Working in the Funeral Industry 0

Time and again when we speak to our partners in the funeral industry we’re struck by the variety of ways in which people get into the profession, as well as how wide-ranging the job of being a funeral director is. In order to discover more about how to get into the industry and what it’s like to be a part of it, we spoke to Andrew Leverton, a funeral director at Leverton & Sons and to Hasina Zaman, CEO at Compassionate Funerals.


Leverton & Sons is a family-run funeral directors that has been in business for eight generations; providing support, comfort and professional guidance to all customers, regardless of budget or personal circumstance, since 1789. Andrew kindly provided us with insights into how he got into the industry and discussed what it takes to work in such an emotionally-charged business.


Compassionate Funerals meanwhile was founded in 2012, and works towards serving bereaved families and friends who require exceptional funeral care, as well as hosting public engagement events, including death cafes and end of life care education and training programmes. The business takes a more holistic approach to funerals and, rather than limiting its scope to the provision of traditional funeral services, puts a focus on making connections with other end of life services.


Find and contact your local funeral director here.

Both of these funeral directors are based in London. For all London-based funeral directors, follow this link.


How did you get into the funeral industry and what initially attracted you to it?

Hasina: Unlike many of the more traditional, family-based funeral directors, I had no previous experience with the industry. I got my start by pitching the idea of opening a funeral directors. This was in partnership with Alistair Anderson, who had the foresight to spot a gap in the market and had the confidence and skills necessary to pursue it. He believed there existed a demand for a different type of funeral, particularly as, at the time, a lot of funerals seemed to lack a personalised and human touch. The main attraction was the possibility of starting a new venture and simply having a go by working smart and focusing on doing funerals with immense compassion.

Andrew: When I was younger, there was never any pressure to join the family business, so I first spent 12 years working in the Civil Service. When I decided it was time for a change, I spoke to my father about working in the family business and joined as a trainee funeral director. I received my diploma in funeral directing two years after joining and a year later I became a director.


How much of a change was it from working within the civil service to then working as a funeral director?

Andrew: Working in the Civil Service is a form of public service and, in a way, so is funeral directing, so there are similarities. However, the practicalities of running the business and the work itself is completely different from my previous experience. In the Civil Service, you tend to be a small cog in a big machine – you do your specific job and don’t really see the end product or how you’ve contributed to it. With funerals, the timescale is very different. Each job usually takes one to three weeks and you’re involved in every aspect of organisation and implementation, from the first meeting until the last.

Andrew Leverton

What has been the most satisfying thing for you as a funeral director?

Andrew: There’s a creative side that I really enjoy and the fact that I’m able to work alongside families to provide a funeral that meets their needs. It’s important to assist and encourage them to make choices so that, when it all comes to an end, the funeral is something that has helped them. In a way, you’re just doing your job, but it’s nice to know that you can make such a big difference to a family and it’s particularly satisfying when you’re thanked for doing so at the end.

Hasina: The most satisfying part of the job for me is the way in which I get to work with the bereaved, making sure that we meet their expectations and provide a high standard of care. Though it’s obviously a difficult time for many people, knowing that you’re helping someone in need and providing a service that really can make a difference is incredibly fulfilling.


What aspect of the profession would you say you find the most challenging?

Andrew: The most challenging part of being a funeral director is working with families that aren’t as together as they could be. It’s common for relatives to have difficult relationships and disagree with one another and there can often be varying opinions as to how the funeral should be done. Sometimes it reaches a point where you have to say: ‘go away and talk things through, otherwise we may not be able to do anything for you.’ As a funeral director, you can only really take instructions from one person, which can unfortunately lead to a family member feeling side-lined because of a difference of opinion.

Hasina: The biggest challenge so far is that death is still such a taboo subject and that we as a society still fear death. This prevents people from talking about funerals and from having honest and open discussions about what they want in the event of death.


What roles are there to take on within the industry?

Andrew: Obviously, you have funeral directors, but then there are a number of others, including those that deal with the admin and financial side of the business, as well as drivers and bearers. Then there’s the embalming side of the industry too. In the USA, you cannot have an embalming diploma without already having your directing qualification, as they’re regulated by and combined in one organisation. This isn’t the case in this country, where embalming is a specialist area and is somewhat separated.

Hasina: Though there are all the obvious front-of-house roles that people can take on, there’s also a great number of other jobs that people tend not to know about. For instance, there are a lot of roles in funeral support services, which helps support those recently bereaved and in need of financial or emotional assistance. Likewise, there’s a growing awareness of the need to link up funeral services with other care and legal services, all of which is creating jobs.

Hasina Zaman

What challenges and responsibilities come with these roles?

Hasina: As these roles are quite diverse and varied, the challenges and responsibilities involved in each can also be quite different. This is particularly true of the responsibilities inherent in such roles, as the industry does have to safeguard the public and ensure that they are treated with compassion during a time when individuals can be quite vulnerable. However, I would say that the common theme running through them all is trust. Funeral service providers have a responsibility to be trustworthy and to build honest relationships with their customers.


What would you say are the most important skills and qualities needed to work within the funeral industry?

Andrew: I think that you need to be a people person and that you can’t be judgemental – you have to be the type of person that can get on with everybody. While you can’t get too involved emotionally, I do think it’s important to have compassion, care about customers and to always think about what you would want if you were in their shoes.

Hasina: These roles are relatively new and work is still being done to connect them all up, but I believe vision and innovative thinking are absolutely essential. Individuals hoping to work in such roles also need to be able to work systematically and strategically to move the way we think about death forward and to link all these different roles so that we’re not all working separately and the industry is more unified and efficient.


Finally, do you have any advice for anyone looking to enter into the funeral industry?

Andrew: Because of the emotions involved, the industry is not for everyone. On the other hand, the strength of the emotions that you experience can also make it a very fulfilling industry to be involved in. You just need to be fully prepared for everything, so that you’re in a position where you can help people come to terms with the death of a loved one and provide them with what they want.

Hasina: My best piece of advice would be to stay fresh, positive and always pursuing the best possible outcome. This can be difficult in an industry like the funeral industry, but it is necessary. Also, you always remain flexible and ready to change and adapt. Personally, I take inspiration from Bruce Lee and his quote – “be like water”. In the funeral industry, you need to be able to go with the flow and change and adapt to any obstacles you may find in your way.

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Behind the Scenes at Scattering Ashes 0

The team from Scattering Ashes hold up a mini Viking funeral boat.

With cremations now accounting for an impressive 76% of all funerals in the UK, more and more families are looking for creative – or even spectacular – things to do with their loved one’s ashes.

That’s where Scattering Ashes come in. Founded in 2009 by Richard Martin, this incredibly comprehensive site aims to help its visitors find the perfect way to say goodbye, whether that be a peaceful seaside scattering or going out with a bang in an ambitious firework display.

This month, we caught up with Richard to talk about scattering techniques, Viking funerals – and why you don’t want to leave ashes at Jane Austen’s house.

Hi Richard! Thanks for the interview. How did Scattering Ashes come to be?

Ashes being scattered from a vintage wartime Tiger Moth
Richard and the team can help you scatter ashes from a vintage wartime Tiger Moth plane, among other things.

I worked for the Environment Agency and DEFRA for many years, and it was looking like it might be time to change career. So, I thought, ‘What would I like to do?’

I’d scattered my dad’s ashes years before, and felt that we were left a bit at sea because the funeral directors didn’t have any information. We scattered his ashes at his golf course, and we weren’t made to feel very welcome when we went there –  and we certainly weren’t made to feel welcome when we wanted to go back. It all just felt a bit unsatisfactory.

So, I had the idea that perhaps I could help people by providing information about scattering ashes, because there was nothing out there online. I started blogging and then the business grew from there.

A Viking Longboat urn from Scattering Ashes
The Viking longboat urn from Scattering Ashes actually floats.

What’s your favourite scattering method on the site at the moment?

One thing that seems to have hit a chord with people is the Viking boat.

We do an almost metre-long Viking boat that holds a full set of ashes. You can set it afloat, set it on fire, and it goes up in a blaze of glory. We’ve tested them, and they’re pretty cool, I have to say. When we’ve seen them set sail, they’ve looked amazing! I quite like the fireworks too.

Why do you think people are looking for more exciting things to do with ashes now?

I think society has become more accepting of death. I also think that the old religious practices don’t suit as many people these days – maybe you don’t necessarily want a vicar speaking at your funeral because he never really knew you, and you’re not religious in the first place. And more people are thinking, ‘Well, actually, I don’t want that sort of faux-Victoriana, I want a bit more of a celebratory approach to my life’.

Ashes are scattered directly into someone's face in this scene from The Big Lebowski.
That scene from The Big Lebowski.

You run courses on scattering ashes for funeral directors. Do you have any top tips for a successful scattering?

Mind the wind is my main one.

There’s that scene in The Big Lebowski.

Exactly. Another is to be safe: a chap died last year scattering ashes after he got washed off shore in Cornwall, and the year before that a couple died in Spain doing it, and the year before that a lady fell off a cliff doing it in Ireland. Don’t go to these extreme places, because you’re putting yourself in danger.

A biodegradable water urn shaped like a turtle
This floating turtle urn from Scattering Ashes is completely biodegradable.

The third thing is probably to be aware of the amount of ashes. People tend to think it’s going to be light. In movies, like The Big Lebowski for example, there’s literally a few handfuls. But in reality, there’s something like six pounds of ashes.

So, people often end up scattering for quite a while, then they upend the urn and get this little conical pile of ashes, and it looks odd. Then they realise, ‘Oh god, we’ve got nothing to move it around with,’ and they’re using their feet, and then they go, ‘This is undignified.’

But with a bit of thought, you can make it quite a poignant, memorable ceremony, which is what we try to educate people about.

You keep a (really very comprehensive) record of places that allow scattering – do people often say no?

More and more often, now. When we first started a lot of football clubs were saying yes, and now many say no. Some are trying to cater for it with memorial gardens instead: they realise the demand, but they don’t want it impacting the pitch.

The more people scatter ashes in one place, the more troublesome they find it?

Jane Austen's house in Chawton
Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, where visitors have been asked to stop secretly scattering ashes. Image by Joaotg, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Absolutely. Two particular places come to mind. One is the top of Ben Nevis: a lot of Scots will have their ashes scattered at the top of Ben Nevis. The ecosystem up there is relatively fragile – mosses and lichens. It might look barren, but it’s not.

Ashes are rich in calcium and phosphorus, so when you put a lot of ashes there, you’re changing the ecology of the place. So, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has asked people to stop scattering at the summit.

They had to put a press release out for Jane Austen’s house because people were sneaking over the wall at night and upending the urns on the weekend. The gardener might come back on Monday morning and find three piles of ashes that had been dumped, and of course, a rose bed can only take so much.

A panoramic view from Ben Nevis, where people are no longer supposed to scatter ashes.
The view from Ben Nevis. Image by Leo Hoogendijk courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You won Best Bereavement Resource at the Good Funeral Awards in 2015 – what’s your secret?

Honesty, really. I try not to be partisan, and to look at both sides and just use the facts. I don’t have any particular drum to beat about this; I think people should have the right to choose what they do with ashes, as long as it doesn’t impact others. Also, it’s pretty comprehensive: I’ve phoned up and emailed virtually everyone. There must be getting on to 800 posts on there now.

Impressive! And what’s next for Scattering Ashes?

We’re offering training courses for funeral directors and crematoria staff and celebrants, which is new. We’ll also be increasing our trade offer, putting wholesale options on the site. And we now have a sister site here called My Pet’s Ashes, which offers similar services for pet owners, because they’re part of the family too.

If you’d like to find out more about Scattering Ashes, head on over to the site at And if you have your own ash scattering story to tell, we’d love to hear it! Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Meet the Maker: Cremation Glass Jewellery 1

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,, 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.