A year in the community

As we say goodbye to 2018, Freeman Brothers’ Community Co-Ordinator Becky reviews the year, and looks ahead to an exciting 2019…

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The year was as interesting and varied as I predicted, having only begun my role at Freeman Brothers in October 2017. When I look back, it’s great to see the diversity of groups I’ve connected with, and have the opportunity to learn about different aspects of our communities. The areas in which our offices are situated are incredibly diverse, which means that each community has a distinct feel, and a wide variety of organisations to get involved with.

Having settled in, Christmas immediately presented some opportunities to get involved with local causes.  I started with St Catherine’s Hospice, who are very well-known locally, and had an extensive fundraising programme in the lead up to Christmas.  I spent a morning helping out at their gift wrapping stand in County Mall, where my greatest challenge and proudest achievement was successfully wrapping a large teddy bear!

December was also when I first got introduced to Gravity Social Club, and had a great time helping out at their Christmas party.  The club has had a brilliant year, and it’s been a pleasure to watch and support them as they grow: from hosting their first Glow Walk event in the spring – despite the appalling weather! – to gaining registered charity status, they really are an organisation which has gone from strength to strength.

I quickly connected with several organisations via our Community Printing Scheme, and am pleased to be supporting Christ’s Hospital Choral Society – whose summer concert I also attended and highly recommend – and Loxwood Jazz again this year. This initiative offers to support organisations who don’t have access to their own printing facilities in order to produce promotional materials and event programmes.  If you would like to know more about this, please get in touch!

This scheme also enabled me to support Crawley Guides – we produced the invitations and order of service for their 100th anniversary, which took place in June – and the Mary How Trust, a charity in Pulborough, who used this service in order to have posters printed for an art exhibition which was held to raise funds for them.

Spring was a particularly busy time, with us hosting several events during Dying Matters Awareness Week, including an incredibly successful event at our branches in Billingshurst and Crawley, and one at AgeUK Horsham District’s Lavinia House day centre.  These events focused on encouraging members of the public to communicate their funeral wishes to their loved ones, and it was fantastic to see people engaging with our “Big Deal, Small Talk” leaflets and receiving giveaways for their efforts.  Dying Matters Awareness Week runs annually, and we’d love to see even more people in 2019.

I was also privileged to be invited to facilitate at a GraveTalk event held at Holy Trinity in Rudgwick during Dying Matters Awareness Week.  This was a wonderful evening which involved groups posing questions such as, “what do you think about doing something on the internet to remember someone?” and, “have you been to a funeral, and if so, what impression did it make?”  This was the first time the events had been run in the parish, so it was lovely to be invited, and to return for a feedback session later in the summer.

Another significant moment in the year was our return to the South of England Show at Ardingly in June.  I wanted to take a different approach and engage visitors: I did this by creating a stand which was designed to be hands-on – we ran a lucky dip throughout the event in a cardboard coffin, enabling us to raise money for three charities – Crawley Open House, The Butterfly Project, and the Mary How Trust; there were demonstrations from one of our florists, plus Somerset Willow, who hand-make willow coffins; and we ran a prize draw for a hamper full of local produce.  It was a great three days which certainly got people talking – mostly in admiration of the cardboard coffin on display, which was decorated with a photo of a farm scene.

One of the activities Freeman Brothers ran at the South of England Show 2018

The summer continued to be busy, thanks to volunteering monthly at The Posh Club, a weekly tea and entertainment social for over 60s at Broadfield Community Centre.  The Posh Club team are welcoming and always cheerful, and spending time with them and their guests is a pleasure – not only because of the sandwiches and fizz, but for the opportunity to enjoy live musical entertainment.  I also ran a version of our “Big Deal, Small Talk” event at St Mary’s church in Southgate, where I’d been invited to speak to members about funeral planning.  I was greeted by a highly-engaged group of people, who were keen to discuss the details of planning a funeral, from how to make funerals more eco-friendly to what arrangements it’s possible to specify in advance.  It was great to meet a different group, and chat about funerals over tea and cake – something I’m always keen to do!

2018 marked a significant anniversary for Armistice Day, and it felt important for us to recognise this as a company.  Throughout the year, the journey was marked by our logo – which includes poppy buds – showing poppies coming into bloom.  At the events we attended, we handed out free packs of poppy seeds for members of the public to plan in remembrance of the fallen, and we participated in the Royal British Legion’s “Everyone Remembered” campaign on social media – choosing to “remember” soldiers with similar names to members of our team, plus soldiers from the local community.  On Remembrance Day itself, we laid wreaths at local memorials, and we had previously made a donation to Billingshurst Royal British Legion’s fundraising for a delegation to attend the Grand Pilgrimage 90 trip in August.

A highlight of my year was volunteering at AgeUK Horsham District’s Strictly Vintage fundraising dance in September.  The band played some fabulous songs, and there were some excellent outfit choices by attendees, as well as some inspirational dance moves!  Even better, the event raised over £2,000, which is great news for the group which celebrates its diamond anniversary this year.

Part of my role involves organising Christmas gifts which we give to various organisations in our network in appreciation of their work throughout the year.  In 2018, the way in which we purchased and prepared our gifts changed significantly: rather than using a national supplier for pre-selected and packaged gifts, I dedicated a lot of time to making the most of the fact that we operate within a region which is abundant in local produce, and hand-picked items for bespoke hampers and gift boxes.  It was a pleasure to meet with a variety of small businesses, and see the passion which exists within the food, drink and gift industries.  I discovered some amazing gems, and this project has been close to my heart for several reasons: Freeman Brothers remains independent and family-run, and wouldn’t have succeeded for as long as it has without the support of the local community, so it only felt right to support other independent traders, particularly several who are still very new to their own businesses; it’s great to know that our produce covered minimal mileage, and more than one supplier when I was booking deliveries asked if I was happy to shift dates as they regularly deliver to towns on certain days, to help cut their mileage, which I was pleased to support; when the produce began arriving, I also noticed that there was far less packaging involved than when ordering previously – a side-effect of many deliveries coming directly from the producer’s home, to their vehicle and into our office!  I hope that the recipients have enjoyed their gifts as much as I did putting them together, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what other new treasures I can unearth next time.

With the arrival of a new year, I’m most excited about a first for us – Freeman Brothers is sponsoring the Sussex Comedian of the Year competition which forms part of the Horsham District Year of Culture programme.  With this and all of the other activities we have already begun to plan, it seems that my second year will be even busier than my first!  It’s a significant year for our branch in Crawley, which will have been open for ten years in November 2019 – keep your eyes peeled for a celebration we’ve already begun planning, and the details of the rest of what’s sure to be an interesting year.

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

January 2, 2019

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