Looking at the bigger picture: A Natural Undertaking

Fran Glover and Carrie Weekes are Virgin StartUp ambassadors and the founders of A Natural Undertaking, an undertaking service that allows people to say goodbye to their loved ones in a dignified and personal way. Their first blog for us is about the challenges of hosting an event, but how taking  a risk and investing time in getting people to understand your industry can pay off.

Setting up a business and communicating your products and services is challenging in its own right, but what if your customers have pre-conceived ideas, don’t know, or don’t even want to think about the context in which your business belongs?

As undertakers Carrie and I have always known that our business wasn’t something we could just sell to people, and it’s not something that people are always in a position to buy – thankfully.  We also knew that there are plenty of myths, pre-conceptions and false expectations out there about what people “should do” when a loved one dies; and this all has a huge impact on how successful our business will be.  For us therefore, information provision and opening up the conversation are crucial to helping people understand our approach as undertakers, and ultimately to feel comfortable about doing things differently.

When it comes to death and funerals there are few rules and, surprisingly, there are lots of options. So when the Dying Matters coalition announced that Dying Matters Awareness Week this year would be 18th -24th May we knew we had to do something to support the initiative.

dyina mattrs

The week is aimed at getting as many people as possible thinking, talking and taking action by encouraging members of the public to take five simple steps to make their end of life experience better, both for them and for their loved ones - write your will, record your funeral wishes, plan your future care and support, consider organ donation, tell your loved ones your wishes.  We decided to talk to a range of organisations, businesses and individuals about bringing conversations about death and dying out onto the streets of Kings Heath in Birmingham by creating an informative, cultural and positive event.

Everyone we spoke to was very keen to do something but it was clear that one of us needed to take the lead, and the risk, and pay for things like hiring the village square and designing and printing flyers before being able to collect any contributions from the other participants. Carrie and I agreed that being part of the bigger picture, it was a risk we should take.

So on Friday 22nd May we parked our white hearse on the square, set up our tables and presented a united network of organisations connected with end of life and dying to the unsuspecting but open-minded people of Kings Heath. A place where people could feel comfortable talking about plans for end life care, how to make wishes known, hear about the non-invasive alternative to post-mortem, learn about cardboard or wicker coffins and natural burial, watch a coffin being decorated by a local artist, taste Victorian funeral biscuits and be inspired to create truly memorable and personal farewells. To talk, plan and then get on with living.

flowers

The reaction from people walking through was brilliant – it showed we were right to take a risk and pay attention to the bigger picture. We may not have taken bookings there and then, but we’ve certainly made a step forward in building awareness and understanding about the art of the possible.

With the help of: Acorns Children Hospice, St Mary’s Hospice, Macmillan Nurses, the Dying Matters team, NHS CCG members, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital bereavement team, Westall Park Natural Burial Ground, Digital Autopsy, Alternative Ceremonies, The Good Funeral Guide Funeral Plan, Conjurer’s Kitchen and Tuckshop Flowers the help of a number of wonderful individuals and some sunshine, we were able to create an atmosphere that was positive and welcoming, and one which we will definitely repeat.

And here’s a short video that was kindly filmed and edited by  Sarah Chaundler which beautifully sums up the day. All photos courtesy of Rob Farrell Photography.

"You Only Die Once" from Sarah Chaundler on Vimeo.

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