Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company remains run by a direct descendant of founder, Bede Freeman, and now has a further three offices across the county in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint. 2021 has been another unusual year for us all, with Community Co-Ordinator Becky seeing a big impact in her role. Here, she reviews the year…
That 2021 was different didn’t come as a surprise. I think one of the greatest challenges of 2020 was that the sea change we all experienced was entirely unexpected, and a situation few of us had ever imagined. There were many disrupted plans, as well as a new lifestyle to get used to. As we moved into 2021, we knew that it would likely be another Year of the Pandemic, although we weren’t entirely sure what it would hold – the UK’s vaccination programme began in December 2020, and whilst that brought hope for some people, others (myself included) felt uncertain that it would be a quick fix.
Nevertheless, we had to continue to live our lives in our adapted way, and so it was that Freeman Brothers approached another year of business with dedication and compassion. In addition to the ongoing pandemic, there were further changes expected for the UK funeral industry, in the form of regulations instigated by the Competition and Markets Authority. The CMA’s order was issued in June, and the compliance deadline set for September.
This meant a lot of work for our Manager, Abi, and myself plus several other decision-makers at Freeman Brothers. As my role involves management of our website, literature, and other communication, I spent a significant amount of time working with Abi to ensure that all of our digital and printed materials complied.
In late 2020, we had already begun to overhaul our website, and this turned out to be a great decision, as it enabled us to easily integrate the materials required by the CMA. Since I started at Freeman Brothers in 2017, I have developed the look and feel of our brand, with subtle changes to elements such as colour schemes and fonts, and the new website really brought this out. Our updated image is brighter and fresher – something that many funeral directors have been resistant towards. It can be a difficult balance to strike – showing personality and light within what is regarded as a serious and sombre industry, but death is as variable as lives lived; not all people live a staid experience, and so the breadth of this should be demonstrated within funeral services too. To put it more simply, if a person loved colour and laughter when they were alive, should our memories of them really be in complete opposition to this?
A key part of the year therefore became obtaining new professional photos – both portraits and still lifes to illustrate our website and use across our social media platforms. One of my favourite pages of our new website remains our ‘Meet the Team’ page, which is a new addition for us, and ever more relevant in an era when we are continuing to conduct many of our funeral arranging appointments remotely – it’s great for customers to be able to put faces to names.
Alongside all of this, I’ve again done several online talks this year, for organisations such as Carers Support. We also ran our own live online events for the first time – we suspended our Dying Matters Awareness Week events in 2020 as it takes place in May, and we felt that it was too soon into the pandemic to be running a promotional activity. However, in 2021, we decided that the time was right to bring them back. They are available to replay via our YouTube Channel, and I was really pleased with our colleagues across the industry joining us to help. We pride ourselves on our industry relationships, so to have a breadth of suppliers answer questions from the public with us was brilliant. We then also ran a question and answer event more specifically on Freeman Brothers, which also proved highly informative for those who attended.
Around this time, we also began work on our COVID memorials, an idea we launched on the first National Day of Reflection in March – the date was chosen as it was the anniversary of the UK first entering a national lockdown. Two memorials are confirmed, and the stones are now in the workshop being engraved and prepared. During the autumn, we’ve also prepared the daffodil flowerbeds which will go alongside them, in the hopes that these will bloom at the appropriate time – we’re keeping our fingers crossed!
We’ve continued to sponsor and advertise with local organisations as much as possible – unable to hold events for extended periods of time and missing out on public footfall, many have struggled to retain revenue, so even renewing an advert in a brochure has meant a lot to some charities and community groups. One project we were able to continue supporting this year was our local Age UK’s ‘Bags of Support’ – the charity provides deliveries of activity and supply bags to those who are unable to get out, or are worried about being out and about as the pandemic continues. They work tirelessly to continue to support a demographic who are no longer able to visit them, and their staff and volunteers have moved in the opposite direction of going where they are physically needed, rather than expecting older people to continue to visit them.
Following a number of debates at times when decisions felt very challenging, we chose the safest route for our Remembrance Service in 2021, and again hosted this online. It was much easier to organise having already done it for the first time in 2020, and I was again incredibly proud of my colleagues for stepping into the spotlight and being on camera to produce this event. Again, the finished product is available to view when you wish, and I think it’s another moving but uplifting piece which can be enjoyed for years to come.
As 2022 begins, I feel more hopeful than I did for 2021 – our vaccination programme seems to have really helped us in the UK, and things are improving in other countries too. We are always looking ahead in my kind of role, and this year is no exception – we’ve been discussing plans for 2022 since mid-2021, albeit differently to how we would have three years ago!
There’s a lot I’m still not able to tell you yet, but we have some exciting projects in the works, including a collaboration with another local business which will allow us to present a new and exclusive service. In addition, we’ll be hopefully bringing back in-person Dying Matters Awareness Week events, and the unveiling of our COVID memorials is set for the National Day of Reflection in March. Weather and pandemic-permitting, there will be a service at each to commemorate them, as well as displaying them to the public for the first time.
More news on our 2022 projects will be shared here as we get it, so stay tuned to the blog to be the first to know about what we’re up to!