Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, and Funeral Arranger, Alex, during Dying Matters Awareness Week 2019
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!
Today we’ve profiled Community Co-Ordinator, Becky – read on to find out more about her background…
How long have you worked at Freeman Brothers? Two years, as of this week!
What did you do prior to working at Freeman Brothers? Lots of things! I have a degree in Events Management and have done a wide variety of roles both before and since this. Some of the highlights prior to my current role are: teaching horsemanship and horse riding in the US; facilitating equine assisted learning sessions for children and families with emotional and behavioural issues; promotional roadshow events for car manufacturers; conferences for up to 1,200 delegates for a scientific membership association.
What made you want to work at a funeral directors? I was looking for my next challenge! I’ve been the first person to undertake a role on several occasions within my career to date, so am used to developing jobs and establishing what the role will specifically involve, this side of things wasn’t new to me. I found it intriguing that a funeral directors was being so innovative – there are very few companies within the industry who employ someone who is responsible for marketing and community engagement, certainly outside of those national chains who would have people based in their head offices. It’s also interesting working with a taboo subject – little fazes me, having worked with teenagers! I quickly discovered that this is a role and a business which allows me to make a positive difference in a variety of ways, and that’s something which is important to me.
Describe your role for those who may not know what it involves… As Community Co-Ordinator, I wear a variety of hats! My job involves community engagement, whether that’s volunteering with a local charity or community group, or helping them in some other way – such as providing a raffle prize or training on social media. I handle all elements of our advertising, marketing and branding; I write content for our blog, which involves being aware of frequently asked questions, trends within the industry, and how to seek out other interesting topics; I run our Twitter account and oversee the activity for our Hurstpierpoint branch’s account; I take care of any liaison regarding any sponsorships we’ve taken on, and events we’ll be attending or running.
What’s your favourite part of your job? I love the challenge of communicating about a topic many people struggle with – I can’t bear euphemistic language, so will always choose to use the words, ‘dead’, ‘death’ and ‘dying’, I think it’s important that we normalise these and use them correctly. Something which sounds very straightforward, but where I’ve found we can make a huge difference is when taking initial enquiries and details from customers via phone. We are often the first third party that someone speaks to following a death, and I can immediately feel when people find it difficult to communicate that their loved one has died, almost as though this is the very beginning of coming to terms with it for some people. It’s normal to answer the phone to someone who is quite distressed, and helping them to stay calm and simply get through that telephone conversation is a skill in and of itself. I’ve had people phone in tears, or in a state of confusion – because bereavements initiate a wide range of emotions, far beyond sadness – and it’s good to know that, by the end of the conversation, they are at least clearer on the next practical steps that they must take.
If you could help people to understand one thing about your job/funerals, what would it be? That no two cost the same, and that it’s impossible to give a guaranteed and accurate quotation prior to the funeral actually being arranged. Funeral pricing is complicated, and based on costs which are set by different parties. Not all of the costs are within the funeral director’s control as those payable to third parties (for example, doctors’ or a celebrant’s fee) are set by those people or organisations.
We also don’t dictate how much it costs to produce something like a coffin, if it isn’t being built by us. Costs for cremation and burial vary significantly, depending on where the burial or cremation is taking place, and even when. People regularly ask me what a funeral costs when I’m out and about, and it’s similar to telling them how long a piece of string is! I like to encourage people to consider the cost of a funeral more in the way they would think about the pricing of other items. So you might think of it in terms of purchasing a brand new car, which is priced subject to the individual specifications of the final product. Alternatively, you could compare it to a holiday where all of the elements are booked separately. We understand that flight routes are priced differently depending on the date or timing of departure, and that hotels are more expensive during peak season- expecting variability due to requirement in this way is very much how choosing what is wanted for a funeral can work.
Has your job changed your own approach to discussing death, dying and bereavement outside of work? It’s made me think more carefully about what I’d like for my own funeral, and how this might change over time. It took me several months of being in my job to ‘walk the talk’ and settle on what I’d like – even I was overwhelmed by the options! I spent a lot of time learning about what’s out there, and ultimately decided that I’d like a direct cremation, then for my cremated remains to be made into a firework, to be set off in a display at a party. To me, this feels appropriate for someone of my personality and at my current stage of life, I may come up with a slightly more sedate plan if I reach an advanced age, or I may keep the plans exactly the same! So I think it’s fair to say that I now understand that it’s best to talk about your wishes, and that they are not fixed until the funeral is actually arranged, so it’s ok to change your mind throughout your lifetime. Working at Freeman Brothers has pushed me to ask my closest family members what they’d like for their funerals, so that I’m prepared to organise them when the time comes. We hadn’t previously had these conversations, and now we have.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the funeral industry whilst you’ve worked at Freeman Brothers? There isn’t a huge amount which has changed during the last two years, but I have already seen an increase in direct cremations. A lot of people perceive these mainly as a cost-saving option, but I do remind people that it isn’t the only way to keep costs to a minimum. Fortunately, a lot of people are making this choice because they feel that it is the right one for them, which is really important.
What do you think funerals will be like in 20 years’ time? I’m hoping that there will be increased options for what happens to someone’s body after they die, largely from an environmental point of view. I’m glad more people are able to choose green burials now, if that’s what they wish, and I’d really like to see some of the ‘green cremation’ methods come through – Washington State in the US has this year legalised the composting of human remains, and I would love this to be an option, in addition to ‘cryomation’, which involves a body being frozen and shaken to dust.
Which songs would you like to be played at your funeral/memorial? I’ve specified that the soundtrack to the party is my ‘most played’ playlist from my music library, with no skips allowed! This might mean that a festive tune or two sneaks in, whether it’s December or not, and guests just have to deal with that!
Becky’s job covers all four Freeman Brothers branches – if you see her out and about in the community, do say hi!