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Lifting the lid on coffin prices

 

These are turbulent times in the world of funerals, and we were delighted to hear last week of another innovative idea – a funeral director prepared to offer EXACTLY the same coffins that your friendly high street (corporate) undertaker has in their range, at a realistic price!

Gone are the breathtaking markups that you might find in the same friendly high street (corporate) undertakers, here are the coffins that you can find in pretty much every FD’s range, fully compliant with stringent requirements being applied by many crematoria, transparently priced and available for rapid delivery within England, Wales and Scotland.

What we love about this is that anyone making funeral arrangements can challenge the price being charged by their friendly high street (corporate) undertaker, simply by asking them why, for example, the EXACT SAME coffin can be purchased from Coffinbooker.com for half the price quoted in the glossy coffin brochure in front of them.

Until now, coffins supplied by the main suppliers to the funeral trade have not been available directly to the public. Good undertakers will charge a reasonable handling charge on top of the trade price they pay for these coffins, others have seen an opportunity to whack the price up by many hundreds – and in some cases thousands – of pounds. The unsuspecting bereaved person sitting in the arranging room rarely has any idea of the mark up applied. Now, with one fell swoop, the realistic prices of around a hundred styles of coffins can be clearly seem by anyone caring to take a look.

Coffinbooker.com is the brainchild of Colin Liddell, long time friend and supporter of the Good Funeral Guide and one of our recommended funeral directors. Here he is in his own words:

‘ Selling coffins direct to the public. This is not a new concept. My grandfather supplied coffins in the 1930s to families before the advent of funeral directors and the umbrella approach adopted to take all of the aspects – bad and good – beyond the control of the family.

My name is Colin Liddell; I am hardly an outsider to the funeral industry having served the bereaved in one way or another my entire working life. I hold funeral directing qualifications (you may be interested to learn that many funeral directors do not, as the industry is unregulated). This is my first stab at a blog, so I do hope you enjoy reading about my journey. 

In 2003, I hosted the first ever public coffin exhibition in Belsay Hall, in rural Northumberland. It began a conversation which is still being held today. At the time the theme was transparency and choice. The conversation has now evolved to empowerment and addressing funeral poverty.

In 2018, there is now a shift towards direct cremations, death cafés, home funerals, soul midwives, the Good Funeral Guide, choice and value and these ideas are beginning to gain traction.

In supply terms, many major coffin companies have to address economies of scale and to deal with the public directly is not an option for them. This gives rise to a situation where many excellent – and would be first choice coffins –  become out of reach for the average family due to, in some cases price mark-ups of many hundreds of pounds. 

In my daily life I am a funeral director and have made a point of not inflating coffin prices as I have confidence in my service and care and charge for that instead. The logical extension of this has become coffinbooker.com.

The distinction is that I am in a position to offer trade and industry standard coffins, with the latest and best environmental credentials direct to the public. Not shoddy ersatz items which in some cases are not even fit for purpose.

Mine is not a new or unique idea, but my USP is that where available I only sell FSC or FFMA approved coffins or caskets, this I believe makes me unique. I am supplying the kind of coffins and caskets undertakers use – and trust their reputations on. There is much innovation in the industry and hopefully as I see things I like, I shall add to the 100 or so different types or styles on offer. 

I have launched the venture with no expectations other than to provide choice and change. It will stand or fall by the courage of the people following the ample guidance on respected internet sources – The Good Funeral Guide naturally being the most informative – regarding families looking after their loved-ones themselves.

My new venture is simple. To deliver the best that is out there and a fraction of current retail price with a complete choice at a one stop shop. You don’t buy a coffin everyday – why buy an everyday coffin? Let’s keep the conversation going.

Thanks for the opportunity,

Colin

 

 

 

Lifetime Achievement Award 2017

                                                          Clive Leverton

A stellar line up of well known names in the funeral world comprised this year’s shortlist for the lifetime achievement award, all of whom merited a mention for the work that they have done in their field.

  • Natasha Bradshaw, Superintendent and General Registrar from Mortlake Crematorium and specifically for her role in the joint working partnership with others in providing funerals for babies
  • Clive Cappleman from Sherlocks Funeral Directors for 45 years service and being an outstanding funeral director
  • Janet Cheal – long time accomplished organist, now at Forest Park Crematorium
  • Simon Dyer from Albins Funeral Directors
  • Jeremy Field from CPJ Field
  • Howard Hodgson from Memoria Ltd for his years of work in the funeral industry and his latest ventures providing both state of the art crematoria and low cost funeral services
  • Jason Kiely from Key Air for his work with repatriation services
  • Clive Leverton for his lifetime dedication to the family funeral business
  • Colin Liddell for his devotion to serving families and his constant availability offering advice and assistance to other undertakers
  • Alan Lister BEM for his dedication and inspiration working in the funeral industry since the early 1990s
  • Chantal Lockey for her work with The Foundation for Infant Loss
  • Cara Mair for her leadership, collaborative approach and pioneering work at ARKA
  • Julia Samuel OBE for her acclaimed book Grief Works and her ongoing role as a bereavement counsellor
  • Terri Shanks for her support, training and mentorship of celebrants through the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants.
  • Professor Tony Walter for his 30 years’ work as a death sociologist and resulting worldwide achievements and acclaim.

A tough decision to make, but the judges finally made their choice:

At 73, having officially retired from his family firm nearly three years’ ago, this year’s winner is still very much involved in supporting not only the firm but also the profession itself. Starting work when he was just 16, he has dedicated his life to growing and innovating the family business with genuine care and passion. As director, his commitment and drive to be ethical and client focused in all that they do has given staff and colleagues someone to be inspired by.

Perhaps most notably, although he would never draw attention to this, he has carried out many famous and infamous funerals, including in 1997 along with his brother, the funeral of Diana Princess of Wales and the responsibility that this brought with it. What was of paramount importance to our winner was that the company could commit to their other clients and funerals on those significant days. The respect from those around him comes from knowing he treats everyone the same, whoever they are – with dignity.

He has represented all that is traditional and modern in the profession. He is a man that gives. And he gives selflessly. He has been Chairman of the St Pancras Welfare Trust for 20 years and is also a member of the Worshipful Company of Upholders.

His ability to go above and beyond his duty is very much reflected in his achievements.  He has been instrumental in professionalising independent funeral directors. Not only did he help to establish and grow SAIF, he was also part of the creation of Golden Charter, now the biggest Independent Plan Provider in the UK. He is never afraid to try something new and he pioneered the very first all-electric hearse in the UK in 2013, taking two years to invest, design and develop a much needed Eco-friendly alternative to the traditional hearse.

In well-deserved recognition for his lifetime of contributions to the profession the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Clive Leverton of Leverton & Sons.

 

Award photograph by Jayne Lloyd

The 2017 Good Funeral Awards were generously sponsored by Greenfield Creations

 

Standing ovation at The Good Funeral Awards

 

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.

On Tuesday 27th June, Jon Underwood did not pass away; he died – that difference in wording is an important distinction that Jon would have wanted us all to make; his work with Death Cafe helped to reclaim the words death and dying and placed importance on us all being unafraid of using the actual words and not speaking in euphemisms. 
 
Jon brought together tens of thousands of people who began to talk openly and honestly about one of life’s toughest subjects, over tea and cake. 
 
Since the first Death Cafe was held in Jon’s front room in Hackney in 2011, there have been over 5000 Death Cafes in over 50 countries. Death Cafe has received unprecedented press coverage including the front page of the New York Times, Woman’s Hour, BBC Breakfast News and pretty much every other major news outlet around the world. 
 
Jon also painstakingly built and managed Funeral Advisor in association with the Natural Death Centre Charity and worked on many projects for Dying Matters. 
 
My colleagues in the death and dying profession, including so many of the people in this room, have been devastated by Jon’s untimely death. We are honoured that we were able to call him both a colleague and a friend. 
 
In the beautiful setting of the Jamyang Buddhist Centre and with the generosity and creativity of some of the 
people in this room today – including Hasina, Allistair and Sarah from Compassionate Funerals, the team at Ecoffins, Andrew and Steve from Brahm’s Electric Hearse and the members of the Good Funeral Guild who carried Jon’s coffin, Jon’s funeral ceremony took place on Thursday 6th July. It had been Jon’s dream to hold 
funerals at the centre and with an irony he would have relished, his was the first. 
 
A perfect reflection of Jon, his funeral was brave, pioneering and groundbreaking. 
 
Jon was a source of invaluable advice, support and encouragement to everyone 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. 
 
He was a mix of quiet determination, loving kindness, extreme modesty and belief in the importance of the work he was doing as a self-confessed death activist. His commitment to making the world a better place 
through his work was unwavering. 
 
Since 2011, Jon funded Death Cafe entirely through his own personal savings and small freelance 
projects. He had recently begun trying to fundraise so he could pay his bills and support his family. 
 
As a community, we wanted to support Jon’s young children, Frank and Gina, and set up a JustGiving page 
in his memory. We’ll be auctioning the infamous gold cake at the end of today’s awards ceremony, and all 
proceeds will go directly to Jon’s family. 
 
So in Jon’s own words: “I’m motivated to do this work because I believe that engaging with death is both important and overlooked. My experience tells me that death can play a role in helping us enjoy life. I also believe that focusing on death can play a part in helping us get to grips with some big challenges – like supporting older people, climate change, a broken economic system and chronic global inequality. This may not 
immediately make sense but if we can face up to death we can face up to anything. I am very proud of 
my work – I don’t think there has ever been anything quite like it!”
 
On behalf of everyone here today, the wider death and dying community and Death Cafe hosts and 
attendees all over the world, I’d like to ask Jon’s sister Jools Barsky to collect an award in Jon’s honour – the Good Funeral Award for Outstanding Service to Society.”

Thank you Lou!!

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.

 

Fran

 

In Memory of Jon Underwood

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.

Jon Underwood and his mum, Sue Barksy Reid, who was instrumental in developing the Death Cafe model 

 
 
“I met Jon when he was at the beginning of his Death Cafe journey and his quiet determination to create a subtle social change in our attitudes to death was something I had never encountered before. It truly became his vocation, second only to his devotion to his children who were just babies then.
 
We also worked together setting up Funeral Advisor when I was a trustee of the Natural Death Centre, and he handed over the database of UK funeral directors that he had spent so many hours compiling for me to update and complete before the website was launched. It was a real labour of love and continued to be right until his death.  Unlike other predatory funeral comparison websites, Funeral Advisor was wholly not for profit and must have consumed many hours of Jon’s time looking after it.
 
Over the years our paths crossed occasionally, we co-hosted a Death Cafe at the Festival Hall once, and bumped into each other at various events. He never changed, he was always a gentle, calm and warm presence in any gathering, and a man who truly lived his truth, his beliefs informing his living and his consciousness of the impermanence of life was a fundamental guidance for his work, to which he was dedicated.
 

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.
 
“I first came across Jon when he was involved in an event at the National Gallery called Death & the Masters.  He was talking about the gallery’s paintings and hosting a Death Cafe.  I wanted to attend but was broke and couldn’t afford the £50 entrance fee.  The National Gallery weren’t interested in helping but Jon found out and paid for me using his hosting fee with an insistence that I attend, even though I was a total stranger to him at the time.  It was at that point that I came to understand the sort of person Jon was – generous, thoughtful and extremely special.
 
He’s been a mentor, an inspiration and a friend to me over the last few years.  His dedication to his work has been unrivalled.  He was a mix of quiet determination, loving kindness, extreme modesty and belief in the importance of the work he was doing.  His commitment to making the world a better place through Death Cafe was unwavering.

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. 

 
I first ‘met’ Jon when he read a blog post on the GFG about Bernard Crettaz, the intellectual progenitor of death cafe. He emailed. It was clear that the idea had gone deep. When he’d thought some more we agreed to meet in Oxford. He said he’d been to college in Oxford. A sixth form college perhaps, I thought. Maybe an FE college. We walked about a bit with the tourists and found ourselves in ancient place of honey-coloured stone and thousand-year-old lawns. ‘This is where I went to college,’ he said. So he was an Oxford man! How typical of him to underplay that. We drank coffee and he outlined his plans for death cafe. I considered what he said and replied carefully. I couldn’t see it taking off. The rest is legacy.”
 
Charles Cowling, Founder, The Good Funeral Guide
 

Please leave your tributes to Jon in the comments below.