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GFG Patrons

We are delighted to have the support and endorsement of the following wonderful people who have agreed to be Patrons of the GFG.

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Zenith Virago

Educator, teacher, speaker, death walker

 

LocationByron Bay, Australia

Zenith is a highly respected celebrant, educator, public speaker and author who lives in Byron Bay, Australia although she was born in England.

 

She is the founder of the Natural Death Care Centre charity, and was named Byron Citizen of the Year 2021 in recognition of her work.

 

“Inside everyone is the courage and capacity needed to be easier with death and dying, we just have to wake it up, remember, become more familiar, and practice it everyday.  My work is a holistic hybrid of old and new ways, accompanying those who are dying and their carers, walking with the suddenly bereaved, creating ceremonies that encourage people to really honour their loved ones.”

 

Zenith’s website can be found here.

 

Below, Zenith explains why she’s one of the patrons of the Good Funeral Guide:

 

“It’s quite an honour to be one of the Patrons of the GFG! I was fortunate to meet Fran and Isabel at the 2019 Death, Dying and Disposal conference in Bath.  I had just arrived that day from Australia and gravitated to them as they looked and felt like my kind of people.

 

I am English born, but left when I was 24, and have lived in Byron Bay, Australia for most of my adult life.  Like many of us, I started working with death, dying and people after my dear friend Sylvia died suddenly, and we decided to take care of her body and her cremation process ourselves. It was such a rewarding, empowering and lifechanging experience, then other people asked me to help them, and it had a life of its own.

 

I feel the way WE are doing death is a reclaiming, a reconnection with the wildness of death as our birthright, and ceremony as a rite of passage.  We ARE the traditional way to undertake the care of people who have died, and the industrial approach of black suited, male run and owned, sometimes corporate Funeral Directors is relatively new in the big scheme of humanity.

 

In contrast, like the GFG I wanted to be in a clear and strong integrity, and so I searched for other people in different countries, I found Nicholas Albery of the Natural Death Centre, we spoke on the phone a few times, and I asked him if I could use the name here in Australia to start my work.  He generously agreed, and I founded what is now the Natural Death Care Centre.

 

We are now a NSW Charity, I am co-author of the book The Intimacy of Death and Dying, and subject of the international independent documentary, Zen & the Art of Dying, both of which are collaborations with my local community, together we have created a deathstyle that works for us.


It’s been an incredible 25-year journey.  I suppose I was a sort of one-woman GFG!  It was a wild and exciting time to be at the forefront of the global wave of home funerals in Australia, pioneering a return to dying well, family-led body care, meaningful and appropriate ceremony, and informing and educating communities to reclaim and be empowered before, during and after death.

 

I was fortunate to have a legal and community background, I became a community resource, assisting people to know and reclaim their legal rights, and co-create their own social rites of passage.  Just like many amazing women and some men around the globe, I have been working towards more holistic cultural change in approaches to better and continual end-of-life and after-death care for well over 25 years.

 

Claiming the role of the Deathwalker, I am now an educator as well as a celebrant, sharing the subtle and obvious layers involved, offering guidance, support and care to inform, enable and empower people to be as capable and courageous as they can, to experience their dying and their loss in the best way they can, to have a healthier bereavement as they move into their healing with no or few regrets.  A good ceremony can save you 12 months of distress or therapy.


As a young woman, I was often seen as a maverick, offering a hybrid of truly traditional ways blended with a more contemporary understanding, encouraging people to take their dying, death, after-death care and ceremony back into their own hands and hearts, even in cases of sudden death and trauma.

 

But now in my 60’s I find myself regarded as a respectable elder, (all things are possible if you live long enough!) as the mainstream is finally waking up to doing death well, and all that has to offer in our hearts as human beings, that love is the strongest force on the planet, and what binds us, and drives us. 

 

Even in the terribleness of the pandemic, I feel it is an exciting time, to honour and support the GFG to continue to offer trusted information, inspiration and comfort in this particularly challenging time.”

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Ken West MBE

Hero of the natural burial movement

 
LocationDerbyshire
 

Ken needs no introduction to anyone in the world of natural burials. He designed and opened the world’s first natural burial site in Carlisle, and over 45 years of work he improved the burial situation for stillbirths – unchanged since the 1850’s – and for foetal remains, wrote the Charter for the Bereaved, introduced the reusable coffin for cremation and created techniques for reducing pollution from cremation. 

 

He was awarded the MBE in 2001, retired in 2006 and wrote his first two books, publishing his third in 2019. He now has a new love, his pagan ancestor Zuri and writes about her and her world on his blog which can be found on his website Stonehenge Pensioner.

 

Here’s Ken explaining why he agreed to become one of our patrons:

“I am a patron of GFG because it is a community of people with an ethos committed to better funerals. I can offer them a lifetime of experience, in local government. This began in 1961 on my 15th birthday as a horticultural trainee in Shrewsbury Cemetery. In pursuit of tidiness, I had to apply horticultural chemicals, now called Agent Orange. This destroyed the haymeadow on old graves, and our barn owls disappeared.

 

My career expanded into funerals and then management. Ann and I married in 1971, and we moved to Sheffield and then Wolverhampton, where I managed the crematorium and five cemeteries. I moved to similar positions in Carlisle, Cardiff and Croydon.   

 

The move to Carlisle in 1983 appealed because we were both fell runners and loved the Lake District. As Bereavement Services Manager, I was able to create 20 acres of wildflower conservation and the owls returned. Because people sought burial amongst these wildflowers, I prepared a feasibility study for natural burial, and the Council opened the world’s first natural burial site, a ‘Return to Nature’, in 1993.

 

This new environmental funeral upset the traditional funeral industry. Charles Clover‘s article in the Daily Telegraph called ‘A New Way of Death’ and a BBC Countryfile feature on natural burial added to the furore. Nonetheless, my experience with eco coffins, introducing  a reusable coffin for cremation and a wool burial shroud, together with managing many funerals without a funeral director, lead to my authorship of the  Charter for the Bereaved. 

 

I obtained various diplomas in horticulture, management and business studies. I was awarded the MBE in 2002 and an Honorary MA from Durham University in 2013. The MA acknowledged my introduction of the first individual graves for stillbirths, in 1976, called the ‘Babies Memorial Garden. I also challenged the waste incineration of foetal remains by accepting them for burial or cremation.

    

Much went on behind the scenes. I worked with anti-poverty forums on funeral costs and representatives of all religions on funeral needs. I started the UK’s first wreath recycling scheme, using people with special needs. In Cardiff, I re-tendered the Municipal Funeral Service to create the lowest (2003) cremation cost in the UK. In Croydon, I introduced reclaimed graves, a way to utilise unused space in Victorian graves, to maintain a burial option. I also introduced an environmental cremation which dramatically reduced gas consumption and emissions and worked with government in preparing a pandemic plan.

 

I retired in 2006, after being involved with over 100,000 funerals. In 2009 the Ministry of Justice recorded me as the godfather of natural burial.  I subsequently gave an address in Australia on natural burial and wrote three books, ‘A Guide to Natural Burial’, ‘R.I.P. Off! or The British Way of Death’ and ‘My Pagan Ancestor Zuri.’ We moved to the Peak District in 2020 to continue our love affair with the hills and dales. In 1981, I won the 10 mile Kinder Downfall fell race and if we can run over Kinder again, our circle of life will be complete.”

 

Mohamed Omer

Mohamed Omer
Board Member – External Affairs, Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery

 

LocationEast London

Mohamed is currently involved with various charities: he is a Board member – External Affairs, Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery, based in Hainault Essex. This is the largest dedicated Muslim Cemetery in Europe and has a capacity for 10,000 graves and burials in accordance with Islamic Shariah.

 

Chair – National Burial Council (an umbrella body for all Muslim Community dealing with burials and deaths )

Member of the Burial Cremation Advisory Group at the Ministry of Justice representing the Muslim Community
He is a trustee of The Big Issue Invest – an organization funding Social Enterprises that are not able to obtain funding from banks. Mohamed has been actively involved with community work in East London for the last 15 years.

 

He is the Chair of the governors of Oaks Park High School in Ilford. Oaks park is a community school and the only PFI school in the borough.

Appointed as a trustee of Haven House Childrens Hospice in Woodford in August 2016 .

Executive Member of the Federation of Redbridge Muslim Organisations (FORMO )

Member of the advisory group on Counter Terrorism at Scotland Yard .

Chair of the Redbridge Faith Forum

Part of the APPG on Baby Loss

Part of the APPG on Bereavement

Carolyn Harris MP image

Carolyn Harris MP
Member of Parliament, Deputy Leader of Welsh Labour

 

LocationSwansea

 

Born and raised in her own constituency of Swansea East, Carolyn grew up with a keen interest in politics – even as a young child campaigning and canvassing within her community.

 

After gaining a degree in Social Policy from Swansea University in 1998, Carolyn continued to work within her community, setting up two centres for disaffected youths.  This was followed by roles as a Regional Director for a capacity building not-for-profit organisation and then a Regional Manager for a children’s cancer charity.

 

Her Parliamentary career began in 2005 when she was employed by the then Member of Parliament for Swansea East, Sian James, working for her for nearly ten years, initially as a caseworker, and eventually as her Office Manager and Senior Parliamentary Assistant.

 

When Sian chose to step down in 2015, Carolyn was selected as the preferred Labour candidate for Swansea East and on 7 May 2015, she was elected as the constituencies Member of Parliament with a majority of over 12,000.  After the snap general election in 2017, Carolyn was re-elected with an increased majority.

In early 2018, Carolyn announced that, alongside her Parliamentary role, she would be standing in the upcoming election for the first Deputy Leader of Welsh Labour.  In a closely fought campaign, Carolyn was announced as the new Deputy Leader on 21April 2018.

 

In just four years in Parliament, Carolyn has risen from a backbencher to Shadow Home Affairs and Women & Equalities Minister.  She is now regularly seen on the opposition benches or at the despatch box, debating with colleagues and urging the Government to make changes for the good of the people.

 

Aside from her Shadow Ministerial duties, Carolyn remains a true campaigner, and as such chairs the All Party Parliamentary Groups on State Pension Inequality for Women, Gambling Related Harm, Home Electrical Safety, Beauty Aesthetics & Wellbeing, Children in Wales and Bereavement.  These are all issues that Carolyn cares passionately about, as she seeks to make changes that will benefit both her own constituents, and the public in general all around the country.

 

Carolyn has also taken the lead in some specific successful campaigns since becoming a Member of Parliament. She led in the call for the establishment of a Children’s Funeral Fund, to spare bereaved parents who suffer the devastating loss of a child the financial burden of burying their loved one. This campaign was very personal to Carolyn, having lost her own son Martin when he was just eight years old, and the reaction to it was phenomenal.  The Welsh Labour Government introduced a Children’s Funeral Fund in 2017 and the UK government followed suit in July 2019.

 

Alongside this, in April 2019, Carolyn had another success, when the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport slashed the maximum stake for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 a spin to just £2.  Having led a determined and passionate campaign, this was a hugely positive result for Carolyn and for all those cursed with an addiction to these machines.

 

Despite her ever-growing Parliamentary workload and her Deputy Leadership role, Carolyn still remains focused on the needs of her own community in Swansea East, holding weekly surgeries around the constituency every Friday. As well as this, her constituency office is open and staffed five days a week, offering support and advice to those in need.

 

Whilst the corridors of Westminster have become her political home – Carolyn is still the same Welsh girl who canvassed on the streets as a child.  Swansea East and its people will always be the main focus of her attention.

 

Carolyn explains here why she agreed to become a patron of the Good Funeral Guide:

 

“I chose to become a patron because we need more services like GFG that we can lean on. 

 

My own experiences have taught me that as a society we should be talking more about death and how we handle it.  It touches us all and it happens to us all, at some point.  Yet when that time comes the grief, the paperwork, the left behind belongings – all of it can be overwhelming. 

 

What I want, is for people to know they don’t have to live up to the expectations of others when organising a service or funeral of a loved one.  It is ok to say goodbye in your own way, within your own budget and with value for money being given due consideration too.  Services like GFG can help with that and I am grateful for it.”

Thanks to Icons8 for the icons.

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