Another year older and closer to death..

Fran Hall 6 Comments
Fran Hall

So that was 2017, over and done with.

It was quite a year in Funeralworld. We lost one of the brightest stars, the founder of the Death Cafe movement, Jon Underwood, who died on 27th June 2017, tragically young at 44. Jon’s legacy is not only his two beautiful children, but the continuing spread of Death Cafes around the world; over 5,600 have been held so far, offering tens of thousands of people the chance to drink tea, eat cake and talk about death.

We saw the appointment in Scotland of the new Inspector of Funerals Directors, Natalie McKail, in a step towards the regulation of the funeral industry north of the border, something we are sure will be watched with interest in England and Wales.

We watched Dignity’s share price tumble by more than 25% over 12 months, opening at the beginning of the year at 2,447 and closing on Friday at 1,820 after CEO Mike McCollum warned of increasing competition eroding their pricing power.

We were informed of the disappearance of the CEO of the National Association of Funeral Directors, Mandie Lavin who is no longer in position – although as yet no explanation has been given to members.

We’ve seen the re-emergence of Howard Hodgson as a player behind the scenes of the Hospice Funerals franchise scheme, something we will continue to monitor and challenge as we go forward into 2018. We will be publishing the results of our survey early next month.

As for the Good Funeral Guide – well, we’re still here, watching and observing, participating in discussions and debates and doing the work that we are dedicated to; supporting, empowering and representing the interests of dying and bereaved people living in the UK.

We have added a further 12 funeral directors and two burial grounds to our recommended lists after they went through our stringent accreditation process, and we have several more companies waiting to be visited in the new year. Membership of the Good Funeral Guild has doubled in 2017, and there is a thriving networking group where thoughts, ideas and best practice are all freely shared.

Funerals are changing, there is no doubt of that, and it is largely thanks to the efforts of dedicated, challenging, committed individuals who are determined to give bereaved families the best possible experience at the worst time in their lives. We are proud to be associated with so many of you, and we will continue to support you as best we can using the platform that we have.

As we head into 2018, we have ideas and plans for new ways to keep the momentum going. We have meetings and collaboration planned with colleagues in the church, in celebrant organisations, with the Natural Death Centre charity and with SAIF, and we’ll be working hard to ensure we all go forward together with the best interests of bereaved families at the heart of all we do. We’re adding more information to our website so people can access free, unbiased and accurate guidance about funerals, and we’ll continue to publish our thoughts and opinions without fear or favour on this blog.

And lastly, we’re leaving some things behind. We’ll no longer be involved with the Good Funeral Awards. We think it’s time for new ways of celebrating what is good in the world of funerals.

Watch this space.

Happy New Year from all at Team GFG


  1. Fran Hall

    2017 ended with the Law Commission announcing a potential new law reform project called, “A Modern Framework for Disposing of the Dead”. The intro to this project makes it sound as though Promession/Cryomation are being carried out or actively developed and tested in some areas of the world. Does GFG or any of its members have any concrete info to support this?

    1. Fran Hall

      Ethan, it’s a bit mystifying why you, Charlie, Mary, Brad and Dr. Foster are adding so many comments to our blog posts referencing alternative methods of disposing of bodies. Apparently you are all at the same IP address in Edenbridge. If the subject is of such concern to so many of you in the same place, why not start your own blog?

  2. Fran Hall

    The Law Commission was seeking ideas for a project last year when the Institute, along with others, suggested that burial and cremation legislation in England & Wales is outdated and fragmented and requires modernisation suitable for the needs of bereaved people. Any new legislation should apply to all providers. Did you know that private cemeteries and most natural burial grounds are virtually unregulated?
    It is pleasing to note that the Law Commission has decided to take this project forward.

    In it’s submission to the Commission the Institute mentioned the fact that the Scottish Parliament swept aside ALL burial and cremation legislation and has introduced the Burial & Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016. The Scottish Government is currently drafting regulations to be made under the Act for the management, regulation and control of ALL cemeteries and crematoria (and funeral directors). In the Act there is provision to embrace any new forms of disposal that might come along. Therefore if the public embraces Promession, Cryomation, Resomation or even the microwave system that was suggested some years ago it can be made lawful in Scotland.

    Changing the subject slightly amended cremation regulations will be introduced into England & Wales on 6th April 2018. It was hoped that the regulation of the cremation of pre-term babies (pregnancy losses/ foetuses) would be included as they have in the Scottish Act mentioned above, but alas it was not. The Institute’s initial disappointment was eased as the Ministry of Justice stated that it remains the government’s intentions to regulate such cremations in the future however a conflict with the Cremation Act 1902 prevents this at present. So how did Scotland achieve this? They repealed the Cremation Act 1902 in Scotland and included modern provision in their new Act. The Law Commission has an ideal opportunity to recommend the same.

    Back to the point of alternatives to burial and cremation. When the Institute first began its campaign in 1985 to regulate the cremation of pre-term babies there were the shock horror statements made by some that we would be turning our crematoria into clinical waste disposal sites! Since that time the slow move forward in an unregulated fashion by followers of our guidance has led to virtually all UK crematoria cremating pre-term babies. The analogy here is that the introduction of any new form of disposal is likely to be a slow process once the shock/horror effect has been overcome by the continuous provision of accurate information. Remember, there was a riot when Dr Price cremated his son in Cardiff in the 1800’s but look where we are now.

    1. Fran Hall

      Yes, there are many areas of “corpse-processing” prior to disposal and “corpse-disposal” (be that burial, cremation, composting, alkaline hydrolysis, being sent into orbit or whatever) which are not regulated or are regulated in a patchy and confusing way. And personally, I would be happier with all of it being regulated, and the bits that are regulated being regulated more logically, although I know there will be some very good arguments about why that might not always be a good thing either. Disposal of animals seems to be governed by clearer and more scientific regulation than that of humans.

      And yes, I agree with you that it is a good thing that this project has been agreed by the Law Commission so let’s hope that they have the time and resources to carry it out and that the recommendations are a step forward and taken on board in Parliament and I hope this covers your point on cremation of pre-term babies too.

      I personally am not shocked or horrified by methods that people may choose to dispose of themselves but I can understand that some people might be. ‘ In general though, I do think that a lot of people think that once they’re dead they’re dead and it doesn’t really matter.

      But what does shock me is untrue claims by companies which then could affect people’s choices. For example, in some of the descriptions of Promession (of which there are many), an impression is created that a body is “crystallised” when frozen in liquid nitrogen to -196C and is easily broken up into small fragments. Neither of these statements are true. If someone wishes to be frozen to this temperature and broken up, all well and good. But it should not be sold to them on the basis that it is “greener” than other processes or “gentler” or “more natural” than other processes if it is not – and most certainly it should not be based on some kind of sci-fi belief that once you’ve been frozen down to that temperature every part of you will just crumble at the drop of a hat. That, for me personally, is the issue with cryomation/promession/ecolation – along with the issue that it’s not clear to the public whether they have ever been done to anything at all.

      Cremation clearly shocked people and has taken longer in some countries than others to achieve popularity – I assume mostly because of religious beliefs about the body remaining whole. But bodies had been burned for thousands of years — people knew what it meant and that it definitely could be done. So I do not think that a comparison with apparently non-existent new processes is necessarily an “accurate” comparison.

      Alkaline hydrolysis exists and has been done in several settings to both humans and animals. Done in a certain way, it guarantees that prions are fully denatured. Whether it is greener than efficient cremation or natural burial I do not know as the data is not available for the full scope of all these processes from start to finish for an accurate comparison. I have no objection to it personally – but again it may not be correct to “sell” it to people on the basis of greenness without the data. Also, I think that the use of the phrase “water cremation” is not particularly truthful. We are talking about a strong alkali along with heat and pressure. Why make it sound like a baptism or a dip in a babbling brook? It is a corrosive process – just like a strong acidic process would be. Again, here it is not the method which shocks me personally if it is hygienic and no more damaging to the environment in total than any other method – it’s the selling method.

      Maybe that could be regulated too. Otherwise, I see us getting less and less green – more and more private crematoria cremating smaller and smaller numbers of people less efficiently and a plethora of other methods which some members of the public will choose out of a desire for greenness but without the data on which to make this decision.

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