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Exploring a good death

This year’s Ideal Death Show and Good Funeral Awards, championed and organised by Brian Jenner, took place in Bournemouth. Editor Russ Bravo went along for the ride

I’ve never been in a yurt before, let alone helped put one up, but along with a few others I found myself helping Cath and Tosh from Cradle to Grave to put a couple up, marvelling at the simple but welcoming space they created.

The yurts were home for a couple of days to the talks and death cafes held at the Ideal Death Show, perched on the grass overlooking the sea and pier in (still quite) sunny Bournemouth.

So what were the consistent themes at this friendly gathering of end of life practitioners – from coffin makers to embalmers, celebrants to grief counsellors, soul midwives to natural burial enthusiasts, florists to funeral directors?

I’d say passion and listening. I guess you’d expect plenty of listening skills to be in evidence from professionals in a world where compassion and empathy should be high on the list of helpful attributes, but I was impressed by the passion on display.

Whoever I spoke to had a deep conviction about their work – determined to bring beauty, environmental concern, meaning and real humanity into the business of death.

Sitting in a death café with a dozen or so others, the topics of conversation ranged far and wide – from children at funerals (‘surely it’s healthier for them to be included’) to public grief, the inflexibility of crematoria to helping society talk more openly about death, funerals and the end of life.

The talks were engaging and insightful, covering everything from scattering ashes to repatriation, grief in a digital age to a day in the life of an APT (anatomical pathology technologist). We also had an excellent harpist.

Cult hero of the day was the ‘godfather of natural burial’ Ken West, who gave a powerful and thought-provoking talk and was later presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Most lyrical and entertaining speaker was journalist and author Kevin Toolis on The Irish Wake, and what age-old practices still followed in Ireland can teach us about a full life and a community supported death.

Anne Beckett-Allen unpacked some of the vital ways those within the funeral world can safeguard their mental health, and the exhibition area incorporated creative funeral goods and memorialised jewellery, flat pack coffins and memorial trees, imaginative urns, special gift boxes for bereaved children and even small scale Viking long boats.

Host for the Good Funeral Awards was business guru Geoff Burch, who acted as master of ceremonies with a ready wit and a twinkle in his eye. Some excellent food and entertainment was followed by presentations in the following categories:

Most Promising Newcomer to the Trade – Sheepdrove Natural Woodland Burials
Most Helpful Funeral Advice Website – Grief Chat
APT of the Year – Barbara Peters, The Royal Liverpool University Hospital
Care of the Deceased – Guy Elliot
Coffin Supplier of the YearEarth to Heaven
Florist of the Year – The Biggin Hill Florist
Minister of the Year – Father Paul Doick 
Celebrant of the Year – David Miles
Gravedigger of the Year – Chris Miles & Andy Traveller, Southdown Natural Burial Site
Best Burial Ground in the UK – Tithe Green Burial Ground
Best Direct Cremation Provider – Simplicity Cremations
Best Low-Cost Funeral Provider – Respect Direct Funeral Services
Most Eco-Friendly Funeral Director – Rosedale Funeral Home
Funeral Arranger of the Year – Ewan Reynolds
Most Promising Trainee Funeral Director – Steven Long – Coles Funeral Directors
Funeral Director of the Year – David Nicholson – Go As You Please Funerals
Funeral Caterer of the YearTea and Sympathy
The ‘What to do with the Ashes Award’ – Footprints and Whispers
Lifetime Achievement Award – Ken West

More at

PHOTO: Funeral Director of the Year David Nicholson and colleague from Go As You Please Funerals

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