Poppy Mardall and her colleagues Isabel, Kate, Rosanna and Philippa. Poppy, a fine-arts graduate, started the company after leaving her previous role as deputy director at Sotheby’s to work out how to do something with her life that was ‘meaningful and frontline’. Personal experience had led her to do some research into the funeral industry, and although never planning to be an undertaker, she was shocked to find how rigid and stereotypical the business was. She had been drawn to the subject of death and dying because it seemed to be an unfashionable subject, and this made her feel it truly needed work. Given some wise advice from the Natural Death Centre that ‘families don’t need lots of ‘middle-men’, they just need someone who can help them with practical things’, Poppy set about becoming just that.
She had never seen a dead body before deciding to enter the funeral world, but after researching the training options available and being disappointed by what she found, Poppy decided to try and gain experience by spending time with undertakers. She visited funeral directors and asked to spend time in their businesses, then spent months mostly in mortuaries and behind the scenes before launching Poppy’s Funerals in 2012.
From the beginning, the company was different – Poppy has clear ideas about what is important and her mission is to empower and support people to have the funeral that is right for them She believes passionately in helping people to take creative control of their funerals, with the support and encouragement from Poppy’s Funerals’ staff if needed. Poppy is very hands on, but also strongly supportive of her growing team and keen that they feel empowered to run funerals themselves. “They are all legends, fabulous, kind, genuine people who are quite capable of helping families with their funerals. I step in when I’m needed, but I’ve had to move my office out of the main office to stop myself getting involved in everything.” With a one year old daughter and a determination to keep a good work life balance, Poppy spends time away from work with her husband and family and friends, and loves live music, travel, and swimming in the sea.
The business operates from the most beautiful premises, a lovely light Victorian building in the grounds of Lambeth Cemetery. Formerly the cemetery office, Poppy’s Funerals now has the use of the entire building, with three airy reception rooms downstairs used for family meetings, and the offices located upstairs. A few steps away is one of the original chapels which now houses Poppy’s bespoke mortuary – unlike any other we have visited – and a small family room where families can spend time with the person who died. Everywhere in both buildings there is the same feeling of light and air; the meeting rooms are comfortable and stylishly furnished, uncluttered by any brochures or funeral-related displays, with the trademark poppies branding in vinyl on the glass of the windows ensuring privacy from passing eyes. The mortuary space is high ceilinged, with sunlight streaming in through the arched windows. The new hardwood flooring complements the light wooden paneling on the walls left over from the days that this building was used for funeral ceremonies – there is no plastic flooring here. Large fridges in one corner face coffins on neat racking, and there is a spacious washing area where families are welcome to come and help wash and dress their relative ready for their funeral.
Since the early days, when the office was in Poppy’s bedroom and she rented facilities firstly from other funeral directors and then from a public mortuary and hired equipment as she needed, the ethos of the company has been the same. Kind, genuinely warm people helping bereaved families have a better experience of funerals by supporting them with whatever they want or need at the time. Poppy herself completely embodies the values of her company, and she has drawn some of the nicest people to work with her.
Isabel Potter was on her way to work one day when she read an article about the then fledgling company and immediately felt a strong urge to hand in her notice and go and work with Poppy doing funerals differently. She lasted a few weeks before meeting Poppy and starting work with her, doing whatever was needed, and is now one of the two senior managers in the small team of six. Isabel is passionately devoted to her work, and her enthusiasm for it is as strong as Poppy’s. “She’s so infectious,” Isabel said, “Poppy is so determined to change the world of funerals for the better and you just can’t help being inspired by her.”
Kate Brewer, the other senior manager, is an artist who was working as a florist when a friend told her about Poppy’s Funerals. She has now been with the company for two years, and loves every day and every aspect of her work. We asked her if she found her job fulfilling? “More than I could ever have dreamt,” she replied, becoming quite emotional as she spoke. “I can’t imagine ever doing anything else.” Both Isabel and Kate look after funerals as well as working closely on projects with Poppy to develop the business.
Philippa joined the company a year ago. Her role is Office Co-ordinator, and as well as being the main answerer of the phone, she deals mainly with the logistics, ordering coffins, booking crematoria, cemeteries and churches and liaising with coroners, vicars and mortuaries. Like all the Poppy’s team, she is hands on with funerals whenever needed, and when we visited she and her colleague Rosanna had just completed a Simple Cremation at Lambeth Crematorium just across the way. It is a perfect arrangement, as the coffin is simply taken from the mortuary in the old chapel through the grounds of the cemetery to the crematorium early in the morning – simple, straightforward and cost effective.
Rosanna is the newest of the five women in the team – like all the staff at Poppy’s, she came into the job from outside the funeral business so had no preconceptions of how a funeral ‘should’ be carried out. Rosanna’s main role is running funerals, something she completely loves. The sixth member of the team is Frazer, the only man currently full time. This isn’t a deliberate thing; it just happens that the best people for the job have so far been mostly female. Other freelance staff, both men and women, come and help as and when they are required.
All five of the women at Poppy’s take turns looking after the phones after hours, and once a family makes contact with the company, they will deal with the same member of staff throughout, from the family meeting to the day of the funeral and beyond.
If you want a traditional style black funeral with a hearse and limousines then Poppy’s can do that. Or if you want a simpler version with either the silver Ford Galaxy or the ‘Poppymobile’ (a decorated Mercedes Vito with a lovely hand made wooden deck) then that’s what you get. Or any variation in between. They will do whatever it is that you want. Their standard attire is either a smart green fleece with black trousers and shoes or black suits, though they will wear anything that a family wants them to. They’re very keen to encourage family involvement too – family members of any age, from 8 to 80, are welcome to carry the coffin if they want to and are encouraged to do so. Poppy’s also offer an stripped down ‘A to B’ service, transport only for families in Greater London wanting to organise a funeral without a funeral director but who need a little help with getting the body ‘from a to b’ on the day.
Everyone at Poppy’s has the same passion for down to earth, personal, professional service for the families that choose them. Everyone utterly believes in giving families whatever they want or need from a funeral, and they pride themselves on giving honest, straightforward advice – as much or as little as is needed. Overridingly, Poppy and all her team believe in caring for the dead people in their charge with gentle, careful hands and looking after them as if their families were standing beside them. Each dead person is called by name, there is no ‘deceased’ at Poppy’s, nor is there any embalming. Simple, natural and caring, completely professional yet totally human, the Poppy’s team brings a refreshing new approach to funerals that attracts admiration and respect from all they encounter.
Pretty much everything. The best way to see this is to look at their excellent website. If you like it, then Poppy’s Funerals is probably just right for you. If your reaction is different, then you’ll probably be better looking for another type of funeral director. Everyone at Poppy’s is very conscious that their way of approaching funerals is not for everyone, and would be completely unfazed if a family decided not to use their service after meeting them. They positively encourage clients to be sure they are comfortable with the way they work, nothing worries them more than a family not being completely happy with the funeral arrangements. They are fiercely proud of what they do and conscious of how incredibly important it is to get everything right, every time. They would much rather you went somewhere else than stayed with them and weren’t happy.
Poppy is very keen to spread the word about doing funerals differently, and takes education very seriously, providing myth busting / behind the scene talks for local healthcare professionals or anyone else who is interested. The company also runs a very successful rolling five-day internship programme for people who are keen to come and spend time behind the scenes. They are always on the lookout for great people to join their team and fall in love with the work just as they have all done.
This is a business with a huge heart. Not only do they give their clients unstinting support and encouragement, they truly believe that a meaningful, authentic, personal funeral has the power to change lives for the better, and they consider it their duty to try and achieve this for everyone that comes to them. Poppy Mardall has created a wonderful, ground-breaking new type of funeral directing in London, and her team of equally lovely people are passionately involved and completely devoted to what they are doing. Their aim is to change the world they operate in for the better, one funeral at a time. From what we saw, they are doing this every day. London is lucky to have them.
Any decisions you take on engaging the services of a funeral director should be based on your views and research. You should not rely solely upon the views and opinions offered by us.
Your business awards are truly well deserved. Your calm, caring, patient and professional approach towards us and I’m sure other bereaved relatives, made the whole distressing business run as smoothly as it possibly could. We don’t have any trial runs at this and so it has to be right for all concerned and you made it right for us, so Thank you Victoria to you and your team.
Already aware that Poppy’s enabled and indeed encouraged individuality and family involvement in funerals, Kate and Philippa provided exactly that with efficiency, kindness, empathy and compassion. Thank you for caring so much.
I cannot recommend Poppy’s Funerals highly enough; from our very first conversation, then throughout the planning and procedures, I was struck not only by the guidance that was offered but, equally important, the kind and gentle manner in which they stewarded the arrangements. There was no ‘formula’ to be adhered to and they were immensely supportive and accommodating in allowing us to create our own service in a style that was true to, and reflective of, us. Their support was fully professional yet never officious; assured but not pressured; warmly personal (and personable) whilst always respectful; relaxed and accommodating yet diligent and completely dependable. The occasion was stage-managed by Rosanna on the day quite faultlessly and un-intrusively. Nothing was too much trouble, even some months after the funeral when I had a query that Rosanna swiftly and considerately offered to handle on my behalf.
I met several members of the team, all of whom showed the same approachable style and gentle humanity; just really good people, immensely natural, efficient and responsive, who made a difficult time so much easier to cope with.
Everybody should know that it is possible to arrange a funeral ‘your own way’; Poppy’s Funerals are fabulous guardians and practitioners of that refreshing philosophy. My sincerest and appreciative thanks to you all.
No-one wants to organise a funeral. Even though by the time my mother died at 86 it was the right time for her to go, and she died peacefully, organising the funeral was something I dreaded.
There’s the finality about it. There’s having to think about practical details, and make serious decisions, when in reality you’re in no fit state to do either. Most of the time you just want the whole thing to be over with, so that you can just get on with figuring out how to move on with your life, when a person you loved is no longer going to be a part of that life.
But the funeral has to be arranged. And for my mother’s funeral I’m so glad that I found Poppy’s Funerals to help arrange things. They handled the whole affair with grace and dignity, but with friendliness too. Maybe ‘friendliness’ is the wrong word – maybe ‘empathy’ is a better word. And they had none of the tradition-encrusted formality that I dreaded I would have to wade through. My mother wasn’t the kind of person who lived a life of formality, so why should the celebration that marked the end of that life be any different?
Having said that, all the things that needed to be done, were done. And everything was explained in a way that made it easy to understand and easy to accept. Because there is legal stuff that needs to be sorted. And it was. With a minimum of fuss.
Our funeral director came over less as a stuffy ‘funeral director’ more as a sympathetic person who would help us arrange what we wanted, and make sure everything went as smoothly as possible. And when we weren’t sure about anything, they answered any questions simply and clearly.
I must also admit that having first come across Poppy’s Funerals via their website one of the things that drew me to them was the fact that they put prices online for all to see. To me that said something about transparency, and being straightforward. Talking about the cost of a funeral is always going to feel slightly awkward. So if someone is being upfront about it, so I don’t have to ask, or wait to be told, that felt reassuring.
The day itself was handled really well. Everything went smoothly. But it was always going to be a difficult day to get through. I guess there’s no way round that. And, in all honesty, I guess it should be a difficult day to get through. But having the good people at Poppy’s arrange things, made everything a little bit easier for us. And I will always be grateful to them for that.
After the funeral many of our family and friends came up to me and said that the funeral felt right for my mum. And speaking on behalf of myself and my brother, I have to say it felt right for us too.
That’s probably as good as it gets for a funeral.
My mothers instructions were that upon her death were : “pop me in a cardboard box and bury me in the woods” so we did with the help of Poppys funeral she was laid to rest at Edenbridge natural burial ground . What was so extraordinary was how gentle Poppy’s made the whole process.
Edenbridge is a quiet rural location, all the graves are hand dug and the coffin is transported to the gravesite on a wooden tressle ..
We placed a bouquet of flowers from Mums garden along with a large glass of her favourite scotch and after Poppys team placed in the grave we were left with all the time we wanted to say goodbye.
We chose to have a picnic, drink champagne and tell stories.
What was so unique and special about the day was the beauty and tranquility of the location & proceedings that made process feel natural. Along ability to say goodbye in our own way and in our own time brought a huge sense of peace.
Thank you Poppy’s for making a day we were dreading into a beautiful and natural experience. I will forever appreciate it.
Poppy’s friendly team really put us at ease. Their premises at Lambeth are airy and light which really helped make us feel comforted and at home. We wanted a personal send-off for my husband without all the stuffy formalities – something more modern which reflected who he was as an individual. Poppy’s openly shared their expertise to help craft a cremation service suitable for a king. They didn’t even bat an eyelid when we enquired about taking my husband for one last hurrah in a speed boat down the Thames! They simply said, let us help you with that and delivered. We couldn’t ask for more. Thank you for making something really hard, that little bit easier.
What an amazing team! Poppy’s funerals offered us the greatest comfort during tragic circumstances. Kate is the most caring and helpful person and dealt with all the arrangements in a most kind, gentle and professional way. All our wishes were met without an if or a but, even the outfits for the pallbearers who looked great! It was a beautiful occasion which is how it was meant to be – a celebration of life. Thank you so much Kate, especially for your hugs when I came on my own to see Penelope in your calming Chapel of Rest.
Thank you to Philippa at Poppy’s. Organising a funeral is never easy, but the support I received from Philippa throughout, made a difficult, emotional time a lot easier than it would otherwise have been.
All the practical matters were dealt with in an understanding, compassionate way.
She was accommodating when it transpired that I only had 2 working days to organise everything, because I had to go abroad to see a sick relative.
A huge THANK YOU.
Poppy’s funerals were absolutely brilliant. At a very difficult time, they made everything so easy for us. My husband was treated with such care and respect as we were as a family. The atmosphere at the offices was calm and very friendly and the staff were always happy to help in any way possible. My husband had a very different funeral, colourful and more of a celebration of his life, which is what he had requested. The whole thing was just perfect in every way and we would like to say a huge thank you to Philippa and to everyone at Poppy’s.