Simon Peace and his son Michael are at the heart of this family business, ably helped by a small and loyal team of staff.
The Peace family came to Romsey in 1966, when Simon was just five years old. His father Peter moved the family into the house at 122, The Hundred where the business had been established many years previously by Mr. Albert Henry Cheater.
Peter Peace was an experienced funeral director who worked for the Winchester undertakers that purchased the Romsey firm when the then owner retired, and he settled into growing the already well established business, using the skills and training that he had acquired. He became a partner in the business in the late Sixties, and assumed complete responsibility for the day to day running of the company. Peter’s professionalism, along with the genuine warmth of his personality ensured that he became a much-loved member of the community, and he carried out most of the funerals for Romsey residents for the next 37 years with the help of his son Simon from 1981.
Simon remembers being brought to Romsey for the first time when his father was given the new position, and walking around the town that was to become home ever since. He went to school nearby, and grew up immersed in the world of funerals. Living on the premises meant that he was inevitably involved with his father’s work, earning pocket money by helping clean cars or carry coffins, and occasionally showing families into the chapel of rest if nobody else was available. He joined his father in the business when he was 20 after a couple of years working elsewhere, and his life’s work has been serving the local community, just as his father did.
Michael became the third generation of the Peace family to become a Romsey undertaker in 2003 after leaving university. Michael had always lived on the premises just as Simon did, and he had seen the strong relationship between his family and the community. He always felt that he wanted to become a part of this special connection, and like his father had been involved with funerals from a young age. Today, Michael lives with his wife and little daughter in the building where his grandfather first came to with his young family more than fifty years ago, continuing the link with the past of Cheaters being a true funeral ‘home’.
Both Simon and Michael have inherited Peter Peace’s devotion and dedication to serving the community around them, and they both have an easy warmth that instantly makes you feel at home. Both have a natural, comfortable manner about them, they are completely unstuffy and unpretentious, yet at the same time you know that these are experienced, professional men who would be the safest of hands to look after you and your family if somebody died. Immensely likeable and friendly, both Simon and Michael are the epitome of the best kind of undertaker, a professional at the heart of the community in which they live.
“It’s a bit like how doctors used to be,” says Simon, “When I was younger everyone knew the local GP, and he knew everyone. And we used to work really closely together. I remember the phone ringing in the middle of the night and it would be the doctor telling me he was with Mrs Jones from down the road and her husband had just died and could I come along. And when I’d get there he’d be sitting talking with her over a cup of tea taking all the time in the world. That’s all changed now, but we can still try and be those trusted people in the community who everyone knows they can come to and we’ll look after them the way we always have done.”
That sense of belonging to the community is really strong at Cheaters, it is shared by the rest of the team who all work closely together to carry out the many funerals they are tasked with each year. They spend time together out of work too, and the friendship and camaraderie between them all is evident. Sara looks after reception and is excellent at greeting clients either in person or on the phone. Her partner Giles is one of the funeral directors assisting Simon and Michael, and he has been with the company for over a decade, joining from his early days working for the company in Winchester that Peter Peace originated from.
Graham Lusty and Lizzie Cox are the other funeral directors here, and they all share a large open plan office over the chapels and mortuary area. All the funeral directors have acquired the Diploma in Funeral Directing, training is something that is really important here as the Peaces feel it demonstrates professionalism and commitment. Other staff are offered training to ensure they are continually improving, and it is clear that everyone here is happy and fulfilled in their role. Simon and Michael have developed their team to be the best they possibly can be, and trust them to do their jobs well, and this confidence in them is translated to a dedicated, capable and empowered staff.
Both Simon and Michael told us (independently of each other) that they feel confident that they could go away on holiday knowing that everything would run seamlessly in their absence, a real endorsement of their faith in their colleagues and their ability to maintain the company’s high standards. These standards are not confined to getting every detail right for their clients, but also show in the premises that have recently been refurbished. Behind the bungalow where Michael and his family live, the building has been extended to create a spacious reception area and two comfortable rooms where funeral arrangements are made. A beautiful garden houses the private chapels of rest and a larger garden chapel where small ceremonies can be held, or where large families can come and spend time with the person who has died at their leisure.
Beyond the garden chapel a flight of stairs leads up to the new office space where all the organising and administration takes place out of the way of the public, along with a kitchen and relaxing area for staff to take their meals. Simon and Michael both have a desk here – there’s no separate office for the business owners – everyone works alongside each other in earshot of each other in a comradely, communal way. Debbie, who also covers on reception occasionally, has recently joined the business to look after the accounts, freeing the funeral directors to concentrate on the business of looking after the funerals.
Downstairs, the mortuary has plenty of fridge space and an additional cold room adjacent to the embalming area where Alistair takes care of any bodies requiring embalming. Ali recently completed his embalming qualification and has taken over from the trade embalmer previously used. He combines this with fitting and lining the coffins and helping out on funerals along with the other funeral assistants, Martin, Tony and Lee and part time bearers Mike and Bryan. The company vehicles are housed in an adjacent garage – the Mercedes hearse and two limousines along with a Ford Galaxy, a private ambulance and a small van used for carrying out ash interments. The vehicles are important to Cheaters – “They portray the excellent service we provide,” says Michael, “They are the first glimpse of what the mourners at the funeral will see, it is important that they feel the person who has died is being given the best.”
Outside of work, both Simon and Michael have other loves – Simon’s is farming. “I’m a frustrated farmer,” he says with a wry smile. He lives with his wife on a small farm a few miles from the business, where he keeps cattle and sheep and enjoys buying and selling his livestock. “Ah yes, the cows,” said Lizzie, “They’re always getting out! We are used to phone calls to tell Simon his cows are out again, and the guys have to go off and round them up!”
Michael’s love of sports has led him to play cricket and rugby for local teams, with golf being a less injury-prone addition to his skills. He enjoys walking and cycling and any countryside pursuits when he has the time. The birth of his daughter in 2016 has introduced new family pastimes, and he is obviously a really devoted dad. She won’t be an automatic fourth generation funeral director when she grows up though, Michael’s determined she will make her own choices in life. It’s hard to see how she won’t want to follow in the footsteps of her great grandfather, grandfather and father though. They have created a wonderful, warm, family centred funeral directing business that is firmly ensconced in the community around it. That would be hard to surpass as a choice of working environment.
Traditional values and years of experience caring for families are at the root of the Cheaters way. The vocational aspect of their work is apparent, while at the same time there is a willingness to change and adapt to the evolving needs of families.
Every family. Each person who comes to Cheaters is met with the same approach, the most important skill here is the ability to listen to you and to learn what you need them to do to help you. You won’t be dictated to or led to choose things that you don’t need or want; you will receive highly personal and professional care and be made to feel calm and safe in all your contact with them.
There’s a really solid feeling of family values here. Alongside the warmth of the people you’ll meet, there is a sense of calm competence and skillful professionalism that imbues confidence. Being the owners of the business means that Simon and Michael can be totally flexible and responsive to your needs, and they will really listen to you to make sure they get things just the way you want.
We really liked everything here. The whole atmosphere here is of calm, competent quality, and it is obvious why the people of Romsey and the surrounding areas choose Cheaters to carry out their funerals. The people are lovely, the premises are fresh and comfortable, and the beautiful garden created by Peter Peace is an oasis of calm, often commented on by families who visit a relative here. Now cared for by a professional gardener, the borders and hanging baskets frame the reception area and the chapels with colour and fragrance. This is a shining example of a well run family funeral directors.