Going Green at Brookwood Cemetery


It’s been twenty five years since the inspirational Ken West MBE opened the very first natural burial ground at Carlisle cemetery, and here at GFG Towers we felt that this landmark anniversary needed to be acknowledged. Members of the Good Funeral Guild felt so too, and, under gentle pressure from Stephen Laing we have co-opted fellow Guild members Emma Curtis and Sarah Weller to help us organise a celebratory day to commemorate Ken’s achievement at the beautiful, iconic Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey on Sunday September 9th, between 10.00 and 17.00.

Since 1993 when the very first natural burial took place, over 300 sites around the UK have been opened, and countless thousands of people have chosen this gently, environmentally responsible alternative to cremation or traditional burial. Despite this, natural burial lags behind in the statistics, being the choice of only around 1% of the population, which we think is a real shame. We’d love to help raise awareness of natural burial generally, so this celebratory day is a starting point for us. Watch this space for further developments.

In the meantime, the event on Sunday 9th September will be open to everyone to attend, with an opportunity to explore the fabulous historic Brookwood Cemetery as a bonus. The London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company was established in 1852 to provide ‘a great metropolitan cemetery situated in the suburbs, large enough to contain all of London’s dead for ever’, in response to great public concern about the state of London’s cemeteries. Two years later, Brookwood Cemetery was opened and the London Necropolis Railway ran between Waterloo station and two private stations in the cemetery, carrying coffins and mourners directly into the cemetery grounds. Since then, over 240,000 people have been buried here, and the cemetery is a hidden wonder of beautiful landscaping, quietly fading memorials and mausolea, immaculate military cemeteries and gems such as the only Zoroastrian cemetery in Europe and the St. Edward Brotherhood, a small Orthodox Christian monastery.

Set in the heart of Brookwood Cemetery is the natural burial area, Gillian’s Meadow, and it is here that we will be gathering to commemorate the establishment of natural burial as a viable alternative to the existing funeral choices. The Open Day will run from 10.00 until 17.00, and along with the ceremonial tree planting, there will be activities throughout the day to encourage guests to explore incorporating nature and ritual in their end of life decisions.

Death cafe picnics will run alongside rustic crafts, mandala and garland making, story telling,message writing and a ‘Time to Altar Grief’ installation, there will be a book tent where you can browse through all kinds of books on death and funerals, a chance to meet and chat with people working in the funeral industry who can answer any questions you might have, an opportunity to see a grave prepared for a natural burial, and Sound in the Woodland. We will also be offering Forest Bathing walks, allowing the opportunity to learn about the healing benefits of being among trees and nature, in the perfect setting. Bring a picnic and a rug and come and spend the day immersed in the beauty of Brookwood.

It will be a wonderful day, commemorating a hugely important movement inspired a quarter of a century ago by the brave innovation of Ken West and Carlisle City Council. We’ll be inviting all of the UK natural burial site owners and operators to come along and join us in acknowledgement of Ken’s influence, as well as local dignitaries and friends of Brookwood Cemetery. Members of the Good Funeral Guild will be coming along too, and the day will be open to the public to come and be part of.

Oh, and there will be cake. Lots of cake. With a very special centrepiece cake created by Conjurer’s Kitchen.

Details about Going Green at Brookwood can be found on Facebook here.


Our role in their wishes

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.

Questions, then.

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?

Most Promising New Funeral Director


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

Celebrant turned zoo keeper

Posted by Wendy Coulton

I think my neighbours must have been impressed when they saw me clear out space in my garage this month. But the truth is I had no choice. You see, next week it will be the new home for the eye-catching and thought provoking centre piece for a free public event I have organised about end of life matters in my home city Plymouth.

My garage will be the temporary enclosure for an extra large paper mache elephant (as if sourcing one in the first place wasn’t difficult enough!) until it hopefully will stop people in their tracks at Plymouth Central Library at The Elephant in the Room event on Friday 27th and Saturday 28th March 2015.

The saying ‘elephant in the room’ refers to an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to acknowledge or talk about. And that is exactly what I have witnessed too often with bereaved families in distress, conflict and hardship because no preparation was discussed or made for death.

My response to this was to get 15 respected speakers all under one roof across this two day event to cover a wide range of end of life topics including:

*  money and legal matters before and following death

*  health and social care issues like choosing where to die and the identity loss carers may experience when the person they have looked after dies

*  last wishes

*  organ donation

*  what to do when you suspect someone may be suicidal

*  what happens at the crematorium

*  business succession planning for the self-employed and small firms

*  the work of the coroner; and

*  bereavement care for children and young people

There will also be a Death Cafe discussion forum and information stands in the advice hub.

The aim of this free event is to encourage people to come in and find out more about their choices and key issues they may need to consider and plan for in the future.

Wouldn’t it fantastic if just as university open days, wedding fayres and recruitment events are commonplace, we could establish at least annually a similar approach to a focus on end of life issues and services?

 More event detail will be posted in February on www.dragonflyfunerals.co.uk

Die-alogue Cafe

First there was Death Café. Then Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death. Then Death Salon.

Now there’s Die-alogue Cafe

Die-alogue Café has been developed by an Australian academic, Stuart Carter. We’ve been talking to Stuart for some time. We like and respect him very much. His purpose is not to upstage other formats, but to offer an alternative.

His starting point is pretty much the same as the others:

Living in a death denying time in human history is not delivering the good deaths we say we would like to have … in the company of like-minded people: we don’t feel so alone, we can create a good death road-map.

Self-empowerment is the thing:

We choose to not sit around and wait for someone else to do what we can do, ourselves — when we have the know-how (knowledge), the where-with-all (tools) and the friends who are willing to lend a hand (help).

So the format is purposeful, the discussion focussed so as:

* to be of practical assistance to each other;
* to build a body of knowledge and expertise that will, by extension, strengthen our families and communities;
* to build bridges across cultural divides;
* to empower people to act wisely and face the future with a positive outlook;
* to raise awareness about injustices and
* to provide a gentle nudge of encouragement as we face our fears.

Die-alogue Café is not for children, people seeking grief therapy; or people who are not prepared to use the plain English words that describe our end-of-life realities. It is not everyone’s idea of a good way to spend a couple of hours.

Meetings are themed. They comprise ‘ordinary’ people and professionals – care home staff, nurses, doctors, undertakers, estate planners, etc. Outcomes may be various: Do research, take on projects, write letters, practice meditation, play games, create art, visit, invent; in other words practice the principles and report back.

The overriding purpose is to enable people to have better ends and better funerals:

While the location, the time, the group may be different the underlying sentiments remain… open, honest dialogue as a backdrop to creating a dance with death that when played out in daily life, will reveal treasures untold and enrich all who stumble across its stage.

You can find out more about Die-alogue Café here. You can find Stuart’s dedicated website and blog here.

Food for thought

Celebrant and guest blogger Wendy Coulton visits a Death Cafe

Curiosity and a genuine interest in the concept prompted me to drive a five hour round trip on a wet Sunday to attend a Death Café in Bristol. The setting was the basement of an informal vintage styled tea shop and as people descended the steps and made polite introductions, it had all the makings of some underground subversive meeting away from the scrutiny of the authorities or those who would not approve. But within minutes there was a pleasant friendly exchange of conversation between strangers who were relieved like me that so many (over 24) people turned up!

We began with some basic housekeeping rules so that it was understood this was not a counselling or grief support group and that we would respect confidentiality around personal details from what is said during the Death Café session. We briefly heard about the Swiss origin of the Death Cafes as a convivial setting (cue cakes) where matters related to the D word could be openly discussed without prejudice or judgement. Leo – who ‘facilitated’ in a loose sense – helpfully provided some questions to kick off the chat but there was no awkward pauses in the group I joined. We split into groups of about five and about 45 minutes later we came together to hear pithy highlights of what issues and topics were discussed.

Before the Death Café I thought it was a selfless act for me to leave clear instructions on what I wanted for my own funeral so my daughter didn’t have to second guess or worry about ‘getting it wrong’ but when I drove home I mulled over the insightful views of those I had the pleasure of meeting and shifted my view. What hadn’t occurred to me was that by doing that I would deny my daughter a chance to express what my daughter wanted to do in her own way to say farewell and pay her respects. And actually why should I care – I will be dead – and therefore did that make me just controlling and that any decisions or discussion should be with my daughter about what she might find comforting when that time comes? So I intend to have the chat (with more cake) with my daughter so that she knows what I feel strongly about but also that she has freedom of expression too when she has to make arrangements for my funeral.

What do you want at your funeral?

Guest blogger RR writes today for ‘the silent majority of consumers’.

With the plethora of funeral options, some people choose to give their own send-off advance thought and leave instructions to their next of kin. This brief survey aims to focus the mind on some of the boxes that might need to be ticked. If answering this questionnaire, feel free to give additional comments. For example, if you want music at your funeral, and already have specific favourites, do share…

1 Have you been involved in planning a funeral before?

2 Did the dead person leave instructions for the funeral?


3 Do you intend to leave instructions for your own funeral?


4 What are your preferences for the ‘disposal’ of the body?
Donated to medical science

5 Where do you want your funeral to take place?
Church and crematorium
Woodland burial ground
Alternative venue
At home
Direct cremation with no funeral service

6 Who do you want to officiate at your funeral?
Religious celebrant
Humanist celebrant
Civil/secular celebrant
Family member

7 Which of the following do you want included in the funeral service?
Full religious liturgy
Exclusively secular format
Mix of religious and secular
Bible readings
Secular readings
Classical music
Contemporary music
Moment of silence
Collective call-out of memories

8 How do you want funeral guests to dress?
Specific theme
Anything goes

9 What are your coffin or urn design preferences?
Other (eg cloth shroud)

10 What transport do you want to your funeral?
Traditional hearse
Horse-drawn carriage
Alternative hearse (eg motorbike and sidecar)
Own transport

11 Who do you want to carry the coffin at the service?
Undertakers’ pallbearers
Family and friends

12 Do you plan a committal ceremony after the funeral?
Graveside (burial of coffin or urn)
Scattering of ashes
No committal

13 Do you plan a memorial service or gathering some time after the death/funeral/committal?

14 If your body/ashes are to be buried, how do you want the resting place commemorated?
Planted tree

No marker of the spot
Not applicable

15 Do you plan to budget in advance for your funeral?
Specific funeral plan financial product
Regular financial product (eg ISA)
Instructions in a will for the next of kin
Agreement with next of kin to cover costs
No plan

16 How much do you envisage spending on your funeral?
Up to £1,000
Over £10,000

17 Which of the following do you want at your funeral?
Big turnout of family, friends and aquaintances
An intimate gathering
Funeral venue hire
Social venue hire
Service sheet
Burial site
Memorial stone or plaque
Musicians and choir/singers
Food and drink
Catering staff and waiters
Memorial slide/video screen

18 Before the funeral, where do you want your body to rest?
Cold storage in hospital/undertaker’s morgue
At home
No preference

19 What are your preferences for viewings of the body at a vigil or wake?

Closed coffin
Open coffin

20 If viewings are welcomed, which options do you prefer?

Visit to undertakers’ chapel of rest
Viewable any time at home
Embalmed body
Temperature-controlled, un-embalmed body

21 Do you believe in some form of life of the soul after death?


Making A List


After extensive research I have the definitive answer to list-making for funerals.

Maybe not, but I have cast my mind back over the several hundreds of funerals at which I have officiated and celebranted.

I have concluded that the making of detailed lists is rare. Usually a person’s funeral wishes consist of one or two pieces of music and maybe a request along the lines that no-one should wear black. Men are most likely to ask for a particular song because they (rightly) predict that this is the only way they will have any chance of getting the song they want. For example, an elderly gent wanted Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust. There was no way his widow would have thought of this had he not specified it. Another man requested that Burning Love be played as the crematorium curtains closed. Even knowing that this was his dying wish, there were a few raised eyebrows as Elvis sang, ‘Lord almighty, I feel my temperature rising higher, higher, it’s burning through to my soul…’

But my favourite for those places where the coffin goes through a door or sinks beneath the floor is Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. This was requested by a man who knew his family would have found it difficult to have such an expressive piece of music. I’m occasionally told things like, ‘He always used to say I want Bat Out of Hell at my funeral,’ as though the poor bloke talked of nothing else.

Rarely do people write something to be read at their funerals but, when they do, their friends and family hang on every word. Only once have I known someone to write their own eulogy – it was so long that there was no time for anyone else to talk about him.

Women are more likely to leave a poem tucked away somewhere. How many such poems are discovered after the funeral has taken place? There you are, three weeks after your mum’s loving send-off congratulating yourself on a job well done, when you find a detailed list of requests. Your heart sinks as you read, ‘I’d like to be buried in a wicker coffin’ just after you’ve cremated her in oak veneer.