Featured Funeral Director: Sussex Funerals 0

Sussex Funerals

Every month, we’ll be profiling one of the funeral directors who we work with, to give you more of an insight into how they work and what makes them tick.

First up, Sussex funerals. We spoke with Philip Evans, the owner.

You can look at reviews left by real customers, get their prices and contact Sussex Funerals here.

Hi Phil, hope you’re well. Sussex Funerals is a husband and wife team.

That’s right, yeah. I look after the Hove office, and my wife Sallie looks after the Brighton branch. The Hove office is the main office, while Brighton is the satellite office.

Philip & Sallie Evans, Sussex Funerals

How did you guys get into the industry?

My brother had died, which was the kick-start for it all. Initially I trained as a celebrant, taking services in London.  At that time, I was still working in my role as a freelance Investigator, which helped me find the time to begin training as a celebrant. I built up a good network of funeral directors in South East London which provided me with work.  This led to me being offered a position as a funeral arranger with a firm in Bromley.   Then finally I started to think that I could actually start my own funeral director’s business, with support from my father who was also in the same business.   Later on I met Sallie who joined me after getting to know me about three years into the business and of course we then married.

So you got used to death quite early on then?

Well actually my earlier career as a Police officer helped me to deal with certain scenarios and so I was able to use those transferrable skills and that experience to assist me in my role as a Funeral Director, in particular when dealing and communicating with vulnerable people.

And indeed, in our own personal life, shortly after we got together, my wife Sallie was diagnosed with breast cancer, which during the course of the treatment allowed Sallie and I to, not only become closer together, but over that time period, it also changed our outlook on life and indeed death – it’s part of our story. This has helped us to understand a bit better what some of our clients are going through and what their loved ones have been through and enabled us to get even closer to some of them.

Do you have a way of treating clients at Sussex Funerals? Most people don’t know much about funerals when they need to arrange one.

That’s right.  First and foremost, we aim to approach them by simply being ourselves. We don’t pretend to be people we’re not. I think that’s important, to be genuine and authentic.  And I find that when someone walks into a funeral directors’ office and you sit down and begin the conversation, it often comes down to personalities.  So, in short, our approach is that we just try and be ourselves when we meet and greet people, rather than put on an act.

Our offices are modern and comfortable, it’s a bit like being in someone’s dining room and we’ll just listen to their story about their loved one, and what’s happened, usually over a cuppa.   Sometimes it’ll only be in a few words and sometimes people want to talk quite a bit more.   So we always listen and deal with each family’s needs based on their own merits.

There’s always different dynamics in each situation and it’s important that we constantly and consistently keep an open mind, while presenting ourselves and our business.

Sussex funerals. Hove

Are there any particularly memorable funerals that you’ve arranged?

Colourful-wise we once had a very long procession of cars wanting to follow the hearse. Which itself was full of colourful balloons.  It was quite a challenge getting them in!  Every car had a balloon tied to a wing mirror, to stand out as being a part of the cortege and when you looked back you could see this trail of cars with colourful balloons, which really was a quite amazing sight.

Once we did a funeral for a couple who wanted a beautiful, colourful hearse all lit up with fairy lights. It was mid-winter and they had a late afternoon slot and by the time we arrived at the crematorium, so you can imagine how lit up lit was, with half a dozen fairy lights. That was unusual. We will always strive to go the extra mile and give people what they want.

The most emotional memorable moment, was the time that I was taking a service for a young mother and wife. She left behind her ten-year-old boy as well as a husband, parents and of course all her friends.  Well, she’d written out her own personal tributes to each and every one of them.  Nobody knew, except her very closest friend, who coordinated the funeral with me.  As the celebrant, I had to read these all out…she went through all their personality traits and thanked them all for everything that they meant to her.  That was really touching and emotional and has stayed with us ever since.

You were one of the first to join Beyond, back when we were Funeralbooker. Why did you?

I liked the concept of what Beyond was offering. I can be quite a difficult man when it comes to signing up to anything that especially involves advertising or marketing!   Bearing in mind I also have a Trading Standards background and so integrity and transparency are very important to me. We are one of very few funeral directors in Brighton who openly lists their costs on our websites.  Beyond helps to make life easier for families who find themselves needing to compare prices and identify those reputable funeral directors.  That’s something which I support.

I can see regulation coming in to force funeral directors to declare their costs. If you sell products on the high street you have to declare how much they cost. Obviously, the funeral industry is different, there is a little more ambiguity with regards to costings. But I believe that as a company, we’ve cracked it, though it hasn’t been an easy task.

Sussex Funerals

Any plans for the future?

Just to keep doing what we’re doing – providing a quality service to people who need it. We’re not interested in growing any bigger.   But rather we are contented in looking after the families that come to us personally, which works for us, and of course keeps us both busy as we continue to feel blessed coming to work each day in a profession that we love.

Sussex Funerals

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Meet the Maker: Cremation Glass Jewellery 0

Glassmaker Kenny Scott of Ash Glass Design.

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 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?

The 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. 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.