Supporting the community during the COVID-19 pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic has developed, Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors has already seen significant change to policies and procedures

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Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors

Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was established in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855.  Today, the company continues to operate via the original office on North Parade, with the addition of branches across the county, in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint.  In the current climate of the COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) pandemic, the team continues to provide funeral services at present, and aims to do so unless advised otherwise.  Community Co-Ordinator Becky provides further updates on how the company is aiming to support the wider community.

My role within the business is unique, and throughout the industry there aren’t many people who are responsible for marketing funeral businesses, or engaging with members of the public in terms of encouraging them to have open and honest discussions with their loved ones.  So I’m used to doing things a bit differently, but even for me these are interesting times!

Much of what I’d planned to be doing this spring has been put on hold – I’m usually busy out and about at fundraising events to support local charities such as AgeUK Horsham District, or the Mary How Trust.  We also normally run our own series of ‘Big Deal, Small Talk’ events during Dying Matters Awareness Week in May, but those have had to be put on hold this year, although we are now more than ever focused on helping people to have conversations about death and dying.

As things are getting busier at the office with supporting our customers’ needs, I’m doing my best to assist my colleagues, who are operating in a different manner to that which they are accustomed to.  We are all receiving daily or weekly updates to methods of service delivery, and implementing them with great consideration for those who need our support.

I’m also still working closely with local charities and community groups: now, more than ever, they need the support of those around them, in order to remain fully resourced, and also to continue providing services to those who need them.  It’s a difficult time, because those in vulnerable groups in particular are struggling to access support and, as things change for many in terms of their employment status, there is additional pressure on charities and other organisations who help those on limited personal resources.

This week, we’ve been focused on staying informed in terms of the current government advice, but also on how to access resources.  We are practicing strict social distancing at the office and whilst conducting funerals – our own policies can be found here; official government advice can be found here.

Many people are finding it difficult, particularly as the great British weather has finally perked up after a particularly wet winter, to face the prospect of staying indoors and away from friends and family as Easter weekend approaches.  I myself am a very outdoorsy person: I enjoy exercising, and am a lifelong horseperson, plus having the virus disrupt my main travel plans for the year, I’m feeling very curtailed!  However, the message from the government is clear: to stay safe and stay at home.

Those in the funeral industry have been classified as key workers, alongside other front line staff such as healthcare professionals, retail workers, those in public service roles.  The support that the community and all organisations have shown each other at the current time is brilliant, and we have a great appreciation for those who are continuing to work either at their place of work or from home in order to help keep services running.

With new public protocols and increasing emerging information, various organisations have worked hard in order to help with public information.  Via my networks this week, I’ve come across several resources which may be useful to many people, so we’re taking the opportunity to share them here:

  • Winston’s Wish, a charity supporting grieving children, has published this page with tips on how to help children in the event of them not being able to attend a funeral due to the pandemic, including some great ‘scripts’ for how to actually frame the conversation
  • Publisher Nosy Crow has developed a free ebook (which is also printable) for 5-9 year olds – the book has been published in order to help explain the virus and the implications of it to children of this age group, and it’s been illustrated by Axel Scheffler (illustrator of the popular ‘Gruffalo’ books, which will hopefully provide some additional comfort to children)
  • Our friend, Clare Shaw, author of ‘Love Will Never Die’ has also produced an ebook on the virus
  • If you know of adults or young people who are struggling with the current influx of discussions around death and dying, we would always recommend Dr Kathryn Mannix’s book ‘With The End In Mind’, which I’ve previously reviewed here

As the Bank Holiday weekend approaches, the team here continue to make funeral arrangements for those who need them.  Our offices will be closing on Thursday evening, and reopening at 8am on Tuesday morning.  During this time, our on-call team will be able to assist with telephone queries via 01403 254590 and, on this occasion, some of our colleagues are working additional hours in order to conduct funerals on Friday.

For many of us, it’s a chance to spend some time at home for a rest and, although we aren’t able to enjoy our usual Easter of activities such as visiting friends and family, or making trips to restaurants and other local attractions, we are planning on making the most of it.  Those of us who have access to our own gardens consider ourselves to be particularly fortunate – here are some of the things I’ll be getting up to:

  • I’m a regular fundraiser for the charity Mind, and have held several Crafternoons in the past. This weekend, they’ve encouraged people to have Virtual Crafternoons
  • …crafting also goes with food and drink for me and, this time, I’ll be attempting some Easter rocky road
  • Exercise isn’t everyone’s favourite thing, but I’m a regular gym-goer under usual circumstances. I’ve been busy setting up my ‘garden gym’ using a variety of household objects as weight training equipment, and completing some workouts via video calls with friends!  This weekend will be no exception, though Sunday may involve a greater degree of Easter egg consumption than training

As I’m sure many others are, I’ve already got a keen eye on the future, and being able to resume activities within the wider community.  Whilst it’s tempting to get out and about – particularly if the weather bucks the usual Bank Holiday trends! – staying at home is currently the best way to protect the health of ourselves and those around us, plus alleviate the pressure on essential services.


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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

April 8, 2020

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