Becky Hughes of Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
This year, the National Association of Funeral Directors’ Annual Conference and AGM was held in Guildford. Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors sent a delegation of four attendees, including outgoing NAFD President, Abi Pattenden, and representatives from the company’s Horsham and Crawley branches, who supported the event by assisting as Stewards. Freeman Brothers’ Community Co-Ordinator, Becky (whose role also functions via the company’s Billingshurst and Hurstpierpoint offices), blogs on the experience of attending her second Conference, and what it’s like to welcome 200 funeral directors to our local area in Sussex and Surrey.
When I attended the 2018 NAFD Conference in Durham, I was still relatively new to the funeral industry, and wasn’t sure what to expect. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet others working in my new field for the first time, and was looking forward to catching up with them this year.
At the 2018 Conference, my colleague Abi was installed as the NAFD’s President for 2018-2019. The year traditionally ends with the outgoing President hosting Conference in their own area. One of the challenges of producing this conference is the space required – so although our main office is in Horsham, Guildford was judged the nearest suitable place.
The President is supported at their Conference by a group of volunteer Stewards, who assist with logistical elements of the event – they help to signpost delegates, ensure that sessions are running on time and, critically, keep a keen eye on the refreshments.
Our role at the event began before delegates arrived, with Stewards assembling on Thursday to be briefed and help with setup. Having been shown around the venue, we were provided with the waistcoats traditionally worn for recognition purposes and set to work. Exhibitors and delegates arrived throughout the afternoon, and many of them met in the evening for an ‘early bird’ social. Many funeral directors run their own businesses, so attending NAFD Conference is a chance to visit a different city and enjoy some downtime.
The business of the conference began on Friday, with the NAFD’s AGM, chaired by President Abi. Discussions continued for several hours, as members made the most of their chance to express their opinions. This meeting allows members to make decisions which determine the future of the Association. Following the AGM, members received a talk from Deborah Drury, Senior Consultant at Europe Economics, on possible outcomes of the forthcoming Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) review of funerals. The CMA’s review is a hot topic within the industry, and members expressed their concerns regarding issues such as the appropriateness of any regulation the CMA decides to implement. Members were encouraged by the speaker and their peers to continue to engage with the CMA, and ensure that the industry is well-represented within future discussions. You can read our response to the CMA here.
Following this busy day, delegates were transferred by coach to the Denbies Estate in Dorking, one of the premier local vineyards. Delegates enjoyed three activities – a film about the estate and the winemaking process, plus a tour of the factory; then a wine tasting; and a train tour of the vineyard itself. It was a lovely evening in the Surrey Hills, and we were treated to a fantastic view at dusk. Dinner was then served in the venue’s restaurant, with entertainment provided by a pianist.
Saturday morning was reserved for educational sessions, and this year there were some excellent topics. The first presentation comprised of two parts: the NAFD’s Morgan Harris spoke about NAFD Resolve – the organisation’s new independent complaints service, followed by Alison Crake, Abi’s predecessor as President, who spoke about pandemic and major event preparedness. Alison gave details of her experience of working with local Public Health to determine how her area would cope in the event of a crisis, such as a fast-spreading illness, or in the face of a violent attack or other disaster. The statistics Alison provided were shocking, and demonstrated how associated industries must work together to ensure that our society is prepared as can be for eventualities involving many casualties. Again, it was a clear sign that funeral directors must have a seat at the table of these meetings, and be consulted on factors impacting their operating capacity.
Next, members heard from Nicholas Hartley of Ecclesiastical, who spoke about cyber security. This talk covered the increased sophistication of cyber attacks, and that our own systems and personal devices are also vulnerable. The issue of cyber security is still a relatively new one for many funeral directors, as they have typically preferred personal contact with their clientele. As with other industries, because some businesses still make minimal use of digital technology, they believe that this does not apply to them. Nicholas’s talk was informative, and many found this talk to be more shocking than the previous one about pandemics!
The final talk was delivered by Chief Medical Examiner, Dr Alan Fletcher, updating delegates on his work. Alan was appointed to the post in April but has been a Medical Examiner since the system was first introduced. This vital information for all funeral directors involves how the process of registering deaths occurs, and the paperwork which must be completed by doctors. Changes to this process have an impact on how the industry liaises with medical professionals and families alike and, again, the theme from earlier in the conference resonated – that these associated industries must work together to ensure that the wider process makes sense.
Whilst delegates retired for an afternoon at leisure, the Steward team was busy ensuring that the venue for the evening’s festivities was prepared. Then, we were also released in order to dress up for the conference’s dinner dance. It was the only time that we were permitted to leave our waistcoats behind, and we quickly found that delegates struggled to recognise us without them!
Once delegates were safely escorted to the venue, and VIPs had been welcomed, we enjoyed a three-course dinner plus cheese, and danced the night away. It was great to see President Abi and her family – her husband and mum joined us for the evening, plus three of her friends – have fun during her penultimate engagement as President. Abi delivered a lovely speech about her year, and what it means to be a family, before hitting the dancefloor to celebrate the conclusion of a busy year.
Delegates gathered for the final time on Sunday, which sees Conference conclude with the formal installation of the newly-elected President, who this year is David Barrington. Installed as First Vice-President was Kate Edwards, and elected as Second Vice-President was John Adams. Kate and John will go on to be Presidents in future years, providing continuity for the NAFD whilst they develop as Officers of the Association. Abi remains an Officer, as the President holds the title Immediate Past president in the subsequent year.
As the busy few days came to a close, we reflected on an enjoyable experience. For me, this kind of role is natural – my career in Event Management, and particularly my previous role in conferencing had prepared me for supporting this event – but for my colleagues it was a new task. We all liked getting to liaise with a variety of people, and the ability to be both helpful and sociable. Whilst my colleagues returned to their jobs of arranging and conducting funerals, my weekend at Conference was followed immediately with the busiest week of my year – Dying Matters Awareness Week, which will get a blog post all of its own!