Not long after it was announced that I was one of the three finalists for the NatWest Thames Valley Venus Awards in the Inspirational Woman category on 6 April, I had clients asking me who I was up against. I had to confess I had no idea. I am not sure I even knew their names. Partly because it was all a bit of a blur, but also because I’d decided that I didn’t want to know.
When clients started to ask me, and then tell me who I was up against, as they’d gone on a Google hunt for them, I questioned why I was not curious and decided to address my own internal issues head on. I emailed the two ladies and asked them for a phone interview so I could blog about them and find out what their story was and how they’d got to this stage like I had.
Already I am so glad I have. Here is a summary of my conversation with Lucy from earlier in the week. She made me laugh out loud, nod in hearty agreement and I also learned a lot about her industry. I’m looking forward to the next interview soon. (edit: here is the interview with Angela Cox)
Who are you and what do you do?
Lucy Coulbert owns and runs The Individual Funeral Company (http://www.theindividualfuneralcompany.co.uk/home) she is based in Oxford and has been in the funeral industry for 15 years. Starting in the large corporate businesses before deciding to set up on her own as she was tired of seeing companies use people to earn easy money, really quickly.
What is your soapbox topic?
Lucy was quick to answer “ethics”. She’s frustrated by other companies using grief to earn money and she’s not standing for it on her own turf. She told me of a story of a man who was sold an overly expensive funeral for his mother that drove him to five pay-day lenders and a 38 year pay back term. “It’s not right” she said and as such has a not for profit side to her business for those people who have no income of their own to bury their loved ones.
Who do you help best?
I learned a lot here! Lucy was telling me that, as long as it’s legal, she’ll provide whatever her clients want and as such her services reflect that.
- You can have a bespoke funeral, they cost between £3,500 – £16,500 (her biggest to date). The client specifies the requirements and Lucy provides and oversees it.
- There is a set option. It’s all inclusive and on the list of options as a result of feedback from her customers, but Lucy keeps it as simple as possible for people to choose.
- Direct Cremation is where there is no ceremony. The funeral director looks after the body and returns the ashes to the client. Lucy was very enthusiastic about this. She told me of how the money saved from traditional funerals can be used as a way of celebrating someones life in a grand scale. Like a party on a boat for a naval officer. I’m already thinking this is something I’d consider.
- The last one was a new one on me. You aren’t obliged to use a funeral director, so you can organise the whole thing yourself. What Lucy offers though is a service to collect and store the body, as she put it, “there aren’t many people who’d want to collect their loved one from the hospital or morgue”. She can look after the body until the day of the funeral and charges a small collection and transport fee.
Why do you do what you do?
“The public are our boss and I do it to serve the public” Lucy’s experience of her own industry has made her outspoken and a little controversial as she’s frustrated by the profiteering from grief. She’s championing public education around the funeral service and how it can be an improved.
What’s a hot topic in your industry?
Online pricing seems to be a hot topic. Lucy told me how it’s quite hard to see what the pricing structure is at some funeral directors until you meet them. “They are more about the upsell, I focus on the downsell” — only 23% of the members of the UK Federation of Funeral Directors have their pricing on their website and once again Lucy is championing this loud and proud.
What do the general public not know about your profession or wrongly assume about your industry?
“You don’t have to use a funeral director”. She said that when people are grieving they are embarrassed to ask and don’t know what to ask, so she makes sure she gives her clients all the information that they may need, even if it loses her a sale.
Lucy explained that the funeral profession is a product of the last 50 years or so. Before then women weren’t allowed to go to funerals, only the men went. The women were left at home to prepare for the wake. There was no funeral director role. A family would lay their dead in their homes until the day of the funeral when a local businessman like a carpenter who made the coffins would come and transport the body away. It’s become a ritual to go and see someone like Lucy, but we don’t need to and that means that you don’t have to spend a lot of money, you don’t even have to have a ceremony, you are in charge and you can do what you like. A funeral director can be there to merely advise and smooth the way.
What is your life purpose?
“To make it easy for people so they don’t have to worry” – how people express grief is very different and Lucy told me of some very challenging times with clients as they went through the process with her. She’s completely aware of how much there is to do when someone dies and how, if it’s your first experience of death, you don’t know what you don’t know. So having someone like her on hand can make that part of it a lot easier.
And the rest?
Starts the day with coffee! ( I like her already!) when we spoke she’d had 6 hours sleep in 3 days, I can imagine coffee is an essential part.
Two dogs who go to the shop with her. They’re around when clients come in, clients come back to see the dogs and they help to make the talking easier.
Business attire? Jeans, trainers and a tee-shirt. The suit is for a funeral, Lucy wants her clients to feel comfortable as soon as they meet her.
What funeral do you want? the direct cremation! Save the money, have a party!
How are you interpreting ‘full length and fabulous’ as the dress code? I thought I’d wear trainers this year 😀
My kind of girl!
Lucy is one of the finalists in the Inspirational Woman category alongside Angela Cox and Heidi Strickland-Clark at the NatWest Thames Valley Venus Awards 2017.
Finals night is Friday 9 June at Madejski Stadium. The University of Reading have sponsored this award.