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St. Margaret’s Hospice Funerals

 

It’s here!

Today’s the day that the first Hospice Funerals branch in the UK opens for business.

The people of Taunton have been watching the refurbishment of the former charity shop over the last few weeks, as the grey paint (not dark and forbidding) was applied to the exterior and the shiny new furnishings arrived. 

Over the grey frosting on the windows, and below the statement (mysteriously missing the possessive apostrophe) Hospice Funerals Vision, the following legend proudly declares to the world in one long sentence, using the word ‘hospice’ four times and ‘exemplary’ twice just to hammer home the point: ‘To provide all hospice communities the choice and experience of exemplary hospice funeral services that uniquely reflect the dedication, warmth and reputation of the hospice movement – an extension of exemplary hospice care – caring, transparent and personal.’

Phew. Try reading that without drawing breath. Particularly if you’re sitting in traffic alongside the new funeral business and the lights are about to change.

Anyway, on the day of the official opening of St. Margaret’s Hospice Funerals’ first branch, we thought we’d offer those considering copying this trailblazing franchisor and opening their own Hospice Funerals franchise partnership the results of the survey that we have been running for the last month.

Trustees of hospices thinking of following St. Margaret’s’ lead might be particularly interested in the responses to Q4.

In total, 719 people from across the UK responded. This is rather more than the 245 people from an unnamed North of England town where St. Margaret’s and their partners, Memoria Ltd, carried out market research prior to launching – and apparently received an astounding 82% approval of their Hospice Funerals scheme!

Our findings were somewhat different to their results. Although we obviously don’t know exactly what question they asked.

Here are our five simple questions.

Q1: ‘Before today, had you heard about St. Margaret’s Hospice partnering with Memoria Ltd to set up Hospice Funerals LLP offering other hospices the opportunity to set up funeral director businesses?’

293 people said yes they had.

423 people said no.

Q2: ‘Do you think there is a need for hospices to offer funeral services to their patients and the wider community?’

209 people said yes.

498 people said no.

(370 people offered their reasons in comments. We’ll add a few of these below to give a flavour of the things said.)

Q3: ‘Were you aware of the proposed £100,000 set up cost and £10,000 per annum franchise fee involved with each Hospice Funerals funeral director business?’

94 people said they were aware.

621 said they weren’t.

Q4: ‘Would you want your donation or fund-raising for your local hospice to be used to help set up and fund a hospice funeral business?’

65 people said yes

74 people said they wouldn’t mind how their money was used

573 people said no.

(102 people added comment to this question too.)

Q5: Are you (please tick all that apply):

A member of the public – 516 people

A staff member of a hospice – 12 people

A volunteer in a hospice – 17 people

A fund raiser for a hospice – 26 people

A donor of money or goods to a hospice – 91 people

A funeral director – 91 people

A staff member or volunteer in another organisation that has links to a hospice – 36 people.

Here are some representative examples of comments in response to Q2. (A complete list of all 370 comments received is available on request.)

“I think this could provide good continuity for families but only if it was done sensitively and not for profit”

“Offering funeral services to patients and the wider community is beyond the scope of health and hospice care, and a potential conflict of interest – i.e. hospice benefits financially from the death of patients. Alternatively, hospices could play a role to support the dying person and their family and carers, and the broader community, with education regarding ceremony and body disposal options, without recommending specific providers; the local community will be better served by each hospice providing information about or links to local, independent, support services and providers.”

“Firstly, I think there are enough Funeral Directors in the UK anyway. Secondly, I feel there is a conflict of interest if the “charity sector” is partnering with a profit making organisation.”

“It should be the patients and their relatives’ decision. At such a difficult time, it would be easy to use the linked funeral provider without it necessarily being the right decision. The whole idea makes me feel very uncomfortable.”

“Ethically the hospice should stand back and let the family chose the funeral director of choice not feel obliged to pay a linked company. All rather distasteful.”

“I feel that families may feel pressured into using these services in gratitude and grief.”

“Their job is to do the right thing on the right side of dying. It’s a conflict of interests to venture into the dead side of dying.”

“There are enough caring independent funeral directors. We don’t need another “big faceless player” on the scene.”

“Hospices provide a different service and conflating that with a funeral service appears to be predatory with grieving families as the victims.”

“There is no need for a linked funeral director, since hospices will all fall within the ‘natural’ catchment areas of a range of existing companies. There could be an argument for resourcing hospice chaplaincy better (Christian and other faiths) so that families are able to have a minister that they already know, and who cared for their loved one spiritually in life, take their funeral.”

“I don’t know a lot about this, but it seems like a helpful service for them to provide.”

“I believe these services should be kept seperate for ethical reasons, the preservation of the notion of hospice care, and for the mental well-being of those in care (I.e. the avoidance of a conveyor belt feeling, as though the living person is perceived as being a resource of value when dead).”

“There is a danger of this option being used by big corporate funeral firms for their own profits while all the time making out they are helping hospices with their funds.”

“I had never considered the idea before, and I suppose it might be the last stop on the continuum of care, but I don’t like the idea. It seems very creepy  to have one’s health care team circling like vultures waiting to make money off a funeral.”

“It is a saturated market. There isn’t a need.There should be a demarcation between health and business. The hospice has in essence a captive audience, I honestly think it is an abuse of their privileged position.”

And in response to Q4 – again, a representative sample of the range of comments received from 102 people, with the full list available on request:

“I am happy to help care for patients and to help hospices raise the money needed for their existence. They are an invaluable service. I would not want my money to be helped to support a conglomerate whose directors are set to take funds away from the Hospice.”

“I would NOT be happy to help fund a franchise which would control the business in the style of conventional  funeral provision.  I would be more than happy to contribute towards a not-for-profit co-operative service provided for & by the community.”

“Simply; because it stinks.”

I think most people would be shocked to hear that their charitable donations raised in loving memory of relatives they have lost would be used to invest in risky private ventures.”

“I would rather the hospices supported their patients by giving them and their families options to consider.  The alternative almost feels like a one stop shop.”

“Hospices need every penny to care for patients and that is why people donate. Using donations to pay for a franchise buy in would be a dishonourable use of funds.”

“I donate to ensure the best care is given at this most difficult time.. The client and family should be able to choose from a range of funeral directors of their choice. I would be very angry and would stop donating if the money was used in any way other than helping people to have the best quality of life until they die.”

“I am assuming that a funeral business would need to make money therefore I would prefer any donations I make would help people at a most difficult time. Perhaps an advice centre within the Hospice would be useful, letting people know what choices are available.”

“This is a ridiculously slanted question. Don’t bother to pretend this is research when it’s clearly a piece of push polling. Unethical.”

Now, we’ve been described as many things in the past, but unethical we ain’t.

We just wanted to know what people actually thought.

Now we’re going to watch and see how this new funeral business with the best branding in town gets on, in an area where bereaved people of the ‘hospice community’ already have a choice of twelve other funeral directors. Many of them are already providing a ‘caring, transparent and personal service’.

We’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The business case for a hospice funeral service

 

To: The CEO of the North Devon Hospice

Dear Stephen Roberts

It is with sadness and grave misgivings that I have learned of your decision to throw in your lot with Hospice Funerals. Any new business is a gamble, but I think you’re risking more than money in this new venture. Let me tell you why.

You’ve done your market research and you know that the market you are entering is saturated: we have more funeral directors than we need. I recognise that you’d only be doing this if you had identified a gap — an opportunity to provide a commercial service catering for needs that are not presently being met. And you have. Together with Hospice Funerals you have identified four areas where you reckon you have a competitive advantage. One of these amounts to a USP which no other provider can match.

First, there is ‘transparency’ — price transparency. The Good Funeral Guide has been campaigning for undertakers to post prices online for years so I’m with you there. Failure to publicise prices stops the market from working properly and creates the impression that undertakers generally are overcharging. It is true that some undertakers have indeed been using this as a way of disguising unacceptably high prices, but many have refrained from doing so on the grounds that it was not, they felt, ‘dignified’ to do so. It has taken time to alter this mindset. Online price comparison sites have helped. The best undertakers now post their prices online while the rest are rapidly following suit. My judgement is that transparency, once a major issue for funeral consumers, won’t be for much longer.

Second, you intend your funeral service to be ‘affordable’ — in plain English, cheap. The reasons for funeral price inflation are complex and have much to do with above-inflation third-party price rises (eg, burial and cremation). The funeral directors’ component of the final bill for a funeral has actually been below the rate of inflation for the last two years. Margins generally have been shrinking in response to consumer demand for cheaper, simpler funerals. Furthermore, there has been an appreciable number of altruistic new entrants to the market throughout the UK operating on very low margins indeed in order to be accessible to people on low incomes. If you propose to operate your hospice funeral service at the ‘affordable’ end of the market you are likely to be disappointed by its crowdedness and its poor profitability. Partnering with an organisation — Hospice Funerals — that exists only to make money out of you is only going to diminish your bottom line further.

Third, your funeral business will be operating under the name of your hospice. This is likely to be a potent force in marketing your funerals. But remember, yours is essentially a speculative venture. Being good at looking after the dying, their families and friends, does not automatically translate into being good at looking after the dead and the bereaved. Any falling short in funeral provision is likely to impact grievously on the good name of your hospice and consequently on the high regard of your volunteers, supporters and donors. To lose money on this venture would be reputationally disastrous.

Fourth, your raison d’etre and USP is to bridge what you call the ‘care gap’ by providing a seamless service from terminal illness to grave. This is a marvellous idea. Yes, if you had cared for someone as they lay dying, why wouldn’t you want to go on caring for them in death? Why hand them over to strangers? A hospice is in a unique position to achieve this. It makes very good sense. 

Except that it won’t be hospice staff who care for your dead on hospice premises, will it? It will be a separate team from somewhere else. Strangers, in other words. So not seamless at all. Or different. You’ll be just another undertaker, no different from all the rest, competing in the same overcrowded market. 

You say that “North Devon Hospice’s key focus is income diversification right now”. Perhaps this gives us an insight into where you’ve gone wrong. Your thinking been profit-driven, not values-led. Consequently your business case is a muddle of wrong assumptions and wishful thinking. 

I urge you to reconsider. Please, whatever you do, don’t take risks with your hospice’s good name.

With best wishes

Charles Cowling

Director and founder of the Good Funeral Guide

 

 

 

 

Disingenuous? Really?

 

Predictably, the Good Funeral Guide’s recent decision to take a public stance on our misgivings about the wisdom of UK hospices engaging in the Hospice Funerals franchise opportunity has not been welcomed by the parties involved in this venture.

We have been described as ‘disingenuous’, ‘concerned with protecting the commercial interests of those who fear increased competition in the funeral market’ and people have been encouraged to ‘question our motives’.

We thought it might be worth stating our position very clearly for the public record.

 

The Good Funeral Guide was founded to represent the interests of funeral consumers. Neither its CEO nor any of its directors has a financial stake in any undertaking business.

WHERE DO WE GET OUR MONEY FROM?

Like any consumer organisation, the GFG can only be of value to consumers if it is a sustainable business. Like any consumer organisation, we must source revenue principally from one or more of three sources: i) subscribers (consumers), ii) funeral directors, iii) advertisers. Because we want our site to be open to all at the point of need we do not charge consumers. Because we do not want to clutter our site with distracting, garish ads, we do not accept advertising. Instead, we invite funeral directors to submit to our stringent accreditation process, charge them for the work involved and, on top of that, charge them a small subscription of £150 pa for our review of their services to appear on our website. The rationale for this is clear: funeral directors benefit from increased business once they have been recommended by the GFG; they can afford to pay.

WE ALWAYS SAY WHAT WE THINK

In submitting to our accreditation process, funeral directors understand that the GFG is feisty, fearless and outspoken in its advocacy of the bereaved in a way which may occasionally make them uncomfortable. It is precisely our free-spirited integrity that makes our endorsement of their services a) valuable and b) worth paying for. They know that we have refused to accredit funeral directors who have failed to meet GFG standards; we are hard to please. Above all, they understand that we always put the interests of funeral consumers first. So they know that if hospices were to extend their care of their patients by caring for them in death in a way which we considered to be beneficial to people who have died and those who mourn them, the GFG would support them. As indeed we would.

WE LOOK FOR THE BEST

Unlike a great many (uninformed) commentators on the funerals business, the Good Funeral Guide does not take a view that the business of undertaking is systemically predatory and exploitative. We know that while there are a great many unsatisfactorily run businesses, there are also that some are exemplary and admirable. That we sing the praises of the latter is to the benefit of consumers. This does not make the Good Funeral Guide a mouthpiece for those businesses. That we have invited our listed funeral directors to endorse our opposition to the Hospice Funerals concept is because we consider their views to be of weight and merit.

WE THINK THE HOSPICE FUNERALS CONCEPT IS DOOMED

To reiterate: in the matter of the Hospice Funerals enterprise, we call it as we see it. It is our judgement that the business model is intrinsically defective: Why? Because Hospice Funerals will not be competitive on cost, personal service, transparency or choice. Hospice Funerals will not improve the lot of funeral consumers. Hospices should not be spending volunteer-raised money on an untried, speculative enterprise. Britain’s best funeral directors happen to agree with us.

To the trustees of all hospices in the UK

 

Last weekend, we despatched letters to the boards of trustees of every hospice in the UK to share our concerns about the new franchise offer that was launched at the Hospices UK conference the previous week.

Our misgivings about this venture are shared by a number of individuals and companies who gave permission for their names to be added in support. The letter is published in full below, together with the names of those who agree with us.

 

The Chair of the Board of Trustees

SAMPLE Hospice

December 1st 2017

HOSPICE FUNERALS: THE GOOD FUNERAL GUIDE COUNSELS CAUTION

Dear Trustees of SAMPLE Hospice

We write regarding the recent launch of Hospice Funerals LLP, of which you may well be aware. Should you not have heard of this new venture, it is a joint collaboration between St. Margaret’s Hospice Ltd. in Somerset and Memoria Ltd., owner /operator of a number of crematoria around the country and of Low Cost Funeral Ltd.

Hospice Funerals is offering all UK hospices the opportunity of a becoming a partner in their franchise funeral director scheme by becoming a ‘Hospice Provider’, entitled to operate exclusively within a defined area, offering undertaking services branded under the hospice name. For full details, please see the Hospice Funeral website https://www.hospicefunerals.co.uk/

The Good Funeral Guide wishes to draw the attention of the Board of Trustees to the very serious concerns that we have about this proposed new revenue stream generator, despite the public proclamations of how this will address the issue of funeral poverty and ‘bring choice, quality and affordability to families in our communities.’

As a trusted, not for profit, social enterprise company, wholly independent of the funeral industry, that has for years supported, empowered and represented the interests of dying and bereaved people living in the UK, we would be delighted to see a truly ethical, community focused undertaking service evolving from the hospice movement; indeed, we have a blueprint guide to how to set up such a model on our website which we developed in partnership with the Plunkett Foundation several years ago.

Unfortunately, this new model proposed by Hospice Funerals does not, in our opinion, fall into the category of an ethical, community focused service, despite the marketing hype.

THE COMMERCIAL RISK

  1. It is a franchise operation, which is intended to utilise ‘brand recognition’ of the hospice name to leverage advantage over existing providers of undertaking services in the franchise catchment area (defined by Hospice Funerals) and by ‘disrupting the market’, in the process conveniently increasing the numbers of cremations carried out by the crematoria owned by Memoria Ltd.

The Good Funeral Guide is not aware of the successful application of any franchise model to the business of funerals. Franchise operations are best suited to selling merchandise, not personal service. The franchise model proposed by Hospice Funerals is wholly unproven.

  1. Figures provided by Hospice Funerals indicate an extremely optimistic analysis of the potential income of a ‘Hospice Provider’. Their analysis suggests that a single unit operation offering funeral packages at their pre-specified prices, requiring a capital input of £110,00, would generate £356,500 through sales of 100 ‘at-need’ funerals and 46 pre-arranged funerals in year one, yielding profit of £26,656. Year three sales are projected as comprising 200 ‘at-need’ funerals, 120 pre-arranged, generating £212,964 profit.

The Good Funeral Guide contends that these figures are misleading, to say the least.

The ‘funeral market’ is, by admission of the directors of Memoria Ltd, already saturated with providers. In the town of Taunton, where the first Hospice Funerals unit is scheduled to open in early 2018, there are currently twelve funeral directors catering for the needs of local bereaved families. This in an area with a population of 109,000 (the borough of Taunton Deane) and an average UK death rate of 9.4 per 1,000.

Figures quoted by the representatives of Hospice Funerals at the launch of the scheme last week cited the average cost of funerals in some areas as being ‘well over £6,000’.

This figure was derived from the Royal London National Funeral Cost Index 2017 and was arrived at by adding the cost of a burial in a specific London Borough, Kensal Green, (£9,809) to the cost of a cremation in the same borough (£3,223) and dividing in two.

It is mysterious that the Royal London Report didn’t allow for the fact that almost 80% of UK funerals are cremations. A more accurate average would be to factor in the percentage split of types of funeral, (20 x £9,808 + 80 x £3,223, divided by 100), which would result in an average cost of a funeral in the most expensive location in the UK being £4,504, not the much more alarming figure of £6,516 quoted in the report.

Note: all monies that will be paid into a Hospice Funerals pre-arranged funeral plan will be held in a Royal London whole-of-life policy, indicating a close and perhaps unquestioning relationship between the two bodies.

Directly related to the above ‘average cost of funerals’, the prices of the funeral packages offered by Hospice Funerals range from £1,295 for an unattended service at a Memoria crematorium to £3,500 for a traditional service with a hearse and bearers at a crematorium of your choice.

In comparison with the inflated figures quoted as the cost of an average funeral, this might seem to be a wholly worthy attempt to address funeral poverty, as it was described at the Hospice Funerals launch, yet the prices of their funeral packages are equivalent with, and in some cases higher than, those currently charged for comparable services by most independently owned funeral directors.

As an example, two Good Funeral Guide Recommended Funeral Directors in the Taunton area (where the first white labelled Hospice Funerals unit will start operating in 2018) are both lower priced for the same traditional funeral service, with all third-party costs included:

Wallace Stuart Lady Funeral Directors (Bridgwater) £2,630.00

Crescent Funeral Directors (Taunton) £3,000.00

Hospice Funerals £3,500.00

The Good Funeral Guide is concerned that the figures quoted by Hospice Funerals could erroneously lead hospices to think that they would have a straightforward price advantage over competitors in offering a local undertaking service, when this would simply not be the case.

THE REPUTATIONAL RISK

We also consider the employment of the name and reputation of hospice, both specifically in the use of the individual name of a local franchisee, and nationally in the use of the company name ‘Hospice Funerals’, to be a calculated, and indeed one could say cynical, attempt to persuade the public that this new undertaking model is simply an extension of the highly reputable and locally supported end of life care provided by their cherished local hospice.

The fact that it is in fact a white label operation, maximizing the use of the ‘brand name’ of the hospice in each area, controlled by Memoria Ltd, who have divided the UK into ‘catchments’ of 100,000 people (and who are proffering these 650 areas for sale at £10,000 p.a. franchise opportunities to hospices as a means of securing their much-needed income) seems to be lost somewhere in the marketing spin.

We would suggest any hospice considering entering an arrangement of this kind notes the following:

  • Other franchisees could give the brand a bad reputation
  • All profits (a percentage of sales) are shared with the franchisor.
  • The franchise agreement will include restrictions on how you can run the business. You might not be able to make changes to suit your local market.
  • You may find that after time, ongoing franchisor monitoring becomes intrusive
  • The franchisor might go out of business.

Reputational damage to individual hospices signing up to this opportunity could potentially be catastrophic. Legacy donations and in memoriam fundraising could be seriously impacted if families elect to use a hospice funeral home, as they could consider they have done their ‘giving back’ to the hospice through their payment of the fees involved with the funeral.

The move from being perceived as a deserving recipient of gifts and donations to being seen as a money-making business entity, competing with established, trusted and well-liked funeral providers, is a subtle but potentially disastrous one, impacting on the public perception that a hospice is a wholly altruistic organisation.

Comments on our blog post about the advent of Hospice Funerals have been overwhelmingly against the idea of hospices entering the supplying of funeral services.

Phrases used include ‘unethical’ (several times) ‘goes against every principle a hospice should stand by’, ‘will negatively impact their charitable and bequest income’, ‘conflict of interest’, ‘risk losing this public support’, ‘at what point does care and support for the dying and impartial advice given to a family suddenly at sea after a death turn into a sales opportunity?’

On social media, there has been a similar reaction. Questions have been asked about the arms-length relationship between a hospice and its funeral home – how will this work in reality? What will be the impact on the current relationship with local undertakers when the hospice enters the marker as a direct competitor? How will the new hospice funerals service be promoted to the community, and how will this be reacted to?

It seems to us that hospices will be carrying all of the risk in the hope of optimistically calculated but completely unproven rewards.

If SAMPLE HOSPICE is considering partnering with Hospice Funerals, we would counsel strongly that the trustees take heed of our concerns before making your final decision to risk your donated funds to venture into competition against the local funeral directors who work so closely with you to look after the families of those whose lives end in your care.

The Good Funeral Guide is supported in our misgivings about the wisdom of this new venture by the individuals and organisations listed below, some of whom may be known to you as local, independently owned undertakers who share our fears about this seductive offer being touted to hospices around the UK.

Should you wish to contact me directly about this I would be more than happy to discuss our collective concerns further. My e-mail address is fran.hall@goodfuneralguide.co.uk.

Fran Hall

CEO Good Funeral Guide CIC

On behalf of the board of directors of the Good Funeral Guide and the undersigned supporters.

 

A Oliver & Sons Funeral Directors

A.W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service Ltd

Adrian Pink – Town & Country Funerals

Alistair Turner Funeral Directors

Allistair Anderson & Hasina Zaman – Compassionate Funerals

Amanda Pink – Evelyn’s Funerals

Andrew Dotchin (Reverend)

Andrew Smith Funeral Service

Angie McLachlan MA; BA Hons, BIE

Anna Briggs – Independent Officiator of bespoke funeral ceremonies

Anne & Simon Beckett-Allen – Rosedale Funerals

C Waterhouse & Sons

Carrie-Ann Rouse – Rouse & Co. Independent Funeral Directors

Carrie Weekes & Fran Glover – A Natural Undertaking

Claire Turnham – Only With Love

Claire Young – Young’s Independent Funeral Services

Clare Brookes – VW Funerals

Colin Liddell – Liddell Funeral Services

Coles Funeral Directors

David Hardie & Son Funeral Directors

David Holmes – Holmes & Family

Don O’Dwyer – O’Dwyer Funerals

E A Dodd & Son

Edward Towner – Arthur C. Towner Ltd

Emma Curtis – Secular Minister, Celebrant & Grief Counsellor

Eric Massie Funeral Directors

Gail Willington – Elizabeth Way & Company

Gordon Tulley & Alison Finch – Respect Woodland Green Burial Parks

Heathfield Funeral Service

Jacob Conroy & Sons Funeral Directors

James L Wallace Funeral Directors

Jane Morgan – Jane Morgan Ceremonies

Jeremy Neal – Rotherham Funerals

Jo Loveridge – Albany Funerals

John Beattie & Sons Funeral Directors

John Pinder – W. E. Pinder & Son Ltd

Judith Dandy – Dandelion Farewells

Judy Mansfield – Cherish Ceremonies

Karen & Julian Hussey – A. G. Down

Leverton & Sons

Louise Winter – Poetic Endings

Lucy Coulbert – The Individual Funeral Company & Coulbert Family Funerals

Like & Liz Farthing – Farthing Funeral Service

Maggie Brinklow & Tony Killen – Margaret Rose & Bespoke Funerals

Malcolm Jones – Molyneux Jones Family Funeral Directors

Mark Binnersley MPRCA Communications Consultant

Martin Stibbards – S. Stibbards & Sons

Matthew Lucas Funeral Directors

Michael & Clare Gamble – Michael Gamble Funeral Directors

Nick Armstrong – Armstrongs Funeral Service

Nikki Hill – Bright-Hill Funerals

Overmass & Chapple

Paul Burrows Gibson – Veterans Funerals UK

Paul Sullivan – Sullivan Funeral Directors

Peace Funerals

Peter Grenfell Funeral Directors

Poppy Mardall – Poppy’s Funerals

Philip & Sallie Evans – Sussex Funeral Directors

Rosalie Kuyvenhoven – Rituals Today

Robert Samson Funeral Directors

Rupert Callender – The Green Funeral Company & Callender, Callender, Caughty & Drummond

Saint & Forster Funeral Directors

Simon Helliar-Moore & Robert Helliar-Moore – Crescent Funerals

Simon Smith – Green Fuse, Heart & Soul Funerals

Southgate & Roberts

Tim Coombe – Senior Anatomical Pathology Technician

Tim Purves – William Purves Funeral Directors

Tilly Munro – Community Funeral Specialist

Toby Angel – Sacred Stones Ltd.

Tom Woodhouse Funeral Directors

Wallace Stuart Funeral Directors

W G Catto Funeral Directors

W G Potter

Wood & Hay Funeral Directors

Look what’s cooking.

 

There’s something afoot in funeral world. Letters have been pinging into the inbox of funeral directors around the country advising them of a shiny new entrant into the world of undertaking.

“Over the next few days you may read about a new funeral company called Hospice Funerals LLP.  It has been set up by St Margaret’s Hospice of Somerset in order to allow local hospices to extend their care to the local community by providing a caring, transparent and personal funeral service..”

A joint operation between St. Margaret’s Hospice and Memoria, this partnership is, at first glance, a match made in heaven.

Expert end of life carers join with expert provider of state of the art crematoria and low cost funeral services to offer communities across the UK a new, better alternative when it comes to funeral arrangements.

But let’s take a closer look.

Memoria’s CEO, Howard Hodgson, is well known in the funeral world. Here’s a little background, taken from an article by Tony Grundy in 2015:

‘For example, in a classic UK television documentary some years ago, former undertaker and entrepreneur Howard Hodgson told of how he led the transformation of the industry through a combination of acquisition, consolidation, value innovation and cost management. In his book ‘How To Become Dead Rich’ Hodgson set out his vision of how to run his funeral business as economically as possible, with an efficient set of local operations providing up to several funerals in a day, making much better use of facilities such as cars, storage and sales facilities. Alongside this he pioneered a more extensive range of services, optimising the average price.

This hugely widened operating profit margin and increased return on net assets. This vision became the model of the Great Southern Group, which Hodgson sold out to and which, after a period of being owned by US company Service Corporation International, is now called Dignity, one of the UK’s top players. These changes also reduced competitive rivalry in the UK market, where a higher proportion of the market had previously been fragmented, made up of ‘mom and pop’ independents.’

St. Margaret’s Hospice announced their plans earlier this month, without mentioning their new partner. The role of funeral director was advertised at £36,000 plus car. One of their existing charity shops is being converted into suitable premises in Taunton – a town in which there are already 12 other undertakers.

The Hospice Funerals website states:

HOSPICE FUNERALS’ VISION

To provide all hospice communities with the choice and experience of hospice funeral services that uniquely reflect the dedication, warmth and reputation of the hospice movement – an extension of exemplary hospice care – caring, transparent and personal.

HOSPICE FUNERALS’ MISSION

To bring choice, quality and affordability to families in our communities, so that they can celebrate the lives of loved ones with a unique and individual funeral that respects their wishes. This is achieved by only engaging highly trained staff with unwavering attention to detail and compassion – so ensuring a caring, transparent and personal funeral to all whatever their budget.

This sounds absolutely wonderful.

Although the top benefit for hospices electing to become a provider listed in another part of the website is:

‘Participation in a new enterprise that will deliver sustainable and growing income going forward and thus helping to bridge the considerable funding gap that stands between government funding and the annual needs of the hospice.’

And in the brochure for ‘hospice partners’ it clearly states:

The partnership will operate as a franchise scheme. These are the facts:

  • Hospice Funerals signs an agreement with the partner hospice (the partner Franchise Agreement – samples available)
  • The hospice partner will be entitled to operate exclusively within the defined area
  • A hospice partner can acquire more than one area if it so wishes
  • Hospice Funerals will give each partner a demographic survey providing a death profile of the granted area and will be able to advise the partner on this issue
  • Hospice Funerals will issue a list of products and prices that the partner will need to purchase in order to create their funeral service.
  • The hospice will be supported to deal directly with these suppliers, shop fitters ad other trades. This means that Hospice Funerals is not involved in the invoice chain and so is making NO margin on the set up of the unit.
  • Hospice Funerals support you with a turnkey service and are on hand throughout the set up period, signing off the premises when complete.
  • Thereafter, the location will be inspected prior to opening and all snagging signed off.
  • Hospice Funerals will select, train and manage the partner’s funeral staff, while being accountable to the partner.
  • Memoria will also carry out the majority of funeral administration for the partner.
  • Memoria will also install and teach the partner’s funeral director how to operate a bespoke software system for making funeral arrangement.

Hmm. So, perhaps not quite so in line with the hospice movement set up to look after the dying and their families by Dame Cicely Saunders then.

It’s a franchise scheme, dressed up in the hospice’s clothes, making money for both the ‘hospice partner’ and Memoria alike.

Here’s what we think.

It’s hard to criticise the idea of the much loved local hospice continuing to care for those who have died after death (albeit charging for this part of their service, while everything else until the last breath is taken has been free of charge.)

Why wouldn’t you choose to use them?

Hospices are pillars of the community after all, caring for the dying in the most wonderful way. And your money will be going to help support this admirable cause instead of lining the pockets of those men in black, the stereotypical undertakers.

It’s easy to see what a brilliant idea this is – piggybacking on the reputation and respect held by the hospice to give an immediate advantage over the funeral directors who are so widely and relentlessly pilloried in the media as greedy, money-making vultures who prey on the vulnerable bereaved.

With the helpful assistance of the self-serving life insurance companies generating fear of soaring funeral costs in their annual cost of dying reports, and the media focus on funeral poverty (driven by high charges from corporate funeral businesses including Dignity, Howard Hodgson’s baby, plus austerity cuts and shortage of space impelling local authorities to keep raising the cost of cremation or graves), funeral directors en masse are tarred with the same brush.

The public won’t take much persuading to look elsewhere for help with organising a funeral. And it’s available to everyone, not just hospice patients – again, from the Hospice Funerals website:

‘It is important to note that it is intended that everyone needing the services of a funeral director will be able benefit from the caring, transparent and personal service offered by Hospice Funerals. Therefore, our services are available to everyone in the community – irrespective of whether or not they have been a hospice patient.’

Well, not quite everyone.

This from Howard Hodgson’s letter to funeral directors yesterday:

‘The Directors of Memoria have no desire to compete with its funeral directing clientele. Therefore, in order to prevent a conflict of interest, it has been contractually agreed that NO Hospice Funeral operations will be set up within a 20 MILE RADIUS of ANY existing MEMORIA crematoria. 

This agreement will be on going and so will prevent funeral directors within the declared 20-mile exclusion zones from facing this new competition now or in the future.

We hope this act demonstrates our loyalty and gratitude to ALL of our funeral directing clients, whose close working relationship we highly value.’

Nice of him to consider how funeral directors might feel about this idea, although only the ones who operate in the vicinity of one of Memoria’s crematoria. The rest of the funeral world is clearly fair game.

What concerns us about this genius return to the world of funeral provision by Howard ‘How To Become Dead Rich’ Hodgson is what it will do to the wonderful, dedicated, desperately hard-working, ethically run, generous, kind and principled undertakers who have devoted their lives to starting up and running small businesses to serve their communities.

They are everywhere, working day and night to do the absolute best for the families they care for, often living hand to mouth and struggling to stay afloat as the corporate companies relentlessly target them by opening branches nearby. Many of them can be found here on our recommended funeral director list. We applaud and salute them for what they do, and we fear for their future with this latest new player in the game.

These really good people don’t have the massive marketing budgets to pay for TV advertising and PR campaigns, unlike Dignity, Co-operative Funeralcare and now Hospice Funerals, but they are providing vital services for their communities. And they are offering real, informed choice.

Hospice Funerals could spell the end for many of these artisan, genuine, small undertaking businesses, people who have been battling against the corporate expansion into funerals for years, as money men have scented the opportunity to get rich by taking advantage of economies of scale. The Hospice Funeral idea is likely to be a pressure too much for many if it spreads around the country.

If this idea were vision-driven, altruistic. non profit making, a real community venture motivated by a genuine desire to really make a difference to our society , we’d respect it, we’d be completely behind it and we’d be promoting it as far as we can reach.

But it’s not, it’s a clever, clever commercial move.

Maybe the public, those who volunteer and fundraise and support their local hospices might see it for what it is, but probably most people will just think it’s a great idea and not give it any more thought.

And sadly, we expect that the advent of this new hybrid beast is likely to be greeted with delight by hospices around the country as a means of generating the much needed income to keep them afloat. Without thinking about the wider implications.

We’ll find out tomorrow – it’s on the agenda at two high profile hospice meetings, the Hospice UK National Conference in Liverpool and the Legacy Foresight Workshop in London 

We’ll be at both events.