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.

 

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Meet the Maker: Cremation Glass Jewellery 0

Glassmaker Kenny Scott of Ash Glass Design.

Pendant with flecks and swirls in the glass made from the ashes of someone who has died

What do you see when you look at this pendant? To the untrained eye, it might look like … a pendant. But to those in the know, it’s something unusual, and completely unique: those flecks and swirls in the glass are made from the ashes of someone who has died.

In fact, the necklace is just one item in a range of mourning jewellery and sculpture created by glassmaker Kenny Scott and his team at Ash Glass Design. Based in the picturesque village of Clovenfords in the Scottish Borders, Kenny and co. craft bespoke cremation glass jewellery for families who want a subtle way to carry their loved one’s ashes with them.

So, how does one become a cremation glassmaker, exactly, and how is cremation glass actually made? To find out more about this relatively new answer to the question of what to do with ashes, we had a chat with Kenny …

 

How did Ash Glass Design get started?

Kenny Scott and his team at Ash Glass DesignKenny began his career at the tender age of 16, leaving school to take on a five-year apprenticeship in making glass from scratch. 20 years later, he was creating glasswork for museums and clients when he received an unusual request:

“One of my friends who’s a funeral director approached me and asked if I would make a memorial pendant for someone using ashes”, Kenny told Beyond. While at first Kenny wasn’t sure (he describes it as “a wee bit of a Marmite moment”) the family was so pleased with the result that he immediately realised that he wanted to do it again.

“After I made the pendant and met the family, it was the best feeling I’ve ever had when making something for someone”, Kenny explained. “They were so happy, and it’s such a precious thing that you’re making for them, that I thought, ‘Oh, I really like doing this.’

“Basically, that was it: I put a wee range together, and from there it’s kind of grown. I love doing it.”

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it.”

Why do people like cremation jewellery?

CreAsh Glass Design's cremation glass mourning ringmation jewellery isn’t for everyone ­– but while some find the concept morbid, others like the idea of keeping a loved one close in a subtle way. “I speak to all the customers, and I think for them the nicest thing is the fact that they can have their loved one with them all the time, and it’s not in your face. It doesn’t have a big sign saying what it is – it’s just a lovely piece of jewellery”, Kenny said.

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it. Everybody says that they get so much comfort out of having it.”

In Ash Glass Design’s range, rings are the most popular option: “Somebody said to me, it’s like they’re still holding my hand.

“We do lots for weddings as well, my goodness. For somebody who has maybe lost a parent, it’s like [their loved one] can be there on their wedding day. It’s a lovely way to have them with you.”

“There’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt.”

How is cremation glass jewellery made?

Making cremation jewelleryThe process of making cremation glass jewellery is long and somewhat delicate, with great care taken to make sure the right ashes (“labelled, bagged, boxed, bagged again”, Kenny reports) are used.

At Ash Glass Design, everything is made in-house. After a discussion with the family about the design, Kenny melts their required colour of glass to make a base. He then carefully adds the ashes before sealing it over with clear glass to make a perfect finished surface.

After some time spent in the kiln – it takes a day and a half to gradually cool the hot glass down – the glass is polished down with diamond tools and set into the gold or silver using a traditional technique. Any ashes left over are returned to the family along with the finished piece.

“You have to know the procedures for cooling glass down, how to heat it up, how compatible it is with other materials, so it’s quite a wee science on its own,” Kenny said, adding that “there’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt. You’re always making new designs as well, to stretch the boundaries a bit.”

“I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them”

Do you take requests?

Because Ash Glass Design is a small company (Kenny, his wife Emma and “amazing” goldsmith Joanna) the team are able to take requests to make each piece of glass unique: “If somebody wants a bespoke colour in their jewellery, we never charge any extra … We do what we can to help folk get what they want. If [a customer] wants something to be adapted somehow, then we look into it for them”, Kenny explained.

“Sometimes it’s not as feasible as they might think initially, but we can talk them through it, and find the best option for them.”

Customers appreciate this personal service: “I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them. Even a couple of years down the road, we still get them phoning back, asking how we are. It’s lovely.”


Want to find out more about Ash Glass Design? Check out their website, www.ashglassdesign.co.uk, give the team a ring on 01896 850447, or contact Kenny at [email protected]


About mourning jewellery …

A Victorian mourning ring with hair sealed into the gold.
A Victorian mourning ring with hair sealed into the gold. Image by Charles J Sharp, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mourning jewellery dates back as far as the 1600s, when stern memento mori-themed rings (‘remember that you must die’) were gradually overtaken by more personal tokens of grief. Examples from the British Museum demonstrate how gruff messages like “learn to dye” were replaced by kinder tributes, such as “not lost but gone before” and “not dead but sleepeth”.

At its peak in the Victorian era, mourning jewellery was worn as part of a strict dress code for the bereaved. Mourning rings were joined by broaches and lockets, and were often made with jet (a precious stone that, being black, was thought to be mourning period-appropriate). Many contained a lock of the hair from the person who had died, or a miniature portrait.

Popularity eventually declined as life expectancy increased – by World War One, mourning jewellery was out of vogue. But the desire shared by bereaved families for physical mementos of their loved ones never really went away.

Now, the rise in cremation – 70% of people in the UK choose it over burial – and increasing openness about death are leading to a rise in interest, with companies like Ash Glass Design offering a more contemporary take.

Meet Basil, the UK’s First Funeral Therapy Dog 0

Basil the Beagle, a funeral therapy dog

What makes someone a good fit for bereavement care? Kindness, attentiveness, a lovely glossy coat …

Basil, who puts in his hours in at Clive Pugh Funeral Directors in Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury, might tell you it’s all three – if he could talk. Basil is, after all, a dog.

In fact, the gentle and unassuming beagle is quite possibly the UK’s first ever funeral therapy dog, working with Clive and Rosalinda Pugh to offer comfort and support to bereaved families.

“People love him because it feels as though they’re coming into a home, as opposed to funeral premises.” Rosalinda told Beyond when we caught up with her recently.

“We hope it’s something that gives a bit of relief to people, even for a very short space of time, when they come to us to arrange the funeral of their loved one.”

Basil the Beagle, a funeral therapy dogOffering paws for thought …

Basil joined the family business in 2016, at the tender age of six. Clive and Rosalinda’s daughter had taken care of Basil since he was a puppy, but she was finding it difficult to give Basil the long walks he loves after having their first grandchild. Clive and Rosalinda were happy to step in.

“With Clive and I both working full time in the business, I said now that Basil is going to live with us, we will have to give him a role.” Rosalinda explained.

“I knew that therapy dogs went into nursing homes and hospitals and I thought that Basil would be perfect in a similar role with us because he’s just such an adorable beagle – so calm and loving.”

Once Rosalinda and Clive started giving families the opportunity to spend time with Basil, they found that he was a perfect fit:

“He started coming to work with us every day, and we let people decide as to whether they wanted him there or not. And it’s just gone from there.”

“We have found that the majority of families are really pleased to have him around, to the extent that we had a funeral recently where the family wanted him to lead the coffin into church. They were thrilled that he was able to be there. I’ve been amazed at the response.”

“We often get letters and cards from families asking us to say hello to Basil or thank him for being there.”

Giving families a hound

Picture supplied by Richard Dawson/Bav Media

What’s the secret to Basil’s success? Recent studies have shown that support animals really do make a difference to the way we feel, lowering blood pressure and releasing mood-boosting hormones.

One study by Goldsmiths University indicated that dogs in particular are compelled to comfort people they think are in distress, and will even approach and nuzzle strangers who are crying in an effort to soothe them.

In a funeral home, this instinct to help can make a real difference to the bereaved. “Basil provides families with unconditional love and support, as well as a subtle distraction from grief,” Rosalinda told Beyond.

“If you’ve ever had an awkward family reunion, you might know that a dog, even then, can brighten up the mood and give people something a little bit light-hearted to talk about. That effect is immediately helpful when you’re arranging a funeral, because people are anxious when they come to see a funeral director. They’re not sure what to expect, and I think Basil just takes a little bit of that stress away.”

“Sometimes people are nervous of going into our Chapel of Rest, but if they have Basil with them, it seems to alleviate that feeling.”

Every dog has his day

It’s not just bereaved families who love Basil – he’s now something of a celebrity. So far, Basil has been featured in a number of national and international newspapers, including The Times, The Express, The Independent, Metro News and even Paris Match. He’s also made an appearance on ITV’s This Morning, where Clive, Rosalinda and Basil were interviewed by Davina McCall and Ore Oduba of Strictly fame.

So, has Basil let all the fame go to his head? Rosalinda says not: “We’re not letting any diva behaviour become evident, if we can help it. Definitely not. But beagles are such loving, affectionate dogs; I think that you can’t go wrong, really.”

“We’ve seen an incredible response. It’s been quite amazing. You have to wonder why somebody didn’t do it a long time ago.”

Want to find out more about Clive Pugh funeral directors, home to the lovely Basil? Check out their profile here on Beyond.