Last week saw us exhibiting for the first time at the National Funeral Exhibition, which takes place every two years at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire. It was a great opportunity to meet up with other businesses, catch up with old friends and make new ones, and to get a feel for trends and innovations in the funeral industry.
People often assume that working in the funeral industry must be rather dull and depressing, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. I don't think I've ever met a group of people who are more passionate and committed to their work. Maybe it's something to do with the daily reminders of their own mortality and the need to live for the moment, or perhaps it's that the funeral industry is going through something of a revolution right now, but everyone we met clearly loved their work and were driven by the desire to help families achieve the best funeral possible for their loved ones.
Our stand (below) was located at a 'crossroads' in Hall 1 so we had lots of passing traffic and received some lovely feedback from both visitors and other exhibitors. As it was our first time at the show, we wanted to give people a chance to see and touch our products, as well as taking a few samples away with them. So we came up with the idea of a Pick 'n' Mix Sample Bar - a bit like the old sweet counters in Woolworths - but with funeral products instead of confectionery. This enabled visitors to pick their own selection of samples (such as seed packets, balloons and remembrance cards) and place them in a striped paper 'goodie bag' to take home with them. We did have some Love Heart sweets to give away as well, because you've got to keep your energy levels up at these events, after all!
As well as the Angel & Dove team of Nicky, Helga and Rasmus, we were joined on the stand by local Twickenham-based funeral celebrant Rebecca Lee-Wale from Daisy Chain Celebrant Services, who was visiting the show and kindly offered to help out. We also bumped into some more local funeral folk, Chiswick-based Hannah the Celebrant and Teddington-based husband and wife funeral directors Jacqui and Nick from White Rose Modern Funerals. Another lovely thing about the funeral industry is how supportive and friendly everyone is, and it was a real pleasure to share a few drinks, laughs and stories with these guys after a long day on the stand.
Funeral ladies: Hannah (left), Nicky (centre), Rebecca (right)
In addition to old friends, we made some new friends too. Oliver from Memory Treasures had got in touch by email before the show, having heard about us on a facebook funeral forum (who knew such things existed?) so it was great to find out they were just a few stands away from us. Similarly I'd been told by a friend to look out for Cathy from Heart in Their Hand and as luck would have it their stand was next door but one to ours.
Oliver and the team at Memory Treasures have created a collection of bespoke personalised silver memorial jewellery using the fingerprints, hand or footprints of a loved one to create a unique memorial keepsake. From pendants to cufflinks, each piece is handcrafted to order, creating a comforting and tactile reminder of those who are no longer here.
Heart In Their Hand create beautiful keepsakes for bereaved parents and also work closely with hospital maternity units across the UK. The creative idea behind their delicate keyrings is that the tiny heart in the centre pops out and can be placed into the hand of a baby or loved one, while the rest of the keyring stays with the parent to create a lasting connection. The subtle design means that no one need know it is a memorial keepsake and you can keep it close by every day. There is also the opportunity to 'sponsor a heart' by gifting a heart to families who have lost a baby. What a lovely idea!
Next door to Heart In Their Hand was another organisation offering support for bereaved parents. Cherished Gowns is a charity which provides families who have experienced a stillbirth, miscarriage or other neonatal loss with a tiny, exquisite handmade outfit for their angel baby's funeral. The clothes are sewn by volunteers from wedding dresses which have been donated to the charity. Since their launch in 2014 they have created over 100,000 tiny outfits from 20,000 donated wedding dresses. Not just an innovative idea but also an amazing achievement.
On the other side of our stand was Peter from Classical Biers, who popped over to say hello and whose story we found absolutely fascinating. A retired engineer, Peter salvages original funeral biers (the carts used to transport a coffin to the graveside) and painstakingly restores them to their former glory, giving them a new lease of life. As you can imagine, they are popular with funeral directors and woodland burial grounds. But that's not all, he researches the history of each bier, tracing where possible the previous owners, so that this can be passed on to the bier's new owner. Just look at the workmanship - this really is upcycling at its finest.
When not manning the stand, we managed to have a look around the rest of the exhibition. Over in Hall 2, there was a willow coffin weaving demonstration by Somerset-based Musgrove Willows taking place. It's amazing to watch how they achieve such complex designs using such a simple, age old natural material.
While natural, rustic style products continue to be popular choices for eco-friendly funerals, there is a growing trend towards bright colours and especially rainbow themed funeral products. Just look at this array of brightly coloured willow coffins, also from Musgrove Willows.
The rainbow theme continues with this eye-catching funeral carriage by Lancashire-based Elegant Carriages, or you could even go for all out funeral bling with a glitter coffin and matching urn!
If glitter urns aren't quite your style, you might prefer these classically styled solid lead garden planter urns, which are soon to be launched by Turners Memorial Leadworks in Norfolk. The ashes are contained in a hidden compartment within the planter, so only you need know that it is a memorial item. Plant it with your loved one's favourite blooms and keep them close by while you potter in the garden. And because it's portable (though very heavy) you can take it with you if you move house. When I showed this to my mum she was completely sold on the idea - she'd love her final resting place to be in the garden with the grandchildren running around her having fun, just as they do now. It's so useful to discuss these things with your nearest and dearest!
From earthly ashes to something more out of this world, Ascention Flights offer families the opportunity to have their loved one's ashes scattered in space! Created by the world's leading near space flight experts, they will take your loved one's ashes 100,000 feet above the earth and scatter them into space. They can even video the release and set it to your choice of music, to create a memorial film for you to keep. The equipment used to release the ashes is retained and safely returned to earth, so there's no risk of space junk. Take a look...
One of the highlights of the National Funeral Exhibition is the amazing array of gleaming hearses parked outside the front of the venue. From beautifully restored classic cars to the latest eco-friendly electric vehicles and everything in between, there are always a few which raise a smile, and maybe an eyebrow. From a Land Rover hearse for a rustic farm-style funeral, to a motorcycle hearse for the eternal rocker, these days there is something for everyone and the message is very much 'do it your own way'.
So that's our round up of trends and inspiration from the 2019 National Funeral Exhibition. It's certainly an exciting time to be in the funeral industry and it's great to see families being offered more choices and opportunities than ever to make their loved one's send off as personal and unique as they were. See you at the next show in 2021!