Guest post from Jonathan Taylor, independent funeral celebrant in Totnes.
(That’s not his photo above, by the way.)
We are always delighted to receive guest posts from long time readers of the GFG blog, and this one is very topical given the obsession with ‘whacky funerals’ from the media (most recently the Nigerian man who buried his father in a brand new car, see here) and the keenness of Co-operative Funeralcare to position itself as ‘a thought leader on funeral trends and to tackle the misconception that large funeral directors were impersonal’ in pumping out PR about bespoke funerals -see here.
Over to you Jonathan.
I’m often asked, regarding my work with funerals; “What is the whackiest funeral you’ve ever done?”
It went like this. Well, as a matter of fact almost all of them have gone like this:
A gaunt figure in faux-Victorian fancy dress, carrying a silver-capped cane and black leather gloves, slowly led a specially adapted, shiny black vehicle, followed by two extremely long motor cars carrying the family, up the crematorium drive.
A lozenge-shaped veneered box with brass-effect plastic handles, topped by a floral wreath and containing the dead person’s body, was visible through the high glass sides of the leading vehicle as it pulled up by the door. Four pinstripe-clad gentlemen bowed to the box with an air of contrived solemnity resembling some obscure parody of grief, and carried it into a mock-ecclesiastical chapel and onto a roller-topped bench within a curtained area, before melting away mysteriously to allow Mister Macabre to usher his victims into parallel rows of benches a short distance from the corpse.
Everyone listened to a tribute to the person whose funeral it was, spoken by me as I stood between the living and the dead. Someone read a poem for him, the curtains closed over the coffin to his favourite tune, and the attendant signalled the allotted time was up. Black Glove bowed to the curtains and lubricated everyone’s way outside round the back, where he put the coffin flowers on display and stood clasping his top hat with an air of restless patience before driving off to meet another wood-effect box for a similar procedure; and the chief mourners departed, tangibly relieved, in the expensive cars that passed an identical cortège of vehicles, led by another Dickensian character, on its way up the drive.
Weird enough. But when I’ve asked bereaved families why they’d chosen this particular style of grieving ritual, they’ve mostly been at a loss to explain.
We’d like to ask for a few minutes of your time to respond to two important funeral related consultations.
The first is the Funeral Market Study by the Competition and Markets Authority. This forms part of a year long study into the state of the British funeral market which will examine how competition between funeral directors works and transparency issues in the provision of funerals, and will also look at competition in the crematoria segment of the industry.
For anyone who has an opinion on transparency of ownership or pricing of funerals, it is important that your voice is added to the responses that will be received. You can download the CMA Statement of Scope here. Responses are requested by June 28th 2018.
The second, parallel consultation is the Government’s Call for Evidence to aid in the design for a more appropriate regulatory framework for the pre-paid funeral plan sector. The government is particularly interested in views from all affected stakeholders, including funeral plan providers, funeral directors, insurers, asset managers, introducers, actuaries, solicitors, and consumer interest groups. The consultation document can be downloaded here. The consultation closes on August 1st 2018.
We’ve waited a long time for the government to show some interest in the funeral industry, so let’s make sure that the voices that are heard are telling them what is actually happening.
Here at GFG Towers we rarely get a night out, so it was rather a shock to get to go to the cinema twice in one weekend – so much so that we’ve only just recovered enough to write about it. (One film is out there available for you to go and see, while the other is yet to be screened for the public, we went to a private screening by invitation only – a first for the GFG!)
Links to trailers for both films are at the foot of this page.
On Friday, we joined the audience at the London UK premier of A Love That Never Dies, the film made by Jimmy Edmonds and Jane Harris for The Good Grief Project as a way of honouring the memory of their son Josh, who died in a road accident six years ago. (A post on this blog featured the film Jane and Jimmy made of his funeral in 2011)
A Love That Never Dies portrays the road trip that Jane and Jimmy made across the United States, meeting other bereaved parents on the way and hearing them talk about their grief. The film is beautiful, the stories powerful and compelling, and the portrayal of grief in its many forms is unflinching and unafraid. Some people may find this film difficult to watch because of the raw emotion voiced by parents whose children’s lives have been cut short. We found it captivating. This is an important film. If you want to truly learn from people who are living with grief, then find a screening near you and go and see it.
The second film of the weekend was shown to an invited audience only at the Duke of York’s Picture House in Brighton, the oldest cinema still currently in use in the UK. Dead Good is an independent feature documentary following the work of the team at ARKA Original Funerals, one of the GFG Recommended funeral directors and pioneering champions of empowering families to reclaim the care of their dead.
Three extraordinary families allowed the filmmakers unprecedented access to follow their journeys through the limbic space between a death occurring and the funeral ceremony, and as an audience we were privileged to share their experiences as they were gently supported to be as involved as they wanted in the care of the person who had died, and the creation of the ceremony to honour their memory.
Thought provoking, stunningly crafted and shot – and occasionally unexpectedly humorous, this is a ground-breaking film that challenges much of what we have come to accept as being the norm regarding arranging a funeral.
The standing ovation for Rehana Rose, the director, producer and cinematographer responsible for creating this beautiful film was utterly deserved.
Editor’s note: Although it is not yet on general release, the team behind Dead Good hope that it will be picked up by a distributor or screened at a film festival soon. Follow them on social media to stay informed @DeadGoodFilm on Twitter and Facebook
See the trailer for A Love That Never Dies here:
And the sneak preview of Dead Good here:
The GFG blog has long taken an interest in the goings on of Mark Kerbey, aka Richard Sage.
In fact there have been 18 blog posts since 2008 about his antics – see here
So when we received a couple of e-mails from long standing readers pointing us to this article in the Basildon Canvey and Southend Echo, we were unsurprised to see that Mr Sage is appearing in court in Basildon at this very moment, denying three counts of fraud by misrepresentation.
The charges are that between August 2012 and October 2014, three couples handed over thousands of pounds to Mr Sage in payment for funeral plans that apparently were not arranged.
The trial began yesterday and is due to last three days.
Mr Sage appeared in the dock on crutches and with one arm in a sling. The reasons for this were not mentioned by the Echo.
We’ll keep you posted as to the verdict.
Update 23.05.18 – The jury found Mr Sage guilty of one count of fraud. Sentencing has been postponed until June 25th to enable Mr Sage’s medical treatment for his injured hand to be continued. See today’s newspaper report here.
Team GFG are honoured to have been invited to be part of an advisory committee to support a pioneering new study that is being launched today to try and discover how much funerals really matter. And we are happy to help spread the word about it to encourage people to sign up as participants.Please share this information far and wide to reach as many people as possible.
The research is being carried out to identify which aspects of funerals people find helpful, and to see whether funerals have an impact on long term wellbeing. It is hoped that this knowledge will then be used to support people in the best way possible.
Sarah Jones, from Full Circle Funerals in Guiseley, West Yorkshire is the inspiration behind the project.
In her role as a funeral professional, she realised that although there is a common assumption that a ‘Good Funeral’ is helpful for bereaved individuals and communities, debate remains about what constitutes a ‘Good Funeral’ and how funeral directors can best support the families they work with.
In addition, after carrying out an in-depth literature review, Sarah noted that while authors and industry experts proport that funerals, funeral attendance and the presence of rituals are helpful in supporting better bereavement outcomes, and while it is suggested that if individuals feel more in control and are more involved in planning or participating in the funeral, then this is beneficial; most of the published literature consistent of anecdotes, reflections and expert opinion – and no prospective cohort study has been carried out to date.
There seemed to be a gap. And Sarah set about filling it.
She has designed a comprehensive project with advice from Dr. Julie Rugg, Senior Research Fellow at the University of York, who sits on the advisory panel along with Reverend Ruth Dowson, from Leeds Beckett University, who combines her academic interest in events management with theological perspectives, Julie Dunk, Chief Executive of ICCM, the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management and Terry Tennens, Chief Executive of SAIF, the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors.
It’s a stellar line up, and everyone involved can see the enormous potential merit in the proposed study. The preparation and planning is all done, the design and method have been agreed, and the procedure and timetable signed off. Now we simply need to find participants.
So, if you would like to take part, what’s involved?
Firstly, you need to be over the age of 18, and to have attended the funeral of a close relative. You need to feel willing and able to discuss your experience without this causing you any undue stress or anxiety.
If this description fits and you feel that you would like to participate, you will be asked to answer some questions with the researchers, either on the phone or face to face (depending on what you prefer and where you live). This can take place either at your home or at Full Circle Funerals in Guiseley. The interview is likely to take between one and two hours. It is likely that most participants will be asked to complete a further questionnaire after six months and approximately one year, either by e-mail or by phone, and all answers will be anonymised and handled in confidence. Ethical and legal practice will be followed at all times.
Full details can be found on the participant information sheet here.
If you would like to help with this important work, please contact Sarah on 01943 262626 or email@example.com
The webpage about the research project can be found here.
Please pass on details of this study to anyone you think might be interested in taking part.
An open letter to SAIF, the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors from Cara Mair, Director, ARKA Original Funerals, sent 4th May 2018.
Dear all at SAIF
I write this to you as a longstanding member of SAIF, in the hope that you will not see this letter negatively, but more as a positive tool to allow you to look at how SAIF can move forward. I hope that this letter will begin a dialogue on how the training that you offer can be more inclusive and how, at the heart of this training, should be the empowerment of the community that we serve. Where we find ourselves today in this fast-changing society let us be the disruptors and not the disrupted. To be truly bold and take leadership in this area and create a legacy that other independent funeral directors can build upon.
I have worked in the funeral world since 1998, beginning my days as a chauffeur/bearer at the Co-op in Brighton. After that experience, I trained as a freelance embalmer and worked with many funeral directors across the South East. My first hand experience of working in this secretive funeral world was dismal and I was adamant that I would stay in this profession and make a difference. In November 2003 ARKA Original Funerals opened in Brighton and since then things have changed in the funeral world and there have been many reasons for this. From The Natural Death Centre and The Good Funeral Guide showing how we as a community can be more involved. To forward-looking, inclusive funeral directors such as ARKA, Green Funeral Company etc and of course technology allowing the public to be far more informed re choice and insight into the funeral process. All of these factors have been key to increasingly making a difference ensuring that funeral directors are held more accountable for the way that we work. I also believe that there are many things that would not have changed in the funeral industry if it were not for pioneers like those mentioned above.
With twenty years’ experience, I know of many people and organisations working within this industry who could put a comprehensive training programme together that would benefit us all. There is more and more discussion about how being more involved with the care of the deceased can help people through the grieving process. The communities that we serve should have the right to be supported in caring for their dead and not be ‘protected’ by the ‘professionals’.
I attended the AGM of SAIF in Brighton in March this year. The whole experience was very disappointing. There was also much disgruntlement about how SAIF was representing us all. To focus on pre-paid funeral plan selling as a way to secure your business in the future is an extremely narrow viewpoint. This is such a blinkered vision of how things could proceed. These plans are marketed so aggressively and instead of empowering the public to take control of decisions (as they’re so often marketed as) they are instead further disempowering people and misinforming many. This whole process is contemptible scare mongering and I am sure that you know that you will not keep up with the big boys in this area.
What I find so disheartening was how you totally dismiss the progressive movement that is happening, both with new independents opening up and also individuals supporting funerals in new ways. To move SAIF forward and to mark independent funeral directors distinctly apart from the corporates is to be outstanding in the quality of support we can offer in the way that we work and present ourselves. To work in a refreshing empowering way that the corporates cannot compete with.
The training that you offer, as you are probably aware, is out of date. You focus on what you can sell rather than what you can give. You come from a stance of protecting yourselves rather that empowering others. Your training should include how we communicate to the public by looking at changing the use of the language that is bandied around and more insight into how we can offer permission to people to be involved in looking after their own dead.
There is really nothing that sets you apart from the corporates in the public eye. You dress the same. You put false value in things such as cars. You are secretive. You pay no importance to the collection and ‘care of the deceased’.
I propose to you that your training should be developed to include a natural way of looking after a body and to become more creative in looking at the role of the Funeral Director in the 21st century. Here’s how it could be achieved.
Each organisation should have a representative who would be knowledgeable, capable and willing to support families with a more hands on approach in looking after their dead. This representative could also support the other staff that you have to ensure that the environment is supportive and safe.
Believe me, this will not only help your organisation, but will also give much more work satisfaction to the people that are involved in your company and you will feel prouder of the support that you can offer.
This letter comes from a place of caring and of concern that what you stand for will rapidly disappear if you do not drastically change what you are doing and how you represent others. I ask that you seriously consider the points I have raised and not hide from what needs to happen.
I am up for a conversation, to go through these points and to find some solutions as to how you will still exist in a more empowering way for both the public and your members within this fast-moving landscape.
I very much look forward to hearing from you.
Director, ARKA Original Funerals
We’ve been pondering on an important subject.
In 21st century Britain, many of us may not have seen or spent time with the body of someone who has died. We may not have witnessed the profound absence of person in the familiar features of a corpse, nor experienced the thoughts and emotions of being in the presence of a dead person.
Death has become increasingly separated from our busy lives, most frequently occurring in hospitals or hospices, rather than at home surrounded by a family keeping vigil.
Most dying people are thus set apart from the rest of us, and once death has occurred, their bodies are usually collected by a funeral director, who keeps them in their custody until the date of the funeral. Our dead no longer stay among us.
Spending time with our dead has become something that needs to be arranged by appointment, usually in the unfamiliar surroundings of a ‘chapel of rest’ at an undertaker’s premises.
In addition, in recent years, the incidence of ‘no funeral’ funerals has risen, with a large increase in the number of direct cremations. Often this means that the body of the person is not encountered again at all, not even in a closed coffin.
We’ve decided that we would like to learn about this separation between the living and the dead. We think there’s something significant happening and, as far as we know, nobody is examining it.
If you could let us know about your own experience, this will help us begin to compile a picture of where our relationship with our dead is in 2018.
We have compiled a short, anonymous survey that takes just a few minutes to complete – the link to it is here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/OurDead
We’ll publish the findings here on the GFG website.
Depending on what we discover, the results even encourage more scholarly academic types to instigate some formal research into the changing shape of connection with our dead.
Thank you in advance
We were pleased to receive an e-mail recently advising us that the National Association of Funeral Directors has appointed an interim CEO, some four months since the role became vacant.
It’s been quite a while without a steady hand at the NAFD tiller, and taking on the tasks that would normally be the responsibility of the CEO must have been immensely demanding on the current president, Alison Crake, her vice presidents and the officer team. We’re sure that they are all very pleased to have the esteemed Graham Lymn come on board to step into the empty CEO shoes, albeit temporarily.
As part of his role, Mr. Lymn will be ’assisting the Officer team with recruitment of a permanent incumbent and providing an extensive handover, enabling the new recruit to quickly understand the unique challenges of the funeral industry.’
We presume that this won’t take up all of Mr. Lymn’s time over the next six to nine months, so, from an interested outside observer’s point of view, we’d like to offer some suggestions of other areas that we think would be really productive for him to focus on, to help make the ‘Voice of the Profession’ relevant in today’s rapidly changing world of funerals.
- The All Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement. Open this up to others, not just the NAFD and their paid secretariat, Brevia. In an age when there are so many challenges facing bereaved people and the funeral profession, it is completely wrong that the only group in Parliament discussing these subjects is controlled and dominated by a single organisation, representing the interests of funeral directors. There needs to be collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure bereaved people are better served.
- The NAFD Code of Practice. Develop a code of practice that truly benefits clients of NAFD members. Areas to cover? A clear stance on price comparison websites, and a definition of a ‘simple funeral’ that all members should be required to offer as a start.
- The NAFD complaints procedure: Give teeth to this for clients who have been poorly served by members. How many companies have had their membership suspended or revoked after serious complaints? If this sanction is not ever applied, then the complaints procedure is pretty pointless.
- Show leadership. Stop sitting on the fence on big issues, whether relating to transparency of ownership, new entrants to the sector (e.g. local authorities and hospices), direct cremation specialists or funeral poverty. Also, members having prices available online – the NAFD stated hope for 70% of NAFD members to have some or all their prices online by 2019 is pitiful, it should be 100%, this year.
- Introduce external expertise on its executive committee to help it develop a conversation with the wider public and understand the world beyond the narrow focus of practicing funeral directors.
- Develop a new vision for the Social Fund Funeral Payment. Repeated statements calling for an increase in the payment may ease the association’s conscience but do nothing to help people struggling to pay for a funeral. A new solution is needed. The NAFD is well-placed to lead on this.
- Look at membership fees. Expecting a self-employed celebrant to pay the same full fees for supplier membership (currently £455 p.a.) as coffin manufacturing companies and large groups of private cemeteries is completely unrealistic. To build a broad supporter base, engaging individuals from all areas involved with provision of funerals, a tiered system of membership fee is long overdue. Alongside this, monitoring the unauthorised use of the NAFD supplier logo by individual members of organisations (who haven’t paid for the membership themselves) would also be welcomed.
- Introduce an assistance fund. A levy on NAFD membership and income from other events such as NFE could pay into an assistance fund for families struggling to meet the cost of paying for a funeral. (This could be administered by a new member of staff, whose salary could be found by ending the payment to Brevia for running the APPG secretariat and opening attendance to other organisations who could contribute towards the funding of the APPG.)
- Create a robust framework that would safeguard the association and its staff and members from falling victim to personal agendas and vested interests. For example, putting a limit on terms for voluntary officers to prevent trenchant points of view dominating the association’s conversations with external parties.
According to Twitter, the website and an e-mail bulletin sent out yesterday, the Good Funeral Awards will be taking place this year in Bournemouth in September.
We think it worth noting that the Good Funeral Guide is no longer involved with these events and will not be attending.
We ended our involvement with the awards as joint organisers last year, having been very much part of the awards since they began in 2012.
The decision was taken for various reasons, but in essence, we feel that the time for competing against one other in funeralworld has come to an end and that progressive, intelligent people working together and collaborating in best practice is the way forward.
Across the UK, good people serving bereaved families face the relentless pressure of large corporates seeking ever larger ‘market share’, the growing issue of unregulated funeral planning, negative media coverage of the funeral industry, the race to the bottom in pricing, ‘ ‘disruptive’ online ‘experts’ adding their two penn’orth to information in the public domain – and the ongoing stress of working daily directly with death and the aftermath.
We feel that all who are trying to improve the way we do funerals in the UK are stronger together, supporting each other and sharing fellowship, rather than competing against each other, and allowing themselves to be set apart by judgements of who is the best in each field.
We also feel that the role of the GFG is done when it comes to awards within the funeral industry.
We want to concentrate on what we think essential. Reaching out from inside the funeral bubble of talking to each other about each other and actually talking to the people who matter most. The public.
The role of the Good Funeral Guide is, and always has been, to support, empower and represent the interests of dying and bereaved people, and we will continue to do our best to do so in the future, rather than getting sidetracked with event planning.
Dying Matters, the former NCPC coalition, now under the wings of Hospice UK, sent out an e-mail bulletin this week with an update on this year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week, presumably to most of their 32,000 members.
Top feature in the bulletin was the large Co-op logo and blurb shown above.
The neat hook of offering those hoping to extend their Dying Matters activities throughout the year omits to mention that you can’t apply for a grant from the Co-op’s Local Community Fund if your organisation is run for private profit, nor to pay for general running costs or that successful applicants will receive a share of the funding starting in May 2019, which won’t be much help with your activities this year.
Pop in to see your local Co-op funeral arranger and find out more, and ask about their Start the Conversation campaign, the website for which helpfully leads you to information about Co-operative Funeralcare’s Funeral Plan.
Nice one Co-op marketing team.
The GFG has long standing views on Co-operative Funeralcare – select it as a category in the search bar on the right and you’ll find 112 other posts, few of them flattering.
We aren’t keen at all on the carefully crafted illusion that your local Co-operative Funeralcare funeral home is part of a virtuous, publicly minded organisation providing working people with a good quality funeral at a fair price.
The TV and radio campaigns to convince Joe Public of this must be costing millions, so we’re mystified why they can’t chuck a few bob at their website and get all their prices online, nor why their much touted Simple Funeral costs £1,995 for their services alone and the day and time is arranged to suit them not you.
Hat tip to Holly Clarke, member of the Good Funeral Guild who brought this to our attention. We missed our copy of the e-mail bulletin, but found it in the spam folder.