Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors has been based in West Sussex since 1855 and has always been involved in organisations which shape the funeral sector. The UK’s oldest funeral trade body, the National Association of Funeral Directors, was established in 1905 (50 years after the founding of Freeman Brothers), and continues until today in its aim to be ‘The Voice of the Profession’. Freeman Brothers’ Manager, Abi Pattenden, has been involved with the NAFD at the highest level, having been the organisation’s President in 2018-19. She recently attended the Association’s Conference and here reports back on some of the weekend’s business and events.
Every President chooses where to hold their conference and the key themes that underpin it. President for 2022-23, John Adams, welcomed a keen group of representatives from businesses large and small, from all over the country, to Stratford-upon-Avon, for a weekend dedicated to looking forwards to the next chapter of the organisation with a spirit of co-operation and togetherness.
The weekend started with a reception for Past Presidents and Honorary Members. This has never happened before and was a chance for that group to get together and reflect on the work we have all carried out over our tenure as Presidents and to remember our predecessors by candlelight. During the weekend, one of the group of Past Presidents, Alastair Huteson, was recognised for his service to the Association with an award for Honorary Membership.
While the weekend is a chance to catch up and network, it is predominantly about business, especially on the Friday when the Annual General Meeting is held. During this, we heard from the NAFD’s new CEO, Andrew Judd, who has worked in funeral service all his life and so understands the day-to-day realities of the job. He gave an update on his first few months’ work in the role, explaining how he has brought his attention to detail (honed as a 14-year-old Saturday boy furnishing coffins and washing cars) to the job. Many questions followed about the organisation’s ongoing priorities on issues such as the new regulatory regime in which we now operate. There followed reports from the various Boards and Committees including Education and Membership, and the election of the next term’s members of those. This is a chance for members to understand the projects which are progressing and ask questions of those who are steering them.
The afternoon saw a session on various upcoming issues for the funeral industry: the prospective introduction to the UK of alkaline hydrolysis and organic dispersal as alternatives to burial or cremation; phase two of the current Fuller Inquiry which will look at the dignity of deceased people in all settings; and the Law Commission Project ‘A Modern Framework for Disposing of the Dead’. All of these will have implications for how funeral businesses operate and the ways in which we can serve our customers, so the information was very welcome with many questions for each speaker.
There is a social side to the conference weekend, and on Friday night many of us enjoyed a delicious BBQ and the opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new people. Historically, many operators of the smallest businesses would almost view the conference as a holiday- it might be their only break in a year- and to this day, it may be the only chance we have to catch up with some of our colleagues in person- especially those from the further corners of the UK.
Saturday is always Education Day and we were lucky enough to have some fantastic sessions on pertinent issues such as risk management and succession planning. President John updated us on the progress of the Association’s Bereavement in Childhood project. This is something which commenced under my tenure in 2018-19 but has special resonance for John, as he was bereaved of his mum in his early teenage years. The last year has really seen some project gain some traction and there is more work to come.
Finally, and very excitingly, we were treated to a session from Matthew ‘Ollie’ Ollerton, former Special Forces soldier who has come to public prominence through his role on Channel 4’s ‘SAS: Who Dares Wins’. Ollie has had an exceptional career, and is one of the first Special Forces personnel to actually talk about his experiences- with the aim, as he says himself, to turn them into a positive force for good. His overriding message- that it’s hard to help others without keeping our own wellbeing in focus- is something that I think we can all relate to, especially in roles such as funeral service where taking care of others is at the heart of our work.
Saturday night saw our formal banquet, a chance to dress up and- again- have a more social part of the weekend. The food was delicious, the band was marvellous and a lovely time was had by all.
Conference weekend concludes with the ‘changing of the guard’ as members of Boards and Committees take their new roles, and retiring members leave. I was honoured to be asked to give the Vote of Thanks to two members stepping down this year, and was grateful to be able to acknowledge the valuable work that the team of volunteers does. I quoted Edison: ‘Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can’t afford to lose’ to thank those members for giving of their time.
The last act of business was the inaugural address to the membership by the new President, Barry Pritchard. Barry spoke about his three passions in life: his family and friends; music; and funerals. The Association is in safe hands, and will continue to strengthen as it moves towards its 120th Anniversary in 2025. I came away from the weekend feeling enthused, and with lots of new ideas to bring to Freeman Brothers- which, for me, is always the main purpose of attending the Conference.