Best Traditional Funeral Director 2017

                                A. W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service

There was no shortage of candidates for this category, and the shortlisted 13 names included individuals as well as companies.

Traditional funeral directing continues to thrive, and the judges found it difficult to select the most deserving from among the entries submitted as all clearly have the highest of standards and impeccable presentation.

Eventually the decision was reached:

The Winner of Traditional Funeral Director of the Year 2017, with especial mention of two staff members, Louise Cook and Dominic Lister, is A. W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service

Runners Up – Bungard Funeral Directors and Southall Funeral Service

 

Award photograph by Jayne Lloyd

Category sponsor – A. R. Adams Funeral Directors

The 2017 Good Funeral Awards were generously sponsored by Greenfield Creations

Most Promising New Funeral Director

18-judith-dandy-most-promising-newcomer

Judith Dandy of Dandelion Farewells

Judith is an outstanding example of a new wave of breath-of-fresh-air funeral business owners – what the Good Funeral Guide terms ‘artisan’ funeral directors. Some people call them alternative funeral directors. Typically, they reject what they regard as the arcane traditions and mystique of funeral service, presenting themselves as people first, funeral directors second.

Dedicated to transparent business practices and a highly flexible and personal service to bereaved people designed to enable them to create a bespoke funeral which best expresses their wishes and values, Judith’s humanity and intelligence place her at the forefront of this new wave of funeral directors

Having worked in two large corporate funeral companies in 2014, Judith set out to create a personal, flexible, thoughtful and cost-moderate service to support bereaved families. Dandelion Farewells was founded in January 2015, reflecting principles of client-centred support and professional standards of care derived from her previous career as a social worker. Judith is involved in all the aspects of care for the person who has died and their family. The business has gone from strength to strength.

Judith has dedicated much time and energy to travelling nationwide to learn alongside the very best in the industry – those with many years’ experience and others who themselves have begun their business a few years earlier. She has developed strong, mutually supportive relationships with other professionals and is able to draw upon a valuable network of colleagues, suppliers and mentors. In the same spirit, she has been called upon to support the work of other funeral directors who have identified her professional and interpersonal strengths. Coupled with valuable empirical learning alongside others, Judith has completed formal training programmes to provide a firm theoretical and professional foundation to her work. In March 2016 achieved the BIFD Certificate of Funeral Services and is now on the pathway to achieve the Diploma qualification in 2017.

Judith operates from a unique village premises from which she provides modern funeral care.

  • Judith has developed a planning workshop for small groups, called My Wishes My Way. This was launched during Dying Matters Week this year. The core of this session is to freely provide information about end of life choices and funeral planning and encourage people to write down their funeral wishes.
  • Dandelion Farewells provides personal, meaningful funeral occasions whatever form this may take for each individual family. It is an unhurried approach. Time is spent listening and working alongside the people making the funeral arrangements to ensure that their decisions resonate with their lives and preferences. The person who has died is cared for with tenderness, kindness and dignity.
  • Judith continues to support families beyond the day of the funeral. This may be through meeting at intervals after the funeral and if necessary sign-posting them to appropriate bereavement services.

Mary Hughes, Director of Affinity Funeral Services Ltd, said: “Judith’s enthusiasm for creating the perfect farewell is matched by her wealth of knowledge and her patience and availability to her families. Nothing is too much trouble. Dandelion Farewells is a rising star.”

A client said: “Judith immediately understood what I was going through, she was very approachable and kind, extremely patient and knowledgeable. Judith was always available, reassuring me in every way. Her attention to detail was touching. Judith continued her care wonderfully after the funeral too.”

 

Runners Up in this category:

Edd Frost & Daughters

Final Journey Funeral Directors

Young Independent Funeral Services

Funeral Arranger of the Year

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Sarah Lee of Holmes & Family Funeral Directors

Sarah offers an exceptionally caring service to bereaved families and has carried on doing so while coping and coming to terms with the sudden death of her mother.

There are hundreds of superb funeral arrangers throughout the country but Sarah stands out from the rest of them this year.

Sarah works for a funeral director, David Holmes. The employer-employee relationship is not characterised by deference on Sarah’s part. Exceptionally dedicated and caring, she makes sure her bereaved families get what they need and deserve, no matter how many extra miles that might take. She spends all the time she needs with her families – a very great deal of it – and helps them to arrange exactly the right sendoff for their relative.

Sarah is always focused and uncompromising. She has an eagle eye for detail. She is warm and caring. She supports and guides the arrangers in the firm’s other two offices. She juggles her work with her two teenage children. David Holmes’s two boys, Toby and Oliver, are like sons to her.

Just a few weeks ago, Sarah lost her own Mum. The death was unexpected and the two of them were very close; they were a part of each other’s day-to-day lives. Not only did Sarah arrange the perfect send-off for her Mum, (of course) she carried on dealing with the funerals already in hand, hardly missing a beat. Her emotions were – are – all over the place, but you’d never have known.

David Holmes said: “I have been a funeral director since 1989 and in that time, I have known and employed some amazing people. However, it is impossible to think of anyone better at her job, more dedicated or caring than the woman I call our pain in the ass funeral arranger, Sarah. If she ever left our little firm, she would be truly irreplaceable.”

Runner Up in this category: Angela Bailey of Harrison Funeral Home

Zombied

The Birmingham Post reports the takeover by Laurel of 2 undertakers, WH Scott and Earl & Co.

Scott’s is a business with no website but masses of barnacles heritage and a noble lineage stretching back over five generations. We trust that the present generation, the one that brought the proud dynasty to an end by cashing in the family silver, has trousered an absurdly high sum for the business.

So far, so banal. Laurel is in predatory mode just now, seeking whom it may devour. Yawn.

What makes the BrumPo article so funny is the statement by Laurel ceo, Deborah Kemp, who is not only a whiz with jargon but also has a wicked way with a metaphor. She says:

“As is our approach with all the brands in our collective, we will look to retain the personality and individuality of each brand while ensuring both businesses benefit from working under the Laurel umbrella.”

[Laughter]

“With a strong pipeline of funeral businesses expressing an interest in joining the collective, these acquisitions are the first of a number of selective purchases that we intend to make in 2014.”

[Groans]

“Not only will this activity bolster our foothold in key locations and further cement our position in the sector, it will continue to highlight to the industry both the robustness of our offering and our credibility as an acquirer of funeral businesses.”

[Hoots]

Deborah, Deborah, all this fine, fighting talk about cementing your pipeline under your umbrella and not one word, not even a single syllable in your public statement about what a great deal this is for bereaved people.

It is, isn’t it?

Calling all telegenic undertakers

A phone call and two emails shattered the tranquillity here at the GFG-Batesville Shard late last week. The gist was: we are currently developing a new project for Channel 4, which will be an observational documentary series set in a funeral parlour. We envisage the series being warm and informative, recognising and celebrating the crucial role they play in the lives of families and the wider community.

The proposed format is similar to that of One Born Every Minute. Interested? Here’s more:

We would like to get in contact with family-run funeral parlours and, if possible, businesses where several members of the same family work alongside each other. We’re also really interested in finding a place that also specialise in repatriations, perhaps they ever have an office overseas, and exhumations. I’ve included a bit more information about Dragonfly and the types of programmes we make below. 

Dragonfly Film and Television is a BAFTA award-winning, independent television production company, specialising in factual programmes.  We work across all the major UK and international broadcasters, such as the BBC, Channel 4, Discovery and National Geographic.  

We have a proven track record of delivering thoughtful and sensitive single documentaries and series. 

Dragonfly have worked with many people, places and institutions – including maternity wards, hotels, schools and families in their homes, to create celebrated access-based series like The Hotel, The Family and Extreme A&E for Channel 4. We’ve also made subject-led programmes like the highly acclaimed Channel 5 documentary series My Secret Past featuring well known celebrities revealing the painful experiences they have dealt with and the BBC One documentary June Brown: Respect Your Elders examined the way we treat older people in society. 

Dragonfly’s programmes have a reputation for dealing with important and often sensitive subject matters, with warmth and integrity. From giving birth in One Born Every Minute to crashing a plane in Plane Crash, we always tell stories in an honest, thought-provoking and sensitively handled way. 

We have a team of experienced producers who are excellent at working with the people they film with to create a mutually beneficial environment that everyone is comfortable with. They know how to minimise disruption and work with small crews and unobtrusive cameras.  They excel at maintaining a good working relationship from the beginning of filming, until the programmes have aired. They develop transparent and trusting relationship with everyone they work with. 

Dragonfly’s Managing Director Simon Dickson was previously deputy head of documentaries at Channel 4 where he was responsible for re-inventing the popularity of documentaries with a whole raft of award-winning programmes such The Hospital, One Born Every Minute, Coppersand 24 Hours in A&E. Dragonfly’s Creative Director, Mark Raphael, during his time at Channel 4 commissioned a range of sensitive projects, including The Murder Trial, Bedlam, Educating Yorkshire and 999: What’s Your Emergency?

Contact Sarah Rubin at: Sarah.Rubin@dragonfly.tv

Fusion funerals: Cockneys, immigrants and Hackney hipsters

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

The story of T. Cribb & Sons is one of business resilience in the cultural quicksand of London’s East End. A family-run firm of undertakers since 1881, its heritage is Cockney: close-knit, white, working class communities celebratory of both their roots and the material trappings of wealth: pie and mash and the dogs coupled with a taste for pin-sharp schmutter. Their funerals have been summarised as Victorian music hall meets Catholic High Mass: undertakers with toppers and canes, horse-drawn carriages and extravagant floral wreaths.

With its vicinity to London’s docks, the East End has for centuries attracted immigrants, from the French Huguenots to Polish Jews, the Irish to the Chinese. More recently came the Bangladeshis, Africans and eastern Europeans.

Meanwhile, true Cockneys have upped sticks to Essex. Many a London cabbie will tell you how they cashed in the terraced house in Bow for an all-mod-cons Barratt home in Brentwood while opining ‘the East End ain’t what it was’. And you only have to watch TOWIE to see former Cockneys splurging their cash on smart clobber and wheels, along with Sex on the Beach cocktails and cosmetic dentistry.

T. Cribb & Sons, which started with a single parlour in Canning Town, has also branched out into Essex, buying up undertakers in Loughton, Debden, Benfleet and Pitsea. However, of its 1,800 funerals a year, half are now for non-whites, especially Africans and Asians in east London.

It’s introduced a repatriation service for west African immigrants who prefer to be buried back home in Nigeria or Uganda. It’s also attracted the British Ghanaian community, increasingly content to be buried in England and who, like Cockneys, have a taste for flamboyant funerals, sometimes beyond their means.

Attention to the needs of a broad demographic can also be seen in details such as a Hindu/Sikh washroom at Cribb’s Beckton branch, and the way it’s mindful to bring Chinese mourners home from a funeral by a different route, in order to ward off evil spirits. It even provides limos with the lucky eight in the number plate. Again for the Chinese, it offers a wall of small vaults for votive offerings such as sticks of incense. At £750 for a five-year lease on a vault, this service is being adopted by white Brits, too, showing how cultural influences go both ways.

T. Cribb & Sons is now courting the Muslim market, currently served by a few Bangladeshi undertakers attached to mosques. The showy traits of the Cockney funeral are theologically out of step with Islam in which dead people are swiftly washed, prayed over and buried. But as with most cultural melting pots, people draw on outside influences, whether integration is approved of or not.

For more on this subject, see The Economist here.  It’s a good read, rich in colour gleened from firsthand research. What it doesn’t address is the colonisation of former Cockney turf by middle class West Enders who have headed east for more affordable housing in areas from Stratford to now-trendy Hackney and Shoreditch. As these right-on Guardianistas grow older, might we see less emphasis on Cribb’s website on black-plumed Friesans, bling limos and lavish floral tributes, and more on wicker coffins, woodland burial grounds, ethnic-chic joss sticks and vegetarian catering services at the wake?

As The Economist writer says, ‘Undertakers thrive on the loss of their clients—not on the loss of their client base’. Meeting evolving demand is key. But you can see why some undertakers favour the big spenders. Flowers spelling GRANDAD: A PROPER DIAMOND GEEZER destroy the ozone layer? Gimme a break. Next you’ll be saying wreaths depicting the St George flag might upset the neighbours.

Walker family history

A feature of family undertakers’ websites is the inordinate amount of space given to dynastic history replete with sepia photos of bowlegged ancestors swathed in fog walking fierce-eyed so far as you can see in front of a Humber Bumble (or whatever).

Good breeding isn’t something we necessarily defer to any more, neither, in a meritocratic society, is hereditary an impressive attribute. We’d all rather be fixed by a dentist who had chosen to be a dentist and worked hard to become a dentist, than by a sixth-generation dentist who’d had the drill passed to her by her parent.

Of course, the point of all this genealogy is to exude stability, rootedness and an accumulation of arcane knowledge. It seems to confer majesty and offer a guarantee of excellence.

And it would — if vocational zeal were embedded in DNA. But of course it’s not. Which is why a number of family funeral businesses are actually very poorly and complacently run, the foundational values having evaporated.

All that matters to funeral shoppers is whether a funeral director is any good. Now.

So it is a matter of both relief and some appreciative amusement to see the fifth generation business AB Walker & Son of Reading summarise its family history as follows:

Established as coach masters in 1826 and obtained outright by the Marlow based Walker family who moved to Reading in the 1870’s, the definitive history of the company would take up most of this website. Suffice to say there has been the full spectrum of conflicts, accidents, unexpected deaths, unexplained births, intrigue and captivating loyalty that would explain why the firm exists as it does today.

As with all families, each generation brings something new and now it is the turn of the fifth generation to act as custodians of the business. As the saying goes – the rest is history…

Camref – the Campaign for Real Funerals

The departing board chairman of Golden Charter funeral plans offers this cold sweat-inducing warning to independent funeral directors in a valedictory address in the Golden Charter newsletter, Goldenews, which we are grateful to have had forwarded to us. He says:

Co-op and Dignity have both acquired significant additional scale, and unquestionably they are operating with a better financial model than independents – on their own – can hope to achieve. There will be no softening of their ambition and there will be greater local commercial pressure. We can also expect consolidation to come from other quarters, particularly private equity.

Not only are these two corporations and private equity seeking to dominate the funerals market, they are making substantial in-roads into the crematoria market. The strategy is to provide future control of and access to crematoria which will potentially form a risk to independents and the prices that they will have to pay.

Corporations like to deal with corporations, and Co-op and Dignity present like-minded opportunity to the insurance companies. In 2007, an over 50’s plan was merely a means of building a financial provision for a funeral – the question of service provision did not come into it.

However, the insurance companies now manage 60 per cent of funds subsequently to be used to pay for a funeral, and it is a reality that they exert considerable influence over who carries out a funeral.

The funeral industry is one of the last bastions for independents. Almost every other market sector has fallen to national or international consolidation. Over the next five years, the choice for an independent funeral director is simple: sell to the competition or come together and exploit your collective strength.

This remains a chilling analysis even after you factor in the chairman’s sales pitch: ‘Over the next five years, the choice for an independent funeral director is simple: sell to the competition or come together and exploit your collective strength. Golden Charter is the only credible collective umbrella.’

Consolidation, done well, benefits consumers and shareholders. The present corporate players will fail to grow their market share if they don’t address pricing, service and positive brand identity, and they don’t look as if they’re going to hack it. But there are unquestionably opportunities for the right player with a brand that dares to speak its name. As we like to say, if John Lewis did funerals…

The days of the independents just have to be numbered, don’t they? Come on, look at your high street and go figure. 

Or do they? 

Consider the work of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). Among its many successes it lists these: 

  • Created a rich and varied choice of real ale – In the 1970’s CAMRA successfully fought the efforts of the big brewers to replace traditional ales with tasteless keg beers. Since seeing off the likes of Watneys Red, Tavern Keg and Double Diamond the campaigning efforts of CAMRA has seen the creation of hundreds of new breweries producing a wonderful array of real ales. 
  • Smashed the Big brewers stranglehold on UK pubs – In the 1970s and 1980s the Big Six brewers, Allied, Bass, Courage, Scottish & Newcastle, Watneys and Whitbread monopolised regions of the country. CAMRA lobbied against this lack of choice in Britain’s pubs and gradually eroded these regional monopolies. 
  • Number of Breweries increased Fourfold – Since CAMRA was founded the number of breweries operating in the UK has grown fourfold to over 840 breweries. Without CAMRA’s presence it is doubtful whether real ale would be as widespread as it is today. 

 

CAMRA is not an industry body, it is an alliance of consumers: CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale is an independent, voluntary organisation campaigning for real ale, community pubs and consumer rights.
 
Much the same as the Good Funeral Guide. And the Natural Death Centre. 
 
The funeral industry is unaccustomed to consumer scrutiny, doesn’t much like it and tends either to keep schtum or react with angry insecurity when challenged and questioned. This is in stark contrast to all those bereaved people who phone and email to thank us for being there for them. 

 

We believe that independent funeral directors, if they are to survive as a collection of characterful and excellent businesses offering richness of choice,  would do well to reflect that their survival, by no means assured, is likely, if it happens, to owe a debt, perhaps a very great debt, to consumer-focussed communities like the GFG and the Natural Death Centre. To them we say: join in the debate. We learn from each other. We want the same thing. Let’s find common ground. 

 

CAMRA website here.
 
Sorry, no link to the Golden Charter newsletter available.