Jane Bennett is the managing director and the inspirational heart of this award winning, well-known and highly respected funeral business. She has been at the helm of Bennetts since leaving a career in the City in 1988, and is the third generation of the Bennett family to serve the local community.
Bennetts was first listed as an undertaker business in the 1891 census, but it is about as far from a stuffy Victorian company as you could imagine. When Jane took over, she set about bringing the business up to date and today it is a perfect blend of contemporary practice and traditional values.
The Bennetts team are among the nicest people you could meet, and all of them share Jane’s dedication to the community they live and work in. This isn’t limited to ensuring that every single funeral is carried out perfectly for the families who choose them, but involves a huge amount of support for charities and local events, and a real commitment to looking after families before, during and after bereavement.
Bennetts run two bereavement support groups and host regular Grief Journey courses throughout the year (many of the staff members have been trained by Dr. Bill Webster). The first bereavement support group has been running since 2007 and is open to everyone of all ages. Members recently renamed the group New Era, and it is very much run by the members (with support from Bennetts staff members Janet and Bridget), organising regular outings as well as monthly meetings in a local church hall.
The second group, Our Grieving Hearts, was set up in 2011 for parents who have lost children. This group is facilitated by Bridget, whose daughter Emily died in 2012 and the newest group, Tiny Stars, is for families bereaved by miscarriage and stillbirth. Tiny Stars is run by Leigh, who has personal experience of losing children by miscarriage. Both the bereavement support groups are open to anyone who would like to attend, whether or not Bennetts carried out the funeral. Bennetts were also instrumental in helping a local Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide group start in the area.
Bennetts involvement in the community extends to regular fundraising for local charities, supporting events and providing sponsorship and raffle prizes. Their Facebook page shows the many, many events they are involved with. Jane is also Chairperson of Brentwood in Bloom with Bennetts sponsoring the Best Kept Religious Grounds category.
The large window of their premises in Brentwood High Street regularly showcases local charities and community events and at both Billericay and Brentwood there are stunning installations of memory trees designed and sculpted by father and son artist metalsmiths Gary and Thomas Thrussell. Anyone can have a leaf on a tree in memory of a loved one, with the proceeds donated to a charity of their choice. The memory trees were installed as part of the 125 year anniversary celebrations in 2016, along with the planting of 125 trees in the area and many fundraising and legacy events.
During 2017 Bennetts installed their Billericay Heritage Tree which can be seen on the flank wall of their premises. Each roundel on the Heritage Tree depicts a different element of Billericay heritage and history. The Heritage Tree also raises awareness – and supports the work of – St. Luke’s Hospice, with whom Bennetts have a close association.
Jane’s personal fundraising efforts have involved many adventures, trekking in Nepal, reaching Everest base camp, fire-walking, walking Hadrian’s Wall and sky diving, and when we visited, both Jane and Lucienne from the Billericay branch were sporting close cropped heads of hair after having their heads shaved the previous month to raise money for Bloodwise and Helen Rollason Cancer Charity, raising over £3,000 in the process. Jane’s 9 year old step-granddaughter, Ella Jones, also took part in the event, losing around 12” of her hair which was sent to the Little Princess Trust, a charity providing real hair wigs free of charge to children who have lost their hair to cancer treatment.
Raising awareness about dying, death and bereavement is also important to the team, and as well as sponsoring regular training courses for care home staff and events for professionals and participating in GriefJourney Essex with free structured courses for anyone coping with grief, Bennetts also offer occasional events such as hosting a recent performance of the one woman show ‘Outside the Box’ by Liz Rothschild.
Somehow, alongside all the community work and fund raising efforts, Bennetts manage to ensure that the many funerals they carry out locally are all done to the highest standard. Their fleet of classic Rolls Royce vehicles is a familiar sight in town, with the Phantom VI hearse commissioned by Jane’s father Arthur in the seventies a firm favourite for local people. In 2016 Bennetts acquired a LandRover hearse which is regularly chosen by families, and they also offer a VW Campervan that can be personalised with magnetic designs or letters. (It’s actually still a functioning campervan, the deck that supports the coffin can be removed!)
Bennetts have been at their prime corner plot location at the south end of Brentwood High street since 1932 and Fern House is a familiar landmark as you approach the town centre. There is a car park for visitors located through an archway adjacent to the building, and the reception area is accessed up steps next to the memorial tree. Visitors who have difficulty with stairs can be seen in a ground level accessible office next to one of the chapels.
Inside the main building there is a spacious private room for discussing funeral arrangements on the ground floor, and a back office where staff see to the administration and organisation of the daily business. Upstairs there is another large room where arrangements can be made, or meetings take place, and more offices and a kitchen. Behind the building, the premises extend past the pretty memorial garden to a yard where the chapels are located, along with the mortuary and coffin showroom, with the garage area for the vehicles further along. Most of the Bennetts staff are based here, and as far as possible the person you meet and make the arrangements with will be the person who looks after you all the way through.
All of the staff can be seen on the company website here and funerals are conducted by Tina, Chris, Matthew, Mark and Ian.
Brentwood is the main centre of the business with Billericay, the second site affectionately known as ‘Baby Bennetts’, a smaller premises located at the far northern end of the High Street. The Old School House has a small parking area behind it, and is recognisable with the same blue décor as Brentwood. Billericay is looked after by Lucienne, who has been here since 2003, and it is a compact version of the head office. A large arranging room laid out like a sitting room is to the right of the front door, and Lucienne’s office is on the left. At the rear of the building there are two small chapels and a room where doctors can come and see the person who has died to complete the cremation paperwork. In the hallway, the Billericay memorial tree Throughout the Billericay branch are beautiful items belonging to Lucienne’s late sister, lamps, plants and pictures, bringing a very personal, comforting feeling to the rooms. “I feel like she’s all around me,’ says Lucienne.
Back at Brentwood, in the memorial garden there is a bench in memory of Gary Ebsworth, a much loved member of the Bennetts team and their Memorial Masonry manager, who died in 2015, along with a memorial bird table that has been commissioned in memory of Claire Hammond, the beloved office manager at Bennetts These tributes will soon be joined by a memorial to Tony Motley, a much loved, long term member of the Bennetts team. Both Claire and Tony died suddenly in 2017, their deaths leaving the whole team shocked and shaken. Claire’s funeral brought Brentwood High Street to a standstill as her horse drawn carriage left the funeral home on a Saturday morning in March. “She would have loved that,” said Jane as she spoke about her friend and colleague. Tony’s funeral service was equally well attended in early December 2017, including 14 flag bearers from the Royal British Legion and pallbearers from the Mayflower Morris Men, organisations of which Tony was an integral part.
Unrivalled dedication to supporting families throughout their bereavement, and a real commitment to the community around them. Bennetts is an exceptionally caring and considerate business. You will be in the safest of hands here.
A real attention to detail alongside genuinely warm and caring support. Bennetts people have all learned how to be the best from Jane herself, and she is passionate about empowering her staff with training, both formally with qualifications, and internally, with staff learning how to do things ‘the Bennetts way’.
The sheer amount of community work, charity fundraising and bereavement support marks Bennetts as an exceptional business. Add to that their highly qualified and dedicated staff and their trademark beautiful vehicles that are so well known in the area, and you can see why this company has won so many awards.
Bennetts is an example of the best kind of funeral directors. Completely integrated in the local community and constantly seeking to do the best they can for families. There is a real attention to detail here, and getting it right is what is important to everyone. It is unsurprising that their reputation is so high, both locally and further afield, and the dedication and commitment of the staff is a tribute to the leadership that Jane provides.
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