Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
First established in 1855, Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors is Horsham’s longest-serving independent business. Today, the company remains owned and operated by a member of the Freeman family, and has expanded across West Sussex, with further offices in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. Being part of the communities the team serves is a core value at Freeman Brothers, and a significant part of this is the organisation’s Community programme. Here, Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, shares how things are currently going…
Like 2020, 2021 has been a very difficult year for community events. As I sit and write this at the very end of August, with public and private events currently running completely unrestrictedly, it can be tough to remember that, even in April and May, we weren’t sure when this might happen. I was having conversations with community organisers at this point and earlier, some of whom had got very excited when the government’s roadmap was first unveiled in February, and others who were taking a more reserved approach.
On a personal level, deep in the midst of Lockdown 3.0, I found it incredibly hard to imagine that any events might take place in 2021. As the vaccine rollout had begun with the oldest members of our population – who, with the greatest will in the world, are never likely to make up the majority of the audience at something like Reading and Leeds Festivals – it was difficult to see how certain productions would be possible.
Fortunately, our situation improved dramatically and, with the ability to hold events outdoors thanks to the better weather conditions of summer (though sadly not as glorious as they were in 2020, which is typical!), our options did open a little. Decisions and regulations have not been without controversy: there was widespread criticism of the fact that school sports days, for example, weren’t open to attendance by multiple members of families and yet, at the same point in time, large weddings were again allowed.
There were a few false starts in my network – I had a flurry of requests for printing and raffle prizes which were based around the original date we’d been given after which events could be held again. As the date ultimately got pushed back and confidence faltered slightly, a few requests were then rolled over to 2022 instead, which we as a business are more than happy to honour. When restrictions were ultimately lifted towards the end of July, events were then able to go ahead with more confidence, and we were pleased to supply raffle prizes and provide printing services for a few events during August.
As we head into the autumn, I’m happy to say that we’re once again supporting Hurst Arts Festival, which is taking place in September. A new event for us to help with is the Kangaroos Golf Day, which is happening in October with Freeman Brothers acting as one of the event’s sponsors. With schools also returning for the new academic year, I’ve also been busy packing and sending copies of Clare Shaw’s bereavement book, ‘A Mind Full of Grief’ to local secondary schools, so that they can make use of this important resource.
One of the team’s main projects taking us through to the end of the year is our annual Remembrance Service. Held for the first time in 2019, little did we know then what was soon to come! Circumstances pushed us to do something we’d never done previously, and broadcast our 2020 service online. It was a huge success, and an experience that the team worked hard together to provide for our audience.
Following 2020’s event, our confidence increased, and we were determined to create more online events, as well as continuing to offer an online version of our Remembrance Service, due to the increased accessibility it offers. As with our original event, we assessed what went well and what we’d like to change following last year’s event, so that when the time comes to make a decision regarding the next one, we’re already prepared to settle on our content. We’ve decided to wait a little longer before making firm arrangements and sharing the details with members of the public – unfortunately, the lesson we’ve all learned worldwide during the last two years is that nothing is guaranteed any more. Things can sadly change quickly, and we’ve chosen to be cautious.
However, I’m pleased to say that we will know by the end of September what our plans are and, whether we decide to host an event in-person or online-only, a Service will be available for all who would like to attend in early December. With travel restrictions looking set to continue – both from our own country’s perspective and others – this will be an excellent option for those who are based internationally and would like to share an event with those they know in our local area.
We’re hopeful that we’ll have an in-person event, as what we all missed out on last year was seeing the audience’s response. What was lovely was that several people took the time to get in touch with us following the broadcast, to let us know that they’d enjoyed it. However, it’s not the same as experiencing it together, and sharing some refreshments after the service.
There are two other projects which have also been of great importance so far this year: one culminates soon, as the funeral industry is now going to be subject to regulation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Abi will be sharing more detail on this in the near future, and fortunately due to organisational process we already had in place, there isn’t a huge amount of change for us at Freeman Brothers. What we have managed to do is include the required changes in a project we were already working on – the redevelopment of our website.
Websites tend to age quite quickly and ours was due a refresh, partly due to our branding changing significantly during the last couple of years. We’re all really excited about some new features that our site will allow users to take advantage of. I don’t want to spoil it just yet, but what I can share is that the new site will be live during the next fortnight, so stay tuned!
Finally, work continues to progress with our COVID memorials across the county, which we announced on the National Day of Reflection back in March. Designs have been approved for the Horsham and Hurstpierpoint memorials, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them take shape. Ultimately, we went stone shopping at Horsham Stone’s local quarry, selecting several pieces we liked. These will have a slate tablet inlaid, upon which will be the inscription of our chosen design.
It’s great to see these progressing, and they’re on target to be in place for the next National Day of Reflection in March 2022, hopefully accompanied by a service to launch them. The next step currently is to prepare the accompanying flowerbeds – our intention was always to plant daffodils nearby in support of these being the chosen bloom for the day. Daffodil bulbs must be planted in autumn in order to flower the following spring, so my current task is to get digging!
My role has always been varied, and the last two years have been no exception. It has just been another example of working with what happens, and doing our best to continue supporting the community in any way we can.