It was with regret, but safety first, that limousine services were suspended at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. With some new equipment, Freeman Brothers is now back on the road…
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. The company remains independent and family-run, and now has a further three offices across the county, in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Abi and Becky have provided regular updates on how the team have been adapting to new ways of working, and continuing to provide their services. Today, Becky gives further detail on how the funeral director’s limousines have been safely reinstated…
There were many changes to our services as the coronavirus pandemic escalated. One of the earliest ones was the decision not to provide limousines for funerals. It’s strange to think back to how things were in the beginning, but it’s important to remember that, not only was there a huge amount of uncertainty around the virus, but there was also no official guidance on what we as funeral directors must be doing.
Initial regulations covered whether or not businesses were able to remain open, and what members of the public would be allowed to do, in terms of attending work, travelling, and meeting others. So whilst some of these things impacted our business by association, other decisions were based upon our own interpretations and choices regarding safety for our customers and colleagues.
As Abi has blogged previously, considerations for personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing at work had to be applied. It was clear from the government advice that a limousine service did not comply with social distancing – conveying passengers in vehicles puts them and the driver in close proximity within an enclosed space for a prolonged period of time – and this supported our decision to withdraw our limousine services. As it happened, there was also less call for them than there may usually have been: again, due to social distancing, there was no possibility for our customers to hold post-service events, which we often transport them to.
It’s been a source of great comfort to the team to know that Abi and Mr Freeman have done their best to keep us all safe as we continue to work together during this time. At the outset, it had also been unclear as to how long the threat of the virus would continue. With our ‘lockdown’ initially lasting three weeks, then rolling on for another three, the limousines gathered dust in their garages.
I had heard via social media of other funeral directors across the country endeavouring to provide taxis for attendees, as many come with so-called ‘hygiene screens’ installed, but this wasn’t something we chose to do. Happily, customers adapted to the lack of limousine service well, with the subject only being raised occasionally, and without complaint. However, as lockdown has begun to ease, the question has again been brought forward, so an alternative strategy needed to be found.
We discovered that one of the main hearse and limousine builders in the UK had sourced hygiene screens which are designed to be fitted temporarily: they could be fitted by our own team, wouldn’t damage the vehicles, and could be removed should we choose for them to be. However, for the duration of their use, they would be safe, and straightforward to maintain.
As with many consumer goods at the moment, the delivery took a little longer than many online orders of simpler products such as books or clothes, but the screens we ordered eventually arrived last week.
Whilst we’d awaited the arrival of the screens, plans had already been established for protocols around their use. Abi discussed her thoughts with the team, and together they recognised that certain procedures would have to be adhered to. The limousines would need to be cleaned thoroughly between uses, and therefore funerals would need to be scheduled accordingly. In addition, clear instructions would need to be provided to passengers. Many of us have already realised that there are lots of things we do on a daily basis without contemplating them – for example, a friend of mine who is a photographer will often adjust a model’s hair or clothes, meaning that she is well within two metres of her subjects; when undertaking a shoot following social distancing guidelines, she had to really think in order to stop herself from doing so automatically! – and these situations would apply here.
For instance, we are requesting that passengers do not touch the outside of the vehicle if at all possible; the driver will open the door in order for them to get in, and step back whilst they do so. Once the passengers are settled, the driver will close the door. Passengers will, of course, need to touch items such as seatbelts, but they have also been warned that the driver may not be able to hear them particularly well when the vehicle is in motion. This is due to the screen itself, but also the fact that the drivers will have the windows down in the front seat should the weather permit it, and we are not insisting that passengers wear masks, but should they choose to, this is absolutely fine by us. All of these are the sorts of things which none of us had previously considered only a few short months ago!
The team are confident that the procedure we have established will allow us to provide an element of our service again, whilst also keeping everyone as safe as possible. I watched the team install the screens: I was impressed that they fit closely around the front seats, ensuring the best seal possible. First, the front door seals actually had to be peeled away, so that the screens could be hooked on to the body of the vehicle. Next, brackets were fitted near the top and bottom of the screens, secured by screws. Once these were in place, the door seals could be repositioned, and the protective film removed from the new screens.
These removable screens are ideal for now: our hope is that there will come a time when it is safe to remove them again, in order to improve the experience for driver and passengers. However, at the moment, this is the best way in which to provide this element of our services.
At the time of writing, these screens allow us to accommodate passengers from one household in a limousine, with the only exception being one individual who has formed a ‘social bubble’ with the household, per government guidelines.
There have been many changes to both our funeral services and our wider lifestyles since March, and we are grateful to our customers who, whilst experiencing bereavement, have been incredibly understanding regarding what we are and aren’t able to offer. We at Freeman Brothers are all hopeful that things are moving in a positive direction – as some Church services are now also permitted again, we are optimistic that this is the case.
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