I was delighted to spend a morning attending a “town hall” meeting with colleagues from Co-op Funeralcare in Washington. These are a relatively recent initiative to allow colleagues to be updated on progress in the business and get their feedback. Colleagues from the Funeralcare support centre in Manchester are encouraged to get out to these local meetings around the country as a way of ensuring they keep in touch with the realities of life at the front line.
Thinking back through Co-op history making provision for a dignified funeral was a key concern of our members in the nineteenth century, so it is great that we continue to provide a high level of service in this sector to this day.
There is a remarkably good story to be told about our recent performance:
- Growth in market share for the first time in five years 29% market share in sales of pre-need funeral plans – an excellent sign for the future Investment in new funeral homes – now over 1,000 around the UK – and in renewing our fleet of vehicles.
- Launch of a low cost Simple Funeral to help address funeral poverty – which has forced competitors to respond in kind.
- Announcement that we will provide funerals free of charge to any person who is 17 or younger, helping families at a time of acute grief: an initiative that was recently commented on positively by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.
- Merger of the funerals business with our legal services operation, to maximise the synergies around will writing and probate work and provide a fuller service to our clients.
- Development of new software by our Digital team that promises to transform the back office operations of Funeralcare, improving efficiency and releasing colleague time to care for bereaved families.
Under the leadership of Richard Lancaster and Robert McLachlan there is a new confidence and willingness to take the business forward with a clear focus on caring for families. I was impressed by the positive comments and clear engagement of the colleagues at the briefing session.
At the session I was able to hear more about the Digital project (now being trialled in Edinburgh) from Regional Operations Manager, David Knowles. David was seconded to the Digital team for six months, to make sure that someone who really understands the needs of the business was plugged into the systems design from the outset. His enthusiasm for the potential improvements that would flow through was tangible, but I was especially pleased to note how positively other colleagues responded to the news: embracing the change rather than fearing a new challenge.
It was also great to be given a tour of the Washington Funeralcare centre, the hub of a network of homes in the area.
Our senior manager Karen Crake, with nearly thirty years of experience, is justifiably proud of her purpose-built building, for it looks very smart and professional throughout. They are the sort of premises in which the deceased can be handled in a dignified, respectful and professional manner, with strong standards clearly in place. I heard several stories of funeral directors visiting from other non-Co-op organisations and being amazed by the quality of what we do. Our main competitors, Dignity, in their recent results announcements called for more regulation of standards in the funeral industry. I am confident that the Co-op already leads the way in this respect, and we would welcome the opportunity for standards to be improved across the board to benefit families everywhere.
So thanks to David, Karen (shown in the photo above, with me) and Funeralcare’s Head of Marketing Lorinda Robinson for making me so welcome!