The GFG and the Natural Death Centre charity have long enjoyed an unofficial mutual admiration – nothing ever written down, but a kindred fellowship of ideas and ideals.
Founded in 1991 by the late Nicholas Albery and his wife Josefine Speyer, the charity was set up with three aims in mind:
- To help break the taboo around dying and death, and to make it a natural topic to discuss over dinner.
- To bring the dying person back to the centre of proceedings and enable them to die at home if they so wished.
- To empower people and make them aware of their legal rights and choices, taking the power away from institutions.
The NDC inspired the whole of today’s movement towards individuals reclaiming dying and death as a natural part of life, encouraging people to take control of the end of life in much the same way as the natural childbirth movement encouraged women to reclaim birth as a natural process.
It encouraged Ken West OBE to begin the natural burial movement in 1993, and encouraged him and others “to be iconoclasts and attack the so-called traditions” according to Josefine.
It was the NDC that inspired Charles Cowling to start the Good Funeral Guide, and the NDC that encouraged the late Jon Underwood to found the Death Cafémovement in the UK.
The home funeral network and the death doula movement took inspiration and encouragement from the existence of the NDC, and countless families have used the Natural Death Handbook for guidance and support in caring for their dying and dead relatives.
It has had astounding success for a small charity, and all of us in the progressive funeral world owe the NDC a great deal. So to find the NDC sharing exhibition space with Dignity Funerals at this year’s National Funeral Exhibition was a surprise, to say the least.
To move from the robust stance against ‘juggernaut firms committed to feeding share-holders and venture capitalists at the expense of the customer’ as recorded in this 2012 NDC press release to the charity accepting an offer of free exhibiting space on Dignity’s stand at the biennial national trade exhibition seems to have been a huge change of tack.
The directors of the GFG felt compelled to outline their concerns at how this connection between the NDC and Dignity might be perceived. We couldn’t understand how it had come about, nor the reasoning behind it. We laid out our thoughts in an e-mail to the trustees of the charity last week, and then met with two of the trustees at the weekend.
From this meeting, our understanding is that the NDC is very approving of Dignity’s recently launched direct cremation service, as it provides the cheapest direct cremation service nationally.
It appears that they also feel they will be able to positively influence the decisions and strategic direction that Dignity takes through dialogue and discussion with the company, and therefore the charity has taken the decision to have ongoing talks with Dignity representatives.
Our misgivings are that the founding principles of the Natural Death Centre are in danger of being appropriated to enhance the reputation of Dignity PLC at a time when the company’s share price has slipped by over 70% and their main strategic objective is to ‘protect market share and reposition the Group for growth’ (see page 10 of Dignity’s most recent Annual Report).
We fear that the NDC charity’s history and good name are of great value to a company with 830 branches nationwide, and being seen to be in close connection to Dignity in any way, without any resulting, visible improvements in Dignity’s strategy and practice, is potentially perilous. We think that the charity’s hopes for positive influence on such a ‘juggernaut firm’ are optimistic.
However, we wish the Natural Death Centre the very best of luck in their aims.
It’s a big task ahead.