A selection of quite the nicest, most personable and knowledgeable people make up the staff of this highly respected funeral director company, and you will be looked after throughout your dealings with them by the staff at the branch you make contact with.
Independently owned and run, Rowland Brothers has five branches operating under the family name, with another four locations that they have purchased retaining their original owners’ names. The company was established in 1873, and seven generations of the Rowland family have been involved since then, with the current ‘Big Boss’, Tony Rowland now in his late seventies but still very much hands on and involved with the running of the business. (Tony was responsible for founding Rowland Brothers International and the funeral plan provider Golden Leaves, and is well known locally for his work with charities and other organisations).
Tony’s son, Steve Rowland, is managing director of the business and now leads the development of the whole Rowland Brothers group and he is one of the best kind of bosses. Despite his busy diary, he spent the day driving us around to visit all of their branches, and the genuine affection with which he was greeted by all of his staff was very revealing. Born and bred in the area, Steve is very much a man of the people, with an easy manner belying a keen eye for quality and a strong sense of responsibility and duty. Steve trusts his staff to do their job properly, and he doesn’t micro-manage, he lets them get on with things. Full training is provided when a new staff member joins the team to ensure that the new person has a full understanding of the Rowland Brothers way of working, with a buddy system in place. Many of the staff have been with the company for years, and have gained vast experience in all types of funerals, so there is always someone who will be able to help with a more complicated funeral arrangement if needed. Support is provided for those who want to gain qualifications, and there’s a HR lady who looks after the wellbeing of everyone in the various companies (Rowland Brothers have many different services, from repatriation, funeral plans, exhumation services, monumental masonry, legal services and their recently formed charity, the Rowland Brothers Foundation. Steve is at the head of all of these companies, overseeing all crucial operations and decisions.)
Whitehorse Road is the head office and the heart of the company, it’s where the business began over 140 years ago, and it has grown and spread from the original premises to the adjoining buildings, now occupying a deceptively large amount of space spreading back from the shopfront on the main road. When we visited, it was part way through a complete refurbishment which will give the whole building a fresh, contemporary new look. Downstairs was almost complete, while upstairs, in the ‘back offices’, work was yet to begin but is scheduled for the coming year.
The large, welcoming space inside the reception area at Whitehorse Road leads through to pleasant arranging rooms where you can sit at a table to talk with the staff member you meet. This might be one of the Rowland family (Tony, Steve or Ben, Steve’s nephew) or another trusted staff member, Gary Bruce, Sally Loveland, Carol Overington or Carly Baker). You can expect to have one key person to liaise with through your dealings with the company, although their systems will ensure that anyone you speak to will be able to help you if need be.
There are eight chapels of rest, all slightly different and of varying sizes, some with stunning stained glass windows lit from behind. Some of these have been reclaimed from local churches – some were found in a skip and rescued to be given a new home, and two very special ones were painted by local people with paraplegia using brushes held in their mouths. There is also a spacious service chapel where you can hold a ceremony or welcome large gatherings of people to spend time with the coffin if you want.
Behind the scenes there is a large, state of the art mortuary, immaculately kept and run by their mortuary manager. A separate room where families can look after the person who has died ensures privacy, and all facilities are available for ritual washing for those communities who carry this out. Beyond the mortuary there is a gleaming embalming room which Sophie, the embalmer we met when we were looking round, told us was the best she’d worked in. It is going to be used for training courses for new embalmers because of the quality of the facilities and the space available.
At the back of the premises is the masonry department, and the garage for the vehicles, while coffins and other supplies are in store rooms above the public spaces.
On the top floor at Whitehorse Road, the impressive repatriation team of Rowland Brothers International oversee the immensely important work of re-uniting families after a death has occurred away from home. Established in 1971, RBI is now world renowned for its expertise, and for 15 years it has been providing the helpline for the National Association of Funeral Directors and its members.
Rowland Brothers International is signposted in FCO literature as an organisation providing help and support to British nationals needing assistance from an overseas funeral director, and with over 500 partners worldwide and a multi-lingual, multi-cultural team headed by the hugely experienced Fiona Greenwood, the company is rightly considered one of the finest repatriation companies in the world.
Returning to the other branches of the company, the Purley branch is a large branch located in the heart of Purley on the High Street. Double doors lead into a welcoming reception area which, on the day we visited was full of cakes for the Macmillan Coffee Morning. The two funeral arrangers here are Pippa Scott and Sophie Clarke, and they are joined by Robert Cook who is the Funeral Director who looks after the funerals from this branch and the small branch at Coulsdon. All three are delightful, friendly and welcoming and clearly dedicated to their work. Both Pippa and Sophie hold the Cert FAA in funeral arranging, and Robert has the Diploma in Funeral Directing and is a NAFD tutor who is focused on training other funeral directors, but all the qualifications don’t mean that they’re stuffy or formal in the branch.
A spacious arranging room is set off the reception area with the large dining table layout preferred by the company to allow clients to sit comfortably to discuss their funeral arrangements. Cups and plates and paperwork can be managed with ease with a large table, and all desks and computers are out of sight in the office further back.
Beyond the office are the chapels of rest, opening from a wide corridor with archway doors that lead into chapels of various sizes and styles. A larger service chapel is at the end of the corridor, and there is a water feature to one side. Toilets and a small kitchen area mean that families can spend time coming and going from the chapels if they want, and the sofas in the reception give people somewhere to sit and compose themselves before going back out into the busy world. Parking is easy at this branch, there is a large car park right behind it.
The Coulsdon branch is one of the smaller branches, although it’s quite big enough for its purpose. Run by Judi Noakes, Coulsdon is renowned for its window, which Judi changes regularly, decorating with seasonal displays and beautifully made tiny models which she creates in her spare time. Typically light and airy, the door is usually ajar welcoming you into the bright, modern space inside. A small reception area leads past Judi’s office and the arranging room with a large table and chairs and on to the chapels of rest, (there are two here). Coulsdon funerals will be conducted by Robert Cook, who will contact you beforehand if he hasn’t met you already. Parking is available right outside on The Parade, or in adjoining roads.
The Warlingham branch is located just outside the village centre, opposite the village hall and a pub and on the corner of a residential road. When we visited, the branch had recently been refurbished after a young driver had lost control of his car and damaged the front of the building extensively. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, the business was up and running the same afternoon despite the clean up operation, and the resulting new carpet has delighted Kelly Scott, the funeral arranger you will find here. Kelly has been with the company for three years and feels like she has come home – she loves her role and can’t imagine ever doing anything else. ‘It takes me an hour to walk up the road to the shops,’ she says, ‘So many people recognise me and want to stop and have a chat’.
Kelly is joined at Warlingham by David Collins, the funeral director who looks after all the funerals from here and the New Addington branch. ‘David is a man of many talents’, says Steve Rowland, ‘He is our duty manager, on call all the time, and he also looks after all our exhumations’. (Rowland Brothers have a separate company specialising in exhumations, single or multiple exhumations of family members, or mass exhumations where construction companies need to organise the sensitive removal and reburial of human remains found on site).
The branch at Warlingham is compact but well laid out, with a large comfortable reception area leading on to an arranging room with the familiar dining table style layout. The chapel of rest is behind the arranging room, and a small office where the administration work is carried out is at the rear. Parking is available on the residential roads around or for a limited time in parking bays on the main road or in the car park opposite.
The fifth branch of Rowland Brothers is at New Addington, in the middle of the Central Parade. A large building with high ceilings, New Addington is looked after by Angelia Jordan who holds the Diploma in Funeral Arranging. Angelia arranges and conduct funerals, and the branch is very much her own, (like all of the Rowland Brother branches, the staff members located there add their own personality to the branch).
When we visited, Angelia had had a change round, so the former arranging room leading off the reception area was now furnished with a comfortable sofa, and the table and chairs used for arranging were in the space behind which had been a seating area for people to use when they visited the chapel of rest. ‘I’m trying it out,’ said Angelia, ‘there’s been so much noise from the refurbishment next door that I thought it would be better to discuss arrangements in a quieter space. And I quite like it this way round, when people pop in for a chat it’s nice to just go and sit on the sofa, less formal.’
Further back in the building is the large chapel of rest, with the high ceiling giving a real sense of space for families spending time visiting a family member. Quiet music was playing and the lighting was dimmed, making it seem peaceful and intimate despite the size of the room. One thing we really noticed and liked was that before showing us into the chapel, Angelia knocked on the door. A lady was in her closed coffin in the chapel, and Angelia’s real sense of awareness that there was a person in the room we were entering was both touching and appropriate.
Angelia has her office downstairs in the former greengrocer’s building where there is also loads of storage space and rear access. When Angelia’s upstairs, the door to the branch is often propped open, ensuring that people feel welcome to walk inside. Parking is easy at New Addington, there’s a huge pay and display car park a few steps away opposite the Parade.
Phone: 0800 0789 636 (Whitehorse Road), 020 8660 5547 (Purley), 01737 555 202 (Old Coulsdon), 01883 623 067 (Warlingham), 01689 842 046 (New Addington)
‘We listen to our clients and provide the services they require, we always have and always will’ – the words of Steve Rowland, whose leadership is continuing the proud family heritage that has served tens of thousands of families in the area for over 140 years.
The Rowland family involvement in their business cannot be over emphasised – possibly uniquely, there are four generations of the family still very much involved. As well as Steve, his nephew Ben now works in the business as the family funeral director out looking after families as their funerals are carried out, while his father Tony still continues to play a vital role despite reaching his late seventies. Most extraordinarily, Muriel Rowland, Steve’s grandmother, spends three days a week at Whitehorse Road at the grand age of 99. ‘When the VAT man comes, we put her in with him,’ says Steve, “you can hear her saying ‘I’ve been working in this business since before VAT was invented young man’ and you know he’s losing the will to live!”
A deep sense of responsibility and service runs through the company, and Rowland Brothers has rightly acquired an enviable reputation for excellence in the traditions of quality funeral directing, funeral services and reliability.
Every person we met impressed us with their pleasant manner and clear abilities in their roles, and it is evident that this is not only a superb company to choose to act as your undertaker, it is also a first-class employer that supports and empowers its staff.
There is an ongoing investment programme ensuring that the branches are up to date and modern, and there is also investment in their people, both practically and literally.
Rowland Brothers is also one of just a few funeral businesses that are signatories to the Armed Forces Covenant. Members of the Rowland family as well as a number of their staff have served in the Armed Forces and the company is immensely proud to be able to honour veterans. Rowland Brothers specialise in military funerals, and have a dedicated staff member who co-ordinates these.
The ongoing support of bereaved people from the community is another immensely important thing to the company, and Rowland Brothers have two fully trained bereavement counsellors offering bereavement aftercare to anyone who needs it, whether the funeral was carried out by the company or not. This support can be either one to one or in group sessions, is completely free of charge, and is provided through the Rowland Brothers Foundation, the charity recently set up for this purpose.
As well as everything outlined above, Rowland Brothers offers a comprehensive array of other services, including end of life planning, funeral plans, free wills and other legal services, memorial construction, installation and maintenance programmes, the repatriation and exhumations services and cryogenic suspension.
They are specialists in bespoke funerals for different cultures and religions and while generally traditional in their approach and attire, are more than willing to adapt this at clients’ requests. For military funerals, staff wear their medals and regiment colours, for children’s funerals staff have been known to wear superhero outfits (at parents’ request).
The superb reputation that this company enjoys is well deserved, it has the gravitas of a long-established business that knows exactly how to serve families in the best way, but the forward-looking flexibility of a small family run undertaking.
We particularly appreciated the down to earth, likeable Steve Rowland taking a day out of an unbelievably busy diary to drive us round all his branches and meet his staff – the easy friendship he has with each of them shows exactly why this company is so successful. It is exceptionally well run, with lovely premises, lovely people and a large support staff dealing with the back-office work that ensures everything goes smoothly for every family they care for.
Rowland Brothers is an example of the best kind of funeral directors, and gives excellent value for money. You won’t find a better undertaker in this part of the world.
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.