An Interview with Sarah Jones, author of ‘Funerals, Your Way’ 0

A wicker coffin decorated with flowers by the team at Full Circle Funerals

We’re all going to die. Not right away (let’s get that clear – we’ve not spotted a large comet hurtling towards Earth) but, like it or not, death comes to us all.

We don’t talk about it, though. And since we don’t talk about death, the majority of people who are arranging a funeral for the first time are blindsided by the sheer number of decisions they have to make, often about things they’ve never considered.

Sarah Jones from Full Circle Funerals holds her book, Funerals, Your WayPerhaps you know whether the person who died wanted to be cremated or buried – but did you ever ask them about what they’d want to be wearing when it happened? Are they a wicker coffin sort of person, or is veneer wood better? Funeral planning involves a host of bewildering questions that most of us are unprepared for.

Funeral director Sarah Jones of Full Circle Funerals wants to change that. Her new e-book, Funerals, Your Way, offers families a gentle yet thorough introduction to the many options available to them, and a framework for approaching difficult decisions with their loved one’s wishes and personality in mind.

Ahead of the launch of the book, we caught up with Sarah to talk about how it came about and why the “person-centred approach to planning a funeral” is the future…

Hi Sarah! How did you become a funeral director?

We opened Full Circle Funerals in September of 2016, but I’d decided about a year before that that was what I wanted to do. I started my working life as a doctor in the NHS, doing vascular surgery. I left that role to work with adults with learning difficulties.

The simple reason for opening Full Circle is that, throughout my work in health and social care, I’ve always felt that end of life care and funerals are really important. And that if they’re done well, that it could probably make a really big difference to bereaved families.

I felt that it was something it was important to do well and do right, and I was quite clear in my mind about what I thought that would involve. So, I decided to do it.

What inspired you to write Funerals, Your Way?

The team at Full Circle Funerals decorate a wicker casket.I think the more people know before they walk into a funeral director, the better.

Every day, in our work, we support families, and it’s so obvious and so clear that giving them a little bit of information and time, and expanding on the ideas they’ve already got, is incredibly helpful to people. Opening up a space where they can confidently feel that they can explore what they want and what they need can make a real difference.

A lot of people walk into the room and they have never thought about it before. It’s something they haven’t even wanted to engage in: they’re bewildered, they’re confused, and they’re vulnerable. I think it’s so easy to address that knowledge imbalance and power imbalance, so that families can go into the arrangements knowing what questions they need to ask, having gathered their thoughts.

How you would like families to use your book? 

A traditional church funeral arranged by Full Circle FuneralsIdeally, I think everybody should just read it, randomly, as a book, rather than being in a situation where they’re having to apply it to a person in their lives, or themselves. That way they’re not stressed, and they can take their time to consider it.

Another way it could help is if families read it when they know that they are going to need to arrange a funeral in the coming weeks and months, so they’re preparing themselves.

We are also approached by quite a lot of people who want to plan their own, particularly younger people. So, I think it could be something they read relatively privately, and then when they’ve gathered their thoughts, then they can engage in that difficult conversation with the people in their family.

In the book, you talk about taking a “person-centred approach to funerals”. What does that mean to you?

A burial arranged by Full Circle FuneralsI come from a background in health and social care, where everything should be person-centred.  You effectively have a group of professionals and a process that is centred around the individual. And you’re collaborating with that individual, giving them what they need to optimise their health and care.

That principle, to me, feels very, very important for funerals. The person who has died – do you want the funeral to reflect that person?  And then you also have the people close to them, who maybe need to get something helpful from the process of arranging the funeral and the funeral itself – how do you support them?

So, I suppose my logic was just to highlight the people at the centre of all of this. I think funerals should be person-centred, and that person should not be the funeral director or a representative from the industry.

Do you see that perhaps as something that some in the industry need to work on?

The team from Full Circle Funerals.Everyone I have met seems to be trying to do their best, and we’re all trying to achieve the same thing. Which, broadly speaking, is better, more consistent, personalised care for people at the end of their lives and at funerals.

I believe that the way to achieve that is to increase knowledge amongst the general public and to therefore increase people’s expectations. I think that that’s actually the only way that you can fundamentally change funeral care.

So, my emphasis is on just trying to just slowly work away, in my own very tiny way, at changing people’s expectations of how good a funeral can actually be, and how helpful it can be. And giving them the information that they need to make that happen.

Funerals, Your Way is available to buy from Full Circle Funerals here. All proceeds go to support the Leeds Bereavement Forum and local hospices.

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Featured Funeral Director: Albany Funerals 1

The team from Albany Funerals

Christmas is a time when families come together to enjoy the festive season in the company of their loved ones. However, for those who have experienced a loss during this period, Christmas can be especially difficult to navigate.

An understanding funeral director can make all the difference – but what kind of support can funeral directors offer grieving families at Christmas? For this month’s Featured Funeral Director, we brought this question – and a few other tricky issues – to Johanna Loveridge, founder and director of Albany Funerals, to learn from her expertise.


Jo from Albany Funerals
Jo Loveridge, founder of Albany Funerals.

Hi Jo. How did Albany Funerals get started?

I started Albany Funerals ten years ago after running a care home for some time. Back then, dealings with local funeral directors often fell short of our expectations, and they seemed old-fashioned and set in their ways; ultimately, we noticed that they weren’t really catering for people’s changing needs.

Our goal was to bridge this gap by doing it ourselves. In close consultation with expert staff, we combined their know-how, and our vision, to create a more forward-thinking and family-centred approach. The last decade has seen Albany Funerals grow in size and confidence: we are now one of the top independent funeral directors in our area and have been recognised nationally with several awards.


How does Albany Funerals support local families at Christmas?

Christmas time is a huge hurdle for people when someone they love has died, particularly the first year. We always try to encourage our families, past and present, to make it a time of remembrance. We send them beautiful stars, which they can personalise with written messages, to hang on our tree of remembrance – or on their own tree at home, if they prefer.

Over time, so many people were coming in to hang their stars on our tree in the lead up to Christmas that we thought it would be a positive idea to start working with families in order to ‘give something back’ to the community at large. The obvious choice for us was to help deprived children and young people, and so we began by teaming up with the charity, Young Lives Foundation. For the last seven years, we’ve asked our customers to bring in a Christmas present for a child, if they wanted, and have since collected hundreds of beautiful gifts for local children.

We regularly get calls in November from people keen to find out when we are sending out the stars, or for suggestions on what they should buy for the kids; many families really treasure this moment. The charity is so grateful to all our families and have told us that it really makes a huge difference.

An Albany Funerals team member comforts a funeral guest.


For many people, Christmas is all about ‘home’. Is creating a homely environment for families important to you?

The Albany Funerals funeral home.When we first started Albany Funerals, my number one priority was to create a peaceful space that felt light, airy and homely. I didn’t understand why so many funeral directors opted for dark Victorian or corporate decors, with swirly wallpaper, gravestones and coffins on display. I knew that opting for a different environment would be crucial in putting people at ease when faced with having to organise the funeral of their loved one.

And it seems that we made the right choice: practically everyone remarks on how comfortable they feel in our premises. Albany’s decor is very similar to that of my own home, with lots of personal touches. I wanted there to be virtually no distinction between a work and a home space, and that’s hopefully what comes across to people.


The CMA’s recent report exposed many differences between independent funeral businesses and the larger corporate chains. But what do we mean by ‘independent’ when we talk about funeral directors? Is it a matter of size, or something else?

A funeral service run by Albany FuneralsIndependent funeral directors share the principles of many other small businesses when compared with the huge corporations. For example, if you go to the local corner shop, you might pay a little more for a tin of baked beans and a loaf of bread than if you shopped at one of the big supermarkets. But you are then also more likely to get a personal service, too – a smile or a chat – and they might even help you carry your shopping to the car.

When it comes to funerals, however, there is often a whole host of benefits to choosing an independent: better trained staff; no sales push towards having a certain type of funeral, coffin, caskets or flowers; and, perhaps most importantly, you will often find that your bill is significantly lower.

To be ‘independent’ means that we are not ruled by financial directors who are only interested in the ‘bottom line’. Sadly, most people have no idea what to expect from a funeral director, as they will only use them once or twice in their lifetime, and even fewer do any research prior to the time of their need.


What advice would you give to families affected by a bereavement this Christmas?

Over the last ten years we have found that when someone pivotal in the family is missing, there follows a knee-jerk reaction to cancel Christmas, as it’s often deemed too painful to carry on. What we try to do is encourage families to find ways to change what they would normally do over the Christmas period, such as spending the time with different relatives or going to different places, or even finding new traditions to replace some of the ones that trigger more painful memories.

I think most people find this hugely comforting because friends and family often don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving, and therefore typically end up not saying anything at all. Family members can be left feeling like they cannot talk about their grief and the person they miss.

The emphasis should never be placed on forgetting their loved one, but instead on finding new ways of coping without them – and key holidays are a big part of this. As mentioned earlier, we introduced the tree of remembrance and the stars as part of this process, which we find empowers families to celebrate those they have lost.

A funeral procession on foot, with Albany Funerals

Albany Funerals is an independent funeral directors supporting bereaved families in Kent and the surrounding area. You can find out more about them on the Albany Funerals Beyond profile.


Behind the Scenes at the Veterans Bereavement Support Service 0

A funeral arranged with the help of the VBSS

At Beyond, we always strive to highlight the important work that funeral directors carry out to provide families with the best care possible. Yet bereavement support does not always begin and end at the funeral home. A multitude of organisations, charities and community-led initiatives work in tandem with local funeral directors to lend a helping hand to families in their greatest time of need.

For the month of November, and with the spirit of Armistice Day in the air, we decided to speak with Paul Burrows, a founding member and volunteer at Veterans Bereavement Support Service (VBSS). Established in 2014, this unique service helps bereaved families whose loved ones serve, or have served, in the armed forces.

Hi Paul. VBSS is run entirely by volunteers. Where did it all begin?

The service came into being because we noticed that many families were feeling let down by the system. When it comes to bereavement care and support, many struggled to pay for the funerals of their loved ones, often due to high costs and a lack of financial assistance. We created Veterans Bereavement Support as an online resource, with the added benefit of real-time help and support as and when needed.

So, how does it all work?

Initially, we started referring bereaved families to independent funeral directors, as they are expert in offering a personal approach. We would then help them with the organisation of the ceremonial aspects of the funeral and, where possible, we contributed towards costs.

However, in the past 18 months our services have changed significantly. Whilst we do refer families to independents – as opposed to corporate funeral directors – we are always contending with restricted funds. Due in part to the rising cost of funerals, we are no longer able to give financial help to families. But, on the plus side, we are fortunate that many funeral directors still work with us and offer discounts to veterans.

Restructuring has meant that our services are now used by more families. As well as providing bereavement care and support, we offer listening services, advice on access to funding for funerals, the loan of coffin drapes and, if requested, we present the Veterans Memorial Pin to widows or the next of kin when a veteran passes away. Above all, we are here for veterans and their families at their time of need.

How do veterans’ families typically make contact?

The families contact us directly asking for assistance – usually in the early days of their loss – and we make suggestions on how we can best support them.  There are some funeral directors who also contact us when they are handling a veteran’s funeral, so we are always happy to help by offering our advice and support.

Today marks the centenary of Armistice Day, with commemorative events taking place across the country. Do veterans’ funerals tend to differ in many ways?

We don’t encourage people to view veteran funerals as different in too many ways; what we are doing is marking the passing of someone who has served our country in times of war and peace. There are some people who do not want any ceremonial aspects for the funeral at all, and this must be respected. Others appreciate symbolic gestures, like the ensign of their service draped over the coffin. In cases like these, we work to ensure that drapes are the correct size and are happy to loan these out to families that require them.

There are other instances in which a standard bearer, padre and representation from a specific regiment is required, and so we can work with families towards this end, too. Each veterans’ funeral is unique and special according to the wishes of the family, and we always endeavour to make the family the central point of anything we are involved with.

We tend to advise against mass attendances at funerals and often discourage social media posting, as these can draw unwanted attention and detract from the overall dignity of the funeral service.

In this special year, there have been lots of low-key funerals, but one in particular stands out in my mind: that of a Normandy veteran, who died in Poole. We worked with the funeral director, the family and the regiment. It was a very moving experience for everyone and I, as a Padre, helped with the church service and conducted the committal at the crematorium. Present as the service were standards, fellow veterans who knew him, and a military guard of honour; the whole process was simple, dignified and respectful.

The VBSS aren’t unfamiliar with going the extra mile to help families. Can you tell us any more about the lengths you’ve gone to in the past?

Yes, certainly. One veteran, who lived in London, had served in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and then had moved onto Australia where she continued to serve in the Royal Australian Air Force. When she returned to the UK, she served in the police for 25 years.

We arranged for the RAF to send a representative, and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police also sent a personal message thanking her for the service given to the people of London. Even the Australian High Commissioner sent a wreath and a letter that was read at the funeral and given to the family!

Our main priority is providing bereavement care and support to families, and we have helped families across the country from Lands End to John O’Groats, Northern Ireland, Wales and most UK counties. Very recently, in fact, we were involved in a funeral in Wiltshire for a veteran of the Royal Hussars. We met with the family at the time of passing and helped them get the best priced funeral, and then helped them through the paperwork and funding. We then went on to arrange the whole funeral for them according to their wishes, and it was a fitting and dignified funeral.

Do you work with any other organisations or charities at all?

No, we are totally independent and have no links with the RBL or SSAFA or, indeed, any ex-service organisations. It’s worth pointing out that neither do we get any funding from the government.

We prefer to be independent and non-political so that we may provide the best possible service to those who require our help in their time of need.

To find out more about the VBSS, you can visit their website at