet the criteria for crematorium, natural and traditional cemeteries in the UK and are environmentally friendly and sustainable products. Of course, many willow, bamboo, seagrass and cardboard coffins are also available on the internet but many with few guarantees. I’ve found that people like to see what they are buying, can see the quality and are assured of a very competitive price from a supplier they know.
We live in a time where a death pre-payment plan is considered the norm; where folk get into debt to see a loved one off at a very vulnerable time of their lives. We live in a time where the only avenue seen by many for saying ‘good-bye’ is through the services of a funeral director and the costs keep spiralling up and up. Who can afford to die?
Whilst there will always be a demand for the usually excellent and sensitive services of a Funeral Director, increasingly people are objecting to the steep costs and are looking at DIY alternatives for all or part of the process. Environmentally, bio-degradable coffins and caskets make complete sense and natural burial sites are more and more popular although cremation still remains the cheaper option. Additionally, many people have said to me that they feel more in control and like choosing a coffin themselves in advance of the inevitable.
Some will donate their bodies to science and who knows how the disposal of bodies will be managed in future decades. But with a shortage of land and the planet in such peril from man-made global warming, a bio-degradable coffin at a more affordable fair price seems a small step in the right direction.