The pandemic has prompted huge changes in the funeral industry. Laws have been passed dealing with PPE, funeral management and documentation. In response, this has had a huge impact on families and the bereaved as well as on crematoriums and cemeteries. Crematoriums across the country worked hard to implement plans and procedures in the initial dealing with the pandemic. One question remains; will the last few months change the industry forever?
We interviewed Kate Davidson of Westerleigh to take a look at how they faced the pandemic head on, adopted remote working where possible, new flexibility with teams and new procedures, and their vision for the future of the funeral industry.
I joined Westerleigh in February 2020 as Commercial Director after 10 years in the bereavement sector, working across both local authority and private crematoria and cemeteries.
I am responsible for the operational and commercial function of our 34 crematoria across the UK. I work with a fantastic and committed team of colleagues at each of those sites, all absolutely focused on providing exceptional care to the families and funeral directors that we look after. Leading and developing colleagues is my real passion, and I really enjoy making tangible changes to our business to improve the service and experience that families have when they visit us.
Obviously, there have been operational, procedural and legal changes during the pandemic that have been really important to help both crematoria/burial authorities and our funeral director colleagues to respond positively to the ongoing effects of the pandemic. Outside of that though, the notable changes for me are around the amazing flexibility, and adaptability of our teams who have gone the extra mile time and time again to ensure that families who experienced a bereavement during this difficult time could be looked after in the very best possible way. I know that this has always been the case; the commitment and hard-working nature of bereavement professionals has never been in doubt – but it has been rewarding to see the way in which the industry has pulled together to maintain such an important service.
For Westerleigh Group, we were very clear from the outset that our primary focus during the pandemic was to take every possible step to ensure that funeral services could still go ahead in the most normal way achievable. Of course, we had to comply with the rapidly changing government guidelines and we always aligned ourselves with these. However, our teams on site were empowered to be flexible, reasonable and sensitive in the way we served the bereaved. We also felt it was important that we looked after families who may not have been directly affected by the pandemic, and we developed initiatives to support and mark this time for those people.
We’ve been working on a significant project in developing a memorial at each of our sites to mark those who lost their lives during the pandemic, but also to recognise the amazing sacrifices that many people made helping, supporting and caring for people (not to mention our bereavement colleagues!).
I’m also really proud of our renewal initiative, which was designed to give all families a 12-month extension on any memorial lease given that for a significant period of the year they would have been unable to visit their memorial. We really understand how important marking the lives of loved ones can be, perhaps on a special date or an anniversary – and so we wanted to acknowledge this. We know that many, many people had a lot of worries during the pandemic, and we wanted to make a small gesture to help ease just one of those.
It is quite difficult for me to talk about how Westerleigh have adapted to the pandemic, as I joined just before lockdown happened. However, I can see that we have really refined our decision-making process – as a leadership team we have had to move quickly, making difficult decisions on a very regular basis. We’ve also really enhanced our communications both internally and externally – holding a weekly video call to all of our colleagues across the group to keep them informed of updates and changes, and using IT tools to keep in touch with our colleagues from afar, supporting them as they worked tirelessly on the front line. We’ve also worked hard to ensure that our communication to FDs has been timely, consistent and informative.
During the pandemic it is also fair to say that we have really taken the opportunity to review how we look after our colleagues – and we’ve focused a lot of our efforts on ensuring that our HR policies and position was clear, concise and generous – knowing that our colleagues were working so hard operationally, we wanted to make sure that they had very little to worry about, and we wanted to acknowledge and thank them regularly for their work.
I think we’ve demonstrated the importance of the adaptability of the sector – a very traditional place that notoriously moves slowly in its’ development. However, I believe that the pandemic has shown that we can be agile, innovative and still provide exceptional care to the bereaved.
If we learn anything from the pandemic, it is the absolute fundamental need to work together and to collaborate across the sector. Our voice is stronger together, and if we all place the care of the bereaved at the centre of our focus we will achieve far more.
Lots of exciting plans, and much that we are working on right now – it’s an extremely exciting time for Westerleigh – so watch this space!
Kate Davidson is the Commercial Director of Westerleigh Group and you can connect with her here.
Facultatieve Technologies (FT) with 145 years of experience in cremation is the international market leader in the design, construction and maintenance of cremation and filtration equipment.