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Sharing approach builds community

A family funeral firm in Country Durham has developed a programme of community activities that gives their business a social focus.

Whitehouse Funeral Service, which has premises in Darlington and Newton Aycliffe, was founded by John Whitehouse around 15 years ago. He was subsequently joined by his father Mel, mother, Dorothy and wife, Julie. 

All the family members believe strongly in making the business part of the community. They have built friendships and alliances over the years, as well as being regular supporters of local charities, hospices and organisations.

This approach has evolved into setting up coffee mornings, activity sessions and friendship and social groups under the banner ‘Sharing Together’. 

“The activities help to give us all a great sense of community and lets the business build friendships and relationships gently and gradually,” says Julie. “It’s not just about being there at a family’s time of need, but before and after too.”  

Dorothy and Julie have a unique combination of skills to make this work. Dorothy has a passion for crafts, while Julie ran her own catering business before moving into the funeral world. They go into hospices and organisations to run various activities but they also have space on the premises for groups of up to 20 at a time. 

“Luckily we have enough space for dedicated room at both branches,” says Julie. “These are located away from the workings of our business, so it feels low key and at a distance that is respectful for bereaved families who are visiting us to make arrangements.”

The groups also organise themselves – often getting involved in charity fundraising.

“People have often started coming when they were suffering and feeling a bit lost but it gives them a purpose and something to be proud of,” adds Julie. “We’re incredibly proud of the programme. We’ve aimed to take away many of the associations of walking through a funeral director’s door, by making sure that when the difficult time comes, people feel just a bit more comfortable coming to us.”


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