Freeman Brothers featured on BBC‘s ’South Today‘ recently to share the company’s experience of providing funeral services during the coronavirus pandemic…
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company remains independent and family-run, currently operated by the fifth generation of the Freeman family to run the business. With three further offices – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – across the county, the organisation employs 30 local people and has developed a wealth of expertise on the funeral industry. As leaders in the field of independent funeral directors, the company is occasionally called upon for advice by other organisations. Earlier this month, via links with the National Association of Funeral Directors, one of these instances occurred. Manager Abi Pattenden tells us more…
My tenure as President of the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) from 2018 to 2019 helped strengthen Freeman Brothers’ links with an organisation of which it has long been a member. I was able to meet colleagues throughout the country, and learn from them in addition to sharing my own knowledge of what it’s like to operate in our region. It’s not often that we as funeral directors are asked for comments via the media, although we are always happy to give our thoughts, providing that the content is prepared sensitively.
The NAFD was contacted by BBC South to find out if there were any funeral directors within its region who might be willing to participate in their flagship ‘South Today’ programme. The programme was very interested in speaking to funeral directors and bereaved people to learn more about what has changed in respect of funerals since the onset of the pandemic. The NAFD contacted me and I agreed to have a provisional conversation to find out what was required and see if we were able to assist.
I spoke to the Producer, Ian, on the phone prior to them booking a time to come and see us, and gave an overview of how things have been since the UK was first impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The distinction which isn’t always made is that, whilst not everyone who has died recently has required treatment for coronavirus, everyone who is bereaved is impacted by the situation. This is purely by virtue of the fact that we are operating under pandemic-related social distancing regulations and, therefore, all funerals have been affected, whether the person died due to coronavirus or not.
There are many changes we’ve had to make at Freeman Brothers, as I’ve detailed via the blog previously. We’ve adopted safe ways of working, so that the team are still able to do their jobs, whilst minimising the impact on themselves and their own families, to whom they return each day. We’ve done our best to protect our customers too, by minimising their contact with our team both prior to funerals and on the day of the funeral itself.
As I’m confident in our practices, and we’ve established an efficient system, I was more than happy to speak to the BBC about these, and share our procedures openly. I’m proud that we’ve continued to receive excellent feedback from our customers under the circumstances: a funeral is something that nobody particularly wants to arrange or be responsible for at the best of times, and this is currently heightened by the fact that many people haven’t been able to see the person who has died during their final days or weeks. It also has been upsetting for some people to learn that they are only be able have a small number of attendees at the service.
The hope was that we might know of a family who would be willing to share their thoughts with the BBC and, ideally, have some of the funeral filmed. I did have some reservations about this but when we discussed it amongst our colleagues it became apparent that we couldn’t think of anyone who might be willing to accommodate this. One of the negative aspects of the pandemic is that we are no longer able to sit down for a full meeting with a family or friends when we make the funeral arrangements and so this means that we have not been able to get to know people as well as we normally like to – it may well be that we have plenty of families who would have been more than willing to do this, but we just didn’t get that impression in the short time we had met them and from our phone calls.
Alex had already mentioned to me that he had arranged a funeral for a lady whose daughter and son-in-law were so eloquent, and really brilliant at explaining what they had found to be a very difficult time, and we wondered whether they might be willing to communicate this more openly. We sought consent from them to pass their number on, and Ian called them to discuss what the BBC was proposing. They agreed to participate and this was how the video recording of Mrs Holdsworth’s funeral came to be part of the piece, and how Diana and Jim were so powerfully able to explain their story, which rightly became the crux of the piece.
The Journalist Nikki, and her cameraman (a different Ian!) arrived and spent time in our workshop gathering footage of the team furnishing coffins, as well as preparing our vehicles for the first funeral of the day. It was great that they included the team sharing that all vehicles are cleaned between uses, particularly at the moment to ensure no cross-contamination via different members of staff using them. The broadcast also shared how we brief the team each morning, in addition to a coffin being placed in a hearse ready for a service. Fizzy, our Mortuary Technician, was shown cleaning equipment and discussing her role – having been here for over 20 years, she’s now our longest-serving member of staff.
I was interviewed extensively for the piece although, as I had expected, there was only a short clip of me included in the broadcast. I have to say I was initially quite nervous about welcoming a broadcaster into the premises – obviously we are a work environment, with all that entails, and although our buildings are well-maintained and very clean, parts of them are very old and parts of them are laid out with practicality in mind. A ‘working’ workshop is not a tidy space even if it’s a well-organised one. I was also a bit concerned that people might feel the working spaces in a funeral home were somehow not suitable for broadcast, even though I had made it very clear that there would be no filming at all of any Deceased people or even where they were resting. Before I spoke to Ian, I had been concerned if there was any ulterior motive – funeral directors have attracted negative press in the past, most (although not all) of it unwarranted, but it was clear that the piece was genuinely intended to be about how bereaved people are coping and how we and other firms are able to help them. It was only right that Mr and Mrs Wilde were the focus of the piece and I am glad that the interviews with the team and filming which took place here were able to give some context to their very important message.
The BBC Journalist has kindly shared the clip which was broadcast via YouTube, and it can currently be found here. Let us know if you have any comments or questions!
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