Guest Post by Funeral Arranger Paul Evans at Stone Funeralcare
My wife and I arrived in Stone on our narrowboat about six years ago and fell in love with the town.
Our initial plan had been to slow the pace of our life down, living onboard our narrowboat and semi-retired; however, Beverley found it challenging to retire from a job she loved, so we agreed that she should continue.
But this meant that I needed to find a job as my wife (Beverley) worked nights as a palliative care nurse, and I couldn’t keep quiet on the boat whiles she slept in the day.
So initially, I found work in a local supermarket, one of the first things that I noticed was that people of Stone were always happy to chat. We had regular shoppers, and I often shared a few moments with these customers, sometimes daily. The chats often spilt out to other locations, the High Street, a café, or a local pub.
Sadly, the supermarket closed and then invited me to consider a job at Funeralcare. Not an industry I had contemplated being part of. I came into the industry somewhat pensive, not coming from a funeral background. The industry was shrouded in mystery.
My experience and training are in the automotive sector – sales and marketing, in senior management positions. I also ran, with a partner, a successful internet business.
Real Lives and Real Deaths
At the time of writing, I have been in post as a funeral arranger at Stone Funeralcare for almost four years. The job is very much what you make it. It’s about real lives and real deaths.
Initially, I job-shared, only working two and a half days a week. I found this extremely hard on lots of levels. I was uncomfortable starting to deal with a family and then coming to the end of my day and having to hand the details over to someone who the family hadn’t met before. My ‘mantra’ is that I wanted to treat people how I would like to be treated, whether I come into the business as a client or deceased. I am aware that I have colleagues who do successful work this way and do it very well.
Upon reviewing the business, I was aware that it was necessary to fill my knowledge gaps, and I achieved this by inviting and meeting people who worked within the industry.
Coop Funeralcare presents me with an opportunity to develop the business and become an integral part of the High Street community. The starting point would be to get to know the people we use to deliver funeral services. The COOP focuses on offering help and support to local communities, each Coop Membership providing 2% to local community funds.
And so, I invited local clergy and celebrants to drop in for a coffee and to meet and discuss how they approached a funeral service and explain what my aims and objectives are.
It’s important to me that we deliver the funeral that the clients want, building in small touches that make the sad occasion special, these can be as simple as a choice of flower, the colour of ties, or wearing a football shirt, equally it could be reading out a poem.
I work hard to make each funeral unique and personal. Celebrant Steve Game Blackmoor was one of the celebrants I invited. We share a similar outlook towards the work that we do. I was encouraged by his approach to each service, starting with a blank notebook. We have happily worked together on many funerals, both big and small, over the past four years. We’ve shared many events, such as our annual Christmas memorial service in Stone, too.
Jointly, Steve and I have introduced a weekly grief surgery to the High Street; with Steve’s help, we provide a qualified counsellor. The service is by appointment and available to anyone experiencing difficulties with their grief.
Inevitably funerals are filled with emotions, and I would not be honest if I said that I have never shed a tear or two. It’s not the right place for me to go into details, but it’s often hard not to be affected by emotions, which leads me to move on to something remarkably close to my heart – loneliness.
I first noticed loneliness while working at the supermarket; earlier, I mentioned chatting with customers; in one case, I recall one lady, she always said hello, or how are you. A question arose and needed an answer and one that she could develop into a few minutes of chatter. During one of these exchanges, she confided in me that she had no one at home, and she came shopping to talk to someone. I was important to her because I responded and noticed her. Would she ever actually ask for help? I doubt it. All she seemed to need was to be noticed.
Happy to Chat Bench
My desk at Stone Funeralcare looks out onto the High Street in Stone, and I’m blessed daily by people waving as they pass by or pop their head through the door to say ‘Hello.’ I always try to make sure I acknowledge them and if I have time, I pop outside to share a few minutes with them.
However, I am one person in a town; my thoughts moved to doing more and making a tiny difference. It’s challenging to start a loneliness club. Who would want to be part of that club?
An article sparked the Idea of the bench I saw on Google. A bench in a town that invited people to have a sit and maybe a chat. This got me thinking about how this may get people chatting. Working with the management team here at Coop Funeralcare, we agreed that it fitted in with our supporting local communities and that it’s available to everyone.
Now situated outside the Funeralcare branch on Stone high street, we have our very own Happy to Chat Bench. I hope the bench brings people together. The initial response has been incredible. The community has welcomed this little addition to the town, and now that we’re experiencing better weather, it’s quite a lovely spot just to sit and chat and watch the world go by!