Abi Pattenden, Manager of Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
The roles within a funeral directors are more diverse than you may think! A lot has changed since Freeman Brothers first began in 1855. With branches across West Sussex in Billingshurst, Crawley, Horsham and Hurstpierpoint, our workforce comprises of 28 staff, most of whom are employed full-time and some who are on part-time or flexible basis. Some of our team members have worked for the company for a number of years, and others have joined more recently. As the business continues to grow, and the funeral industry changes, we are required to be increasingly innovative, and this means even more variety among roles and responsibilities. Now’s your chance to meet the team!
This week we’ve profiled Manager, Abi, who’s now been with the company for over 12 years. Read on to find out more about her time at Freeman Brothers…
How long have you worked at Freeman Brothers? 12 years
What did you do prior to working at Freeman Brothers? All kinds of things. My last job was as a Sales Manager in a call centre for a large utility company but I have had many jobs – a lot of experience in Retail Management and in Marketing. I’ve also done a lot of work in Hospitality including running a pub for a bit. At university I had all kinds of random jobs including tour guiding and facilitating corporate teambuilding days, and I have also done some professional acting work.
What made you want to work at a funeral directors? When I saw the job as Manager advertised I never dreamed I would be successful, but I decided to apply because I knew I wasn’t happy where I worked and I guessed (correctly!) that the application and interview process would be rigorous and so I saw it as good practice. Before the interviews, prospective candidates had a day at Freeman Brothers meeting the team and learning about the company and after that, I knew I really wanted the job. I felt it was a way to help people outside of the conventional ways you might think of more easily. It also suits my skill set- you need to be both well-organised and thorough, with a real eye for detail; and a people person. The role enables me to combine those skills, which was something I had never really had so much of in my previous work.
Describe your role for those who may not know what it involves… I’m the Manager of Freeman Brothers and J.Gumbrill and I run the businesses day-to-day on behalf of the Freeman family. My role is very varied, which anyone recognising a small business will recognise. I oversee all of the different activities whether that be advertising and marketing, HR and personnel, and of course most importantly the service we offer to our clients. I also arrange funerals and conduct them, and, if needed, I will go and collect someone who has died and bring into care. No two days are the same.
What’s your favourite part of your job? I love the variety, I love that everyone pulls together to achieve the same goal, which is a successful funeral. I also really like meeting and helping people.
If you could help people to understand one thing about your job/funerals, what would it be? I wish people would realise that talking about death doesn’t make it happen. Once you have sat down with someone who is upset anyway because they are bereaved, and then you have to see them get more upset as they realise that they have no idea how to approach personalising the funeral for the person who has died, you quickly realise than an expression of wishes – albeit a very simple one, or one where you only say that you literally don’t care at all and the people left behind can decide – can only ever be beneficial.
Has your job changed your own approach to discussing death, dying and bereavement outside of work? We were always open in my family anyway but I have realised through my job that it’s not the case with everyone. When I first started working at Freeman Brothers I was a bit reticent to tell people what I did but I quickly realised that it was something to be proud of. These days I am happy to tell everyone what I do and I see it as part of the vocation I have for funeral directing to answer any questions which come along, regardless of from whom and in what setting. Sometimes people are fascinated and occasionally they are appalled but most people, on being told what I do, say how interesting and rewarding the think it is- and they’re right.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the funeral industry whilst you’ve worked at Freeman Brothers? Personalisation of services. When I started, most people had more or less the same funeral content, certainly in terms of music. People expect far more now, which I think is brilliant, and more people seem to be wanting to see the funeral as a celebration of the person who has died, choosing content to reflect their lives.
What do you think funerals will be like in 20 years’ time? I think there will be a lot of changes with the inevitable introduction of some kind of regulatory regime. I am in favour of regulation for funerals but I wouldn’t want to see anything which makes the time that someone has died more difficult for the people who are left behind. I wonder whether funerals will move more towards weddings and baby namings where the ‘ceremony’ is split from the practicalities. I’ve gone to several weddings where the bride and groom have got married in a registry office with a couple of witnesses a few days beforehand, and then the public ceremony can be wherever and whatever they would like, unrestricted. Funerals might move in that direction. I also hope, gradually, people will be prepared to talk to each other more about their wishes so there will be fewer cases where the person making the arrangements is really in the dark about the type of funeral they should be arranging.
Which songs would you like to be played at your funeral/memorial? I have my whole funeral planned out but I wouldn’t want to reveal all of it as it would spoil the surprise! I will say that one of my choices is ‘She’ by Elvis Costello. The melody is beautiful and I think the words sum up what it is to be a modern person with all the contradictions we all have these days!