Ann Lee, CEO of St. Margaret’s Hospice in Somerset, delivers a progress report on the charity’s new funeral service.
In January 2018, St. Margaret’s Hospice became the first hospice in the UK to launch our own funeral service.
This was a bold move which attracted a lot of attention at the time. While many of our colleagues in the hospice movement were supportive, it’s fair to say that our new venture was not universally popular, so I thought ehospice readers might be interested to hear how it’s been going.
At the outset, I spoke about our desire to bring a caring, transparent and personal funeral service to everyone in our community, whether or not they have been a hospice patient. Having seen firsthand the distress of families struggling with high funeral costs, we wanted to do our bit to address the growing problem of funeral poverty.
With the average cost of a basic funeral having risen by 122.5 per cent over the past 15 years, we set out to offer a range of fixed-price funerals which includes a low-cost direct cremation option. We believe we are having a positive effect on our local marketplace, as other providers follow our example of transparent pricing, benefiting all bereaved families, not just those who choose to use our service.
My advice to anyone is to hire the best people you can, and we have been fortunate to recruit an excellent funeral director who has been instrumental to our success so far. Julie and her small team have been increasingly busy as they continue to gain an excellent reputation, in large part through word of mouth and, in some cases, repeat custom.
As the initial publicity has faded, it’s been pleasing to see our community embracing what we are doing. With any new service the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so we have been touched by the lovely comments from families we have served. To quote just two examples:
“Thank you for the wonderful care, time, consideration and gentleness you gave us throughout this sad time.”
“Thank you for your kindness and efficiency, which enabled … a very dignified and caring farewell. This was achieved at less cost than I had expected.”
Interestingly, two thirds of our clients have not been hospice patients, which shows that we are extending our care to new people in our community. It also reflects the fact that we do not market our funeral service to patients in our care, as some scaremongers wrongly assumed would be the case.
After a successful first year for our Taunton funeral home, we are recruiting to cope with growing demand and are already working on expansion plans to reach more people in our patch.
St. Margaret’s Hospice Funerals is on track to become an established revenue stream for our charity, helping us to care for more people in Somerset who are facing a life-limiting illness in the future. Some people predicted that launching this new service would have a detrimental effect on in memoriam donations to our hospice, but this has not been the case.
On a personal note, perhaps the toughest part of our journey so far has been the opposition we encountered in the early days from some of our colleagues within the hospice movement. As a sector, I believe we should be encouraging innovation as we face the challenge of making our services sustainable for the future.
The values which guide our work at St. Margaret’s Hospice include being brave enough to challenge the status quo and take informed risks. We also believe in being compassionate in everything we do.
As Hospice UK launches its Open Up Hospice Care campaign for a second year, I see St. Margaret’s Hospice Funerals as one way of opening up the caring ethos of hospices to more people in our community at their time of need. This is perfectly encapsulated by the words of one of our funeral clients: “You put a lot of light into my dark days.”
For more information visit St. Margaret’s Hospice Funerals