Becky recently spoke to a group of undergraduates about planning celebration of life events, both in-person and online…
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. The company now has further offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and employs staff from a range of backgrounds. Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, initially established a career in events management, having completed a BA in the subject at Leeds Beckett University. Here, she talks about how she continues to work with the organisation…
I’ve loved maintaining a relationship with the team I studied with as an undergraduate. Whilst my time at university wasn’t all rosy, and the time since has been turbulent too, I enjoy feeling connected with the source of much of my knowledge, and continuing to provide students with a perspective from the wider world.
Guest lectures were something my peers and I looked forward to whilst we were studying: not only is it nice to hear from a different voice, but it’s also inspiring, and reminds you that there’s a point to the hours of reading, and late night pushes to finish an assessment for submission. The current cohort has had a particularly difficult time – although their studies haven’t been disrupted in the same way as those still within the school system, their experience is far from what they had anticipated. Many of them have also had to deal with sorting out changes to accommodation, plus the stress which was how they would safely return home for the winter holidays.
Since I started at Freeman Brothers, I’ve taken an annual guest spot within the ‘Celebration, Ritual and Culture’ module, which is an optional one within the final year for BA Events Management students. When I first got involved, I was warned that some students had found discussing death upsetting. Although I appreciated the heads up, I also wasn’t bothered, as it is what I do for a living!
When I’d participated in late 2018 and 2019 (having actually made an in-person visit in early 2018!), the students had been on campus in Leeds, but last week, they were all based remotely, and we joined together via Microsoft Teams for me to chat through their pending assessment with them. It was nice not to be the only one participating via webcam for a change! Though it was also strange to think that this was the final semester of their university experience, and so incredibly different to my own.
Many of the assessments on Leeds Beckett’s Events Management course are as practical as possible, and involved giving a variety of presentations when I was a student. From academic-style poster presentations to group pitches for representatives of the local Council, I completed a range of assignments in order to pass my course. There were, as ever, essays and other written assessments too, but in preparation for a career in the events industry, there were many collaborative projects. For the assignment we were discussing, the students must submit a written report outlining the considerations to be made for a theoretical celebration of life event, having been provided with case study options.
Partly due to our own circumstances, and partly to reflect the assessment criteria, much of my advice focused on COVID-secure venues and event planning methods, in addition to considerations for guests hoping to attend from overseas. We thought about a range of possibilities – as this event is fictional, we fortunately didn’t have to consider the true probabilities, but it’s great practice to think through all of the options, and learn how to manage risk.
The conversation really got me thinking: my day-to-day role doesn’t involve funeral arranging, but I know enough about the situation we’re all in at the moment in order to advise. In addition, I see and manage our customer feedback, and with webcasts becoming far more in demand than they ever have been, I do hear what customers think about these. More than once, we’ve had phone calls immediately after a service has taken place, to thank us for what we’ve done, and so that the viewer is able to convey their thoughts on how lovely it was to be involved. It’s been gratifying to know that they’ve found the experience worthwhile.
As the session progressed, we talked about how to offer a sense of connection and togetherness, either when attendees must maintain social distancing in-person, or when they aren’t in the same room due to travel restrictions. The idea of ‘intangibility’ was something which was always mentioned when I was a student – when I started my degree in 2006, online events were still largely a theoretical concept; conference calls were much more common! – as was ‘perishability’. These two things relate to that which you cannot touch, and that which isn’t able to be kept respectively. It’s one of the things that is fascinating about events – we can’t keep hold of them physically, and we can’t offer anyone who was there the full experience (again, as technology has moved on, we’re now easily able to share good-quality videos with those who couldn’t join us, but it still isn’t the same thing). If you don’t attend an event yourself, you don’t soak up the atmosphere, you can’t smell or taste it, and you can’t close your eyes and remind yourself what it was like years in the future.
But there’s transferability here. And this is how we are still able to offer funeral services which allow mourners to feel connected to one another, whether they’re all attending, nobody is attending, or some combination of attending in-person and attending virtually.
My suggestions when asked about how to create connection where it’s lacking were as follows:
- Encourage attendees to dress for the occasion – many people have justifiably sought comfort when remaining at home, but there are times when it’s important to wear suitable clothing too. The days of always wearing our Sunday best for funerals are long gone, but that doesn’t mean to say that we should remain in our leggings or pyjamas either. It’s still appropriate to suggest a dress code for remote participants, which could be as simple as communicating the Deceased person’s favourite colour (and hey, if that happens to be silver glitter, I do have a pair of appropriate leggings…)
- Offer those who can’t attend the opportunity to suggest songs or readings when planning the service – depending on the technology available, they may even be able to submit their own contribution
- Position photos in the venue – I’ve mainly seen this happen for weddings, but it’s possible for funerals too. The photos don’t need to be ornately framed or large, but if you are able to take physical photos or print outs to the service venue, they can be positioned on seats as though the guests were occupying them
- Let the guests know what kind of flowers the Deceased person liked, if any – they may choose to purchase some to enjoy in their own home, and have them ready for the funeral service
- Distribute orders of service remotely – prior to our Online Remembrance Service in December, we sent out physical copies of the Order of Service, so that viewers still knew what was coming up, and could sing along to the songs
- Share your online tribute page – ours have the facility to upload photos and messages to a Tribute Garden, as well as make donations to charity in memory of the person who has died
I’m pleased to say that the students finished the session full of enthusiasm and ideas. I concluded by wishing them the best of luck with the remainder of their studies, and I’m hoping that perhaps some of them will even have been inspired to join us in the industry – their creativity and digital experience would be welcomed with open arms.
Tel: 01403 254590
If you have an urgent query, please call 01403 254590. This number is answered by one our staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the quickest way to reach us.
Tel: 01403 785133
25 & 27 Brighton Road
Tel: 01293 540000
126 High Street
Tel: 01273 831497