Abi Pattenden (right), Manager of Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors, with Alison Crake (left), having been installed as NAFD Immediate Past President
I last wrote about my Presidency of the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) when I was halfway through my year in the role and now that the year has completed, I felt it was appropriate to reflect on the year as a whole and the experience of being the President.
The second half of the Presidency is where the focus on the ceremonial really takes over. I have attended plenty of social functions held both by groups of members- such as in Cornwall, Coventry, Bournemouth and Scotland as well as more locally in Sussex- and by the NAFD’s Kindred Associations, other groups whose members’ professions align with our own. These have included the National Association of Monumental Masons (of which Freeman Brothers’ sister company J.Gumbrill is a member) and the British Institute of Embalmers (of which our two mortuary staff are members). Collectively, the Presidents of these Associations are humourously known as ‘the chain gang’. I have got to know a few of the other Presidents quite well- it’s nice to see a familiar face and catch up.
I have been privileged to attend meetings in both Houses of Parliament and, at the Conference to mark the end of my Presidential year, to welcome both the Senior Coroner for Manchester and the new Chief Medical Examiner to address our membership. I have been heavily involved in the NAFD’s responses to the CMA and HM Treasury following the investigations they launched last year. I am disappointed that the CMA did not address some of the points raised both by the NAFD and Freeman Brothers when they decided to launch a full market investigation (as we assumed they would). It is very difficult to explain the work of funeral directing to people who don’t understand the varied requirements of the role and all the different ways in which we have to help our clientele. The CMA is about consistency of approach, in my opinion, while funeral service is all about bespoke solutions for each individual family’s needs.
The Conference is a time to update our members. It hosts our AGM, elections for a new President and to our Boards and Committees, the education sessions I mentioned above, and is also an opportunity to socialise. Many members running very small businesses use it as a break and so that balance is important. It’s traditional for these events to be held in a place of the President’s choosing and so I was delighted to welcome my colleagues from across the UK to Guildford. It was a great opportunity to show off the beautiful Surrey/Sussex border, the Surrey Hills AONB and the countryside in this beautiful part of the world. I think it was a great weekend. The Saturday night also hosts our annual Dinner Dance, a prestigious black tie event with a charity focus. I’m delighted to say we raised £1,700 for the Huntington’s Disease Association, my charity for the year.
On the Sunday morning, I was proud to hand my Presidential chain over to David Barrington, of Barrington’s Funeral Service in Merseyside, who has been my Vice President and overwhelmingly supportive to me this past year. He was installed as 2019-20 President, while I became Immediate Past President. I retain a seat on the Executive Committee automatically to provide continuity and will still continue to work for the NAFD in this capacity and on our Membership Committee.
My Presidential year was memorable in so many ways. It was hard work and some of it was a steep learning curve- I had to do some live radio, which was nerve-racking, and feeling you represent the whole of your profession is daunting! But I have met wonderful people from across not only funeral directing but the whole funeral service industries and have learnt so much about the work we all do to support bereaved people. At one Dinner Dance, a colleague described the work we doing as being ‘the last hands to touch someone’ and that is a thought that will always stay with me.
Of course, being the President would not have been possible without the support of my colleagues at Freeman Brothers. I have had to develop different ways of working over the past year. Presidents are often business owners who can delegate their roles to other staff or senior employees of very large companies where there are whole departments for each function but this was not the case for me- I have had to carry on with my full-time and demanding job here at Freeman Brothers. I’ve learned a lot about how long a piece of work can take, become adept at realising what parts of my role can be done away from my desk, and some of my role is now being done by another colleague who wanted to work more hours as her family grows up. Freeman Brothers has expanded over the past year with the opening of our fourth branch and the addition of these extra colleagues has meant we can all work more flexibly, so I like to think the Presidency has been beneficial here too. Obviously I am incredibly thankful to Peter Freeman, the proprietor of Freeman Brothers, for allowing me to have these opportunities. I know not all bosses would be so generous to their staff.
I am proud of my achievements during the past year. I’ve challenged myself, and been challenged by others, but ultimately it has been a successful year. I am particularly proud that I am the youngest-ever woman to have been the President- although I would be delighted if this record didn’t stand for long as I think our industry (like so many others) needs to see more younger women in leadership positions. Still, it is an achievement I will always have, together with all the memories of a very special year.