The former editor of the GFG, Louise Winter, brought the packed room at Porchester Hall to their feet at the close of the 2017 Good Funeral Awards with a powerful emotional tribute to the late Jon Underwood.
Everyone present joined in a standing ovation in recognition of Jon’s pioneering work in starting the Death Cafe movement, and in honour of the memory of an unassuming, gentle man who was an example to us all.
Jon’s sister, Jools Barsky, bravely took to the stage to accept the award for Outstanding Contribution to Society on Jon’s behalf in an emotional ending to this year’s honours list.
In response to a number of requests, we are proud to share Louise’s words with you below.
The Good Funeral Awards 2017 sponsored by Greenfield Creations
The winners of this year’s Death Oscars were announced at the glittering awards ceremony in London today.
Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death
Supplementary Award for Innovation
J.C. Atkinson for the Pathway coffin
Best Death Related Public Engagement Event
Runner up: Home Funeral Network (Funerals to Die For)
Most Helpful Funeral Advice Website
Runner up: Veterans Bereavement Support Services
Doula of the Year
Winner: Felicity Warner
Runners Up: Lizzie Neville, Nett Furley, Jane Henderson & Anna Lyons
Anatomical Pathology Technician of the Year
Winner: Dr. Wendy Birch
Runner Up: Lara-Rose Iredale
Care of the Deceased Award
Winner: Cara Mair and the team at ARKA Original Funerals
Runner Up: Kirsty Sailes
Coffin Supplier of the Year
Runner Up: Earth to Heaven
Funeral Florist of the Year
Winner: Rebecca Sharp of Dazzle Me Daisy Do
Runner Up: Rosie Orr, of Flowers by Rosie Orr
Minister of the Year
Winner: Fr. Christyan James
Runners Up: The Right Revd. Charles Muglestone & Emma Curtis
Celebrant of the Year
Winner: Justine Wykerd
Highly Commended: Terri Shanks
Gravedigger of the Year
Winner: Martin House of Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground
Runner Up: Julie Hillman of The Eternal Forest
Best Burial Ground in the UK
Winner: Heatherley Wood, Greenacres
Runner Up: Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground
Best Crematorium in the UK
Crematorium Attendant of the Year
Winner: Richard Hooker at Mortlake Crematorium
Best Direct Cremation Provider
Winner: Holly’s Funerals
Runner Up: Respect Direct Funeral Services
Best Low Cost Funeral Provider
Winner: Fosters Funeral Directors
Runner up: Memoria Low Cost Funerals Ltd
Most Eco-Friendly Funeral Director
Winner: Leverton & Sons
Runner Up: Woodland Wishes
Funeral Arranger of the Year
Winner: Lorraine Aitken (Youngs Independent Funeral Services)
Most Promising New Funeral Director Business
Winner: Compassionate Funerals
Most Promising Trainee Funeral Director
Winner: Sarah Ellis (Bewley and Merrett Funeral Directors)
Best Modern Funeral Director
Winner: Full Circle Funerals
Best Traditional Funeral Director
Winner: A. W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service (with especial mention of two staff members, Louise Cook and Dominic Lister)
Best Funeral Caterer
Winner: Rocket Catering
Runner Up: Tea and Sympathy
The ‘What to do with the Ashes’ Award
Winner: Sacred Stones Willow Row
Runner Up: Ann Bates Ceramics
The Lifetime Achievement Award
The Outstanding Achievement Award
A funeral may need organising at a moment’s notice. But how much notice do you think is advisable, or reasonable, for renovating and repair a gravestone? And what should the relevant institution do to accommodate health and safety concerns, if you don’t take action fast enough?
Many churchyards monuments are, by anyone’s measure, on the unsafe side of upright. Land settles; time passes; some might say it’s the higgledy-piggledy appearance of headstone in an expanse of church ground that actually provides quintessential Britishness to our countryside.
For the most part, ‘caveat visitor’ is the adopted position of the Church. Being aware of surroundings and taking care to avoid situations of peril seems like common sense. However, we have seen at least one death reported this century in Glasgow as a consequence of young children playing, unsupervised, among unsteady headstones.
Now, in Kilsyth, notifiable family members are being served 21 days’ notice when headstones in Kilsyth Cemetery are deemed to be ‘unsafe’.
Not surprisingly, the health and safety measures being implemented in the interim are causing as much concern as the need for remedial action: plastic orange hazard barriers are always an eysore. It is debatable, as to whether or not they provide enough deterrent for the people who would be most at risk.
This is a balancing act. For the Church; the local authorities – in this case, North Lanarkshire Council – insisting on regular risk assessments; heritage and preservation societies; and the families themselves. What’s not being reported in such large typeface, are the steps then being taken to remedy these situations.
The notices make this clear: “It may be necessary to lay this stone flat or trench (set lower part of memorial place into the ground) or support it to prevent injury or damage”. Or in other words, if the family does not come forward with contractors who’ve been commissioned to take remedial action, then the headstones will be laid flat on the ground instead. Like so many others.
In actual fact, stories like these hide the facts rather well: the local authorities are taking appropriate action, which reflects what’s happened for hundreds of years. Whether anyone’s given 21 days’ notice or not, when a headstone falls over, it falls over and usually stays on the ground.
This year’s Long List has just been published, and all the finalists for a 2017 Good Funeral Award can be found on the Awards website here.
Or you can skim down the list below and see if you’re on it. Individuals listed first, alphabetically by first name, and companies / organisations listed second.
It has been another exceptional year for nominations and entries, and the runners up and winners of each category will be announced at the glittering lunchtime awards ceremony at Porchester Hall on September 7th.
All finalists will receive a copy of the logo and the code for a special discount on the ticket price this week.
- Alan Lister
- Angela Bailey
- Anna Lyons
- Annette Furley
- Barbara Scrimshaw
- Barry Waples
- Cara Mair
- Carol Higgins
- Cath Pratley / Tosh Abbott
- Chantal Lockey
- Charles Muglestone (Right Revd.)
- Christine Jolly
- Christyan James (Fr.)
- Claire Turnham
- Clive Cappleman
- Clive Leverton
- Colette Robinson
- Colin Liddell
- David Crayton
- David Homer
- David Ledger
- Dominic Lister
- Drew Rush
- Emma Curtis
- Felicity Warner
- Frances Tulley
- Glynes Mewton
- Helen McLean
- Helen Williams
- Howard Hodgson
- Hugh Milsom
- Ian Willox
- James Rogers
- Jane Morgan
- Janet Cheal
- Janet Qualters
- Jason Kiely
- Jeremy Field
- Julia Samuel
- Julie Hillman
- Justine Wykerd
- Kate Tym & Kate Dyer
- Kathryn Sansom
- Kirsty Sailes
- Lara-Rose Iredale
- Laura Jane Smith (Dr.)
- Lindis Pattison-Tadman
- Lindy Irving
- Liz Alman
- Liz Rothschild
- Lizzie Neville
- Lorraine Aitken
- Louise Cook
- Lucy Coulbert
- Lucy Talbot
- Lyn Baylis
- Martin House
- May Andrews
- Michael Tiney
- Natalie Newbury
- Natasha Bradshaw
- Nicole Turner
- Oliver Bird
- Paul Jansen
- Pauline Hyde-Coomber
- Persephone Salway
- Rebecca Sharp
- Rhys Askham
- Richard Hooker
- Roger Knight
- Rosalie Kuyvenhoven
- Rosie Orr
- Sally Ward
- Sarah Ellis
- Sarah Tully
- Simon Dyer
- Stacey Pitsillides
- Steve Stacey
- Stuart Preston
- Susie Bearne
- Terri Shanks
- Victoria Fisher
- Victoria McKeegan
- Wendy Birch (Dr.)
- Wendy Coulton
- Yvonne Harper
Company / organisation finalists
- A. W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service
- Amber Valley Memorial Park & Crematorium
- Ann Bates Ceramics
- ARKA Original Funerals
- Attwood Funerals
- Bewley & Merrett Funeral Directors
- Brighton Death Forum
- Bungard Funeral Directors
- Butterfly Memorial Garden
- C. S. Boswell Independent Funeral Directors
- Cardiff & Glamorgan Memorial Park & Crematorium
- Cardiff Bereavement Services
- Classic Flowers Maidstone
- Coffin Club
- Compassionate Funerals
- Cradle To Grave
- Crescent Funerals
- Dandelion Farewells
- Denbighshire Memorial Park & Crematorium
- Earth to Heaven
- Edd Frost & Daughters
- Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground
- Fosters Funeral Directors
- Full Circle Funerals
- Funeral Choice
- Funeral Zone
- Collins & Sons
- Gimcrack Productions
- Go Simply Funerals
- Golders Green Crematorium
- Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief
- Harrison Funeral Home
- Harrison Low Cost Funerals
- Heatherley Wood Woodland
- Home Funeral Network – Funerals To Die For
- Holly’s Funerals
- C. Atkinson & Son Ltd.
- Godfrey & Son Ltd.
- Kettering Crematorium
- Kirkleatham Memorial Park & Crematorium
- Leverton & Sons
- Life, Death & the Rest (Arnos Vale Cemetery)
- Life, Death, Whatever
- Meadow Wood Pet Cemetery
- Medfest 2017 – Matters of Life & Death
- Melville & Daughters
- Memoria Low Cost Funerals Ltd.
- Moribund (Gimcrack Productions)
- Mortlake Crematorium
- Nelson’s Journey Youth Panel’s Smartphone App.
- O’Dwyer Funeral Service
- Only With Love
- Passionate Flowers
- Perry & Phillips Funeral Directors
- Pushing Up Daisies – Things Left Unsaid
- Respect Direct Funeral Services
- Rocket Catering
- Rose Funerals Ltd.
- Rounce Funeral Services
- Sacred Stones
- Scattering Ashes
- Scraptoft Burial Ground
- Seven Hills Crematorium
- Sick Festival
- South Leicestershire Memorial Park & Crematorium
- South Oxfordshire Crematorium & Memorial Park
- Still Loved Documentary
- Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Services
- Tea & Sympathy
- The Art of Dying Well
- The Good Grief Project
- The Individual Funeral Company
- The Natural Burial Company – Scraptoft Burial Ground
- The Natural Death Centre
- The Team at Cardiff Thornhill Crematorium
- Thornhill Crematorium Cardiff
- Varley & Varley Funeral Directors
- Veteran Bereavement Support
- W. E. Pinder & Son Ltd.
- Waveney Memorial Park & Crematorium
- Westmill Woodland Burial
- Woodland Wishes
- Woodvale Crematorium
Willow, cardboard, veneer. Wool, even. The material in which we choose to be buried may be imbued with cultural, emotional or traditional significance.
We have the benefit of access to so many superb suppliers. We know the options are highly varied now, as are the means of interment. It is important that we don’t take this knowledge for granted, though, being intimately acquainted with our own industry’s gamut of possibilities.
For many families – irrespective of religion – the assumption is that a wooden coffin will be involved. This has long been the case and the exposition of a coffin in Durham this month will do much to assuage any doubts about the benefits of choosing high quality products.
St. Cuthbert’s coffin went on display in Durham cathedral. Hermit; bishop; the saint who inspired the Lindisfarne Gospels. Cuthbert died in 687, probably from tuberculosis, but his body was exhumed relatively shortly after death to be reburied in this coffin, which was made from English oak: tests have confirmed it was manufactured (‘crafted by artisans’ is probably a less anachronistic term), on Lindisfarne in 698.
However, it was lifted again, in 1104, and reopened several times thereafter to allow viewings of the remains. While it was interred for a short time behind the altar of the catherdral, it was also disturbed again – allowing new bacteria in to have their effect on the wood, each time – in the 19th century. This is a coffin that has truly served its purpose.
Some environments are more forgiving than others. Soil and humidity conditions have an impact; acidity is also an influence. If wood has been heavily varnished, that preservative may act as a moisture-barrier for years. Deterioration depends on the material that a coffin or container is made of and the environment it’s resting in, and archaeologists have even found Roman coffins in reasonable condition.
It surely behoves us to be transparent about the nature of materials used, and what the reality of material degradation is. Sadly, it’s still a matter of record that families may be offered non-ethical products for use in woodland or natural burials.
But perhaps, tongue in cheek, we can now offer a rather more positive caveat when it comes to ‘how long will it last?’
We noted The Sun newspaper’s report on a floral tribute this week, pointing a mild gosh-look-at-this finger at a family’s ambition to let funeral wishes be carried out – to the perfumed, petalled letter.
However, it was the throwaway inclusion of another story, further down the page, that caught our eye. Moving on past the report of a Royal Artillery sergeant’s coffin being transported on a gun carriage – de rigueur perhaps – The Sun has a picture of a JCB at the head of a funeral cortège with a coffin secured carefully in its bucket.
A little background research revealed that Tony Law had always worked with plant machinery. As a digger enthusiast, he’d not only specified the mode of transport to his own service but also had his wishes extended by the family: instead of traditional, low-key or formal dress, everyone wore hi-viz jackets to mark the occasion. ‘Tony Law’s Last Ride’, they said.
Happily, in most situations these are far from being seen as irreverent gestures. They are endearing; a little eccentric, perhaps; but intended without malice to bridge the gap between the absent character of the person who has died and people who are coming together to commemorate that person’s unique life.
Flowers, saying ‘BARSTARD’? Traditional limousines on the one hand, but a bright yellow JCB to carry your coffin? It may not be the done thing to suggest it up-front without knowing the family’s background, but if the situation is the right one then – for a good funeral – these gestures are not out of place.
However, specific wishes like these may cause significant dismay, pain even, if they are set out in a funeral plan but not shared in advance. Karen Anstee’s short film, Rachel, brought this into sharp perspective last year. Anstee’s 10-film explored the relationships between religion and family: Rachel had rejected her conservative Jewish upbringing for a more bohemian life and wanted her ceremony to reflect those life choices. Rachel’s family wanted to reclaim her body for burial in the traditional way, and the story unfolds to reflect both points of view.
In the 21st century, diverging preferences are becoming more common. Families are, sadly, more dysfunctional than they once were. Couples of all ages may come together from different cultural backgrounds and pass on new traditions or beliefs to their children. Whereas, once, intimate rites of passage served to bring families and communities together at a difficult time, today the expression of individuality has the potential to stimulate conflict.
Nowadays the expected form for a funeral may bear little or no resemblance to the unique, individual service or ceremony that’s requested either by a partner, a close family member, or – prior to their death – by the persons who have died. And as a result, funeral directors and celebrants may find themselves in a difficult situation.
We hear much, still, about the importance of making a Will and ensuring it’s valid and kept up-to-date. What more could we do to reappropriate the term ‘funeral plan’, or is it too toxic to contemplate?
Would it not help us all if we could encourage the solicitors or Will-makers we know, locally, to include detailed funeral arrangements as a part of that process, and to highlight the benefit of communicating these details in advance? Or would that be too complicated in itself?
And should we consider ‘how to tell people what’s happening’ guides as an integral part of the information we all provide – or do you do this already?
We are really sad to announce that our lovely Editor, Louise Winter, has resigned as part of the GFG team this weekend.
We’ve been lucky enough to have had her on board for over a year, during which time she has reinvigorated and rejuvenated the Good Funeral Guide, teaching us oldies about the power of social media and helping us reach farther than ever before using Twitter and Facebook. She’s been a great friend and colleague, and we will miss her immensely, but we’re delighted that her reasons for stepping down are such good ones.
Lou will be devoting herself to running her new bespoke funeral business in London, Poetic Endings while simultaneously curating Life, Death Whatever and developing a LDW community – and writing a book in her spare time. After much deliberation, she decided that there just wasn’t enough space for her to continue her voluntary role with the GFG, so she has reluctantly decided to bring this chapter of her life to a graceful close.
I know that I speak for my fellow directors when I say how sorry we are to see her go, but we are incredibly lucky to have enjoyed her creativity and company over the last year and we will remain the firmest of friends.
Louise will continue to be an active member of the Good Funeral Guild, and will be acting as Creative Consultant to the GFG in the future – which basically means we’ll be ringing her up regularly to arrange to meet for a coffee and a chat, but she won’t have the burden of having to give up hours of her time being the editor of the GFG.
So thank you very much for everything you’ve done in your time with us Louise. You’ve been amazing, and will be a very hard act to follow. We wish you every success with your exciting work, and we will feel a strong sense of pride as we watch you continue to change the way we do funerals in the UK.
It was only a matter of time.
The GFG has been the go to information resource for anyone needing to find out about the intricacies of organising a funeral for years and years, in fact, we’re amazed it’s taken this long for someone to hitch on to our coat tails.
The winner of the prize for trying to look like us is a certain Mark Brown – of FuneralGuide.co.uk. Go on, click on the link, we’re sure he’s counting visitors to his website. He’s probably very well meaning, but the relentless emphasis on urging readers to take out a pre-paid funeral plan doesn’t sit terribly well with us. We’re not sure why he would do this. Nor does the rather cheeky purloining of a website name that is remarkably similar to ours.
Funeral Guide offers FREE help with funeral planning and lots of badly written and not very accurate or helpful advice. We’ve signed up for his ‘Beat the Funeral Price Hike’ free download just to see what he suggests for us. It apparently contains all the information you need to make an informed decision about planning ahead. But we really couldn’t be bothered to go to his ‘fast quote form’.
Helpfully, Mark has been e-mailing funeral directors on our Recommended by the GFG list asking if they’d be interested in linking to his site and kindly offering to promote anything of theirs on his social media and with his audience. Perhaps we’ll send him a link to this blog. In the meantime, if you hear from him, be assured, he’s nothing to do with us.
We were devastated to learn that Jon Underwood, the founder of the Death Cafe movement, died on Tuesday.
Jon wholeheartedly believed that engaging with death is both important and overlooked so made it his mission to encourage society to embrace death as part of life. His life’s work was the Death Cafe movement, which began in Jon’s front room in Hackney in 2011 as a gathering of people talking about death over tea and cake. The impact of Death Cafe has been huge – as of 28th June 2017, there have been nearly 5000 Death Cafes in over 50 countries.
Jon also painstakingly built and managed Funeral Advisor in association with the Natural Death Centre Charity and ran Impermanence – his commitment to doing good in the world by encouraging society to deal with death in interesting and innovative ways.
He was a source of invaluable advice, support and encouragement to others in the fields of death and dying, always generous with himself and his resources. He was one of the good guys – the most genuine, well intentioned, humble, kind hearted and gentle person, both professionally and personally. His absence will be deeply felt by everyone in our community and beyond.
Our thoughts are with his family right now.
Jon’s commitment to Death Cafe was unrivalled, and came at a cost. Since 2011, Jon funded his Death Cafe work entirely through his own personal savings and small freelance projects and had recently begun trying to fundraise very actively so he could pay his bills. We’d love to support Jon’s young children – Frank and Gina – and have set up a JustGiving page in his memory. Please donate generously.
Please watch this touching tribute to Jon which includes music by his daughter Gina.
He will be greatly missed but never forgotten, a quiet, inspirational revolutionary whose legacy is a better society. The Death Cafe movement has lost its founder, but his influence will continue spreading, like ripples on a pond.”
Fran Hall, CEO, The Good Funeral Guide
- Anna Lyons, Jon Underwood and Louise Winter at Jon’s house in Hackney during Life. Death. Whatever. in October 2016. This photo was taken by his son Frank.
The last time I saw Jon was when he was helping at Life. Death. Whatever. which was just around the corner from his house in Hackney, the home of Death Cafe. He offered his unconditional support in the form of informative talks, a Death Cafe, reassuring emails and many smiles, hugs and cups of tea.”
Louise Winter, Editor, The Good Funeral Guide
“I didn’t know Jon all that well. A man of still waters and deep spirituality, he was a of different order of human being from me. Which was why I liked being around him. People like Jon conduct good energy. I also enjoyed his twinkle. Only Jon could have teamed mortality-awareness with cake.
Please leave your tributes to Jon in the comments below.
Yesterday, I spent the day visiting our latest funeral director who has joined the list of those who are ‘Recommended by the GFG’ – Bennetts Funeral Directors in Essex, and met most of the lovely staff there, including Leigh Tanner, who has just recently set up a family support group for those who have been bereaved by miscarriage or stillbirth.
Leigh has personally experienced the trauma of recurrent miscarriages, so this is something very close to her heart. When she and her husband were undergoing the sadness of losing their babies there wasn’t anything available locally where Leigh could share her experience with others who had been through the same experience. She felt completely alone and unsupported, so the opportunity to create a support group for other parents was one that she jumped at.
Here’s Leigh speaking about the group in her own words:
‘So, at Bennetts we are very proud of our bereavement groups and that we are able to provide specialist services by people who have themselves experienced such losses. My group, Tiny Stars, is a miscarriage and still birth group run by myself. I personally experienced the trauma of recurrent miscarriages and found that there was no help out there locally for me and so therefore I felt very lonely and isolated.
This group came about after I joined Bennetts and when I realised that they provided services for pre-term babies and miscarriage. I instinctively asked Jane if I could learn more about this. I explained that I had been through this and had never been given the opportunity to have a service or group support. Jane asked me if I would like to be the primary arranger for babies and start a support group for families who have been through such loss which I was very grateful of such an opportunity.
The word miscarriage is so taboo, with women and men feeling as if it’s something too common to grieve over but this is not the case. We at Bennetts are fully aware that any loss is a loss and should be treated as such. For a family to lose a baby to miscarriage or still birth brings such an enormity of grief that destroys the hopes of a future for a baby you have already fallen in love with, and luckily through Bennetts, I have been given this opportunity to offer support for parents who feel that isolation and loss.
Our group runs at Merrymeade House, Merrymeade Chase Brentwood CM15 9BG on the 2nd Friday of the month from 9.30 – 10.30 in the tea room. We have exclusive hire of Merrymeade House for the group and offer free refreshments to all guests.
I do of course understand that attending a group can be very daunting and so therefore if anyone would like to contact me prior to coming or just for a chat I would always be available to talk to someone on 01277 210104 or by email on email@example.com’
This is such an important initiative, and the GFG is hugely supportive of Leigh and of Bennetts in setting up the Tiny Stars group for the community. If you or anyone you know in the Brentwood area has lost a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth, Tiny Stars could offer you a place where you can talk to others who have had a similar experience. Do contact Leigh and talk to her.
Leigh also told me about Aching Arms, a babyloss charity run by a group of bereaved mothers who have experienced the pain and devastation of baby loss.
The charity works with more than hospitals across the UK providing teddy bears for parents to take home from hospital when their baby has been miscarried or stillborn. Each bear is a gift from another family who has had a similar experience and who have donated in memory of their baby, and the bear given has the name of their baby on the label. The bears help to provide a connection for bereaved families and ‘to ease their aching arms as they grieve for their baby who has died’.
A bereaved mother explains how this scheme could have helped her:
“When I left hospital without my daughter my heart was broken and my arms were empty. Nothing could have fixed my heart at the point, but if I had had something to hold and cling to then the physical ache I felt so strongly in my arms as I clamped them tightly to my sides might have been less. As soon as I heard about the idea of giving grieving mums a bear to take home I knew that I would have been keen to take one to cuddle as I walked out of the hospital and to sob into in the dark days and nights that followed. Not to replace my baby – nothing ever could – but something to hold as I learnt to live with the empty space my baby left in my heart and in my life.”
The charity also offers every hospital participating in the scheme training for their staff in caring for parents bereaved by miscarriage or stillbirth.