What do you mean by being a ‘green’ Funeral Director?

We are the only Funeral Directors in the Bristol area who belong to the Association of Green Funeral Directors.  In order to be classified as ‘green’ by the Association we abide by a Code of Practice which includes, amongst other criteria, not embalming the body as a routine procedure, except in very exceptional circumstances, and not referring to this as “hygienic treatment”, which persuades families that embalming is at least desirable, if not necessary.

We also present as many funeral choices as possible to families.  This may include a range of environmentally-friendly coffins made with natural and biodegradable materials. Being mindful of our carbon foorprint we encourage the use of garden flowers or flowers that have been grown as locally as possible; we also welcome families using their own transport rather than limousines, although these are always available if required.

Why did you open a shop combining life and death?

It has long been the situation that death & funerals have been pushed under the carpet and that people are mourned in a very restricted way. I (Paula) was brought up as a Roman Catholic and lived my formative years against a background of death. It seemed to me that unless I accepted death as part of life then I could not begin to appreciate life. My partner, Simon and I agreed that a shop that concerned itself with life should also include death. This has meant that the one has enriched the other. Many of the artefacts that we sell in our shop can be used in a dual way. Cushions are often purchased to put in the coffin. Gold & silver letters often decorate the coffin. Throws are used to cover an environmentally-friendly cardboard coffin, which might upset certain members of a family who are a little more traditional – satisfying all parties. Lacquered photograph albums are perfect in which to collect memento mori; as are handmade paper notebooks for guests to write in so that a record can be kept of all those who attended the funeral.

What is alternative about ‘Heaven on Earth’?

We prefer the word ‘bespoke’ to describe our funerals rather than ‘alternative’ because each one of our funerals differs in the same way that people do. Although we carry out ‘traditional’ funerals and do use a hearse and limousines when asked, many of our customers want something different: they do not want black, so we use a silver estate car; they like the idea of a coffin that is environmentally friendly, that reflects their concerns about the wastefulness of resources; they like the idea of returning to nature and sometimes becoming a tree and they want an individual, personal memorial service or celebration. They also say that being involved in the funeral, decorating the coffin themselves, supplying family bearers, lowering the coffin & helping to fill in the grave for instance, gives them a feeling of empowerment and helps them in the grieving process.

Why do you call yourselves ‘bespoke’?

In 1995 when we first started we used the word bespoke to distinguish ourselves from other funeral directors, but now the word has been adopted by traditional companies – certainly in the Bristol area.  For us it means that each funeral is personal and individually tailored to the specific needs of the family: we do not offer a package deal. Families are unique and so our are funerals.

What are the most unusual coffins that you have supplied?

One of the most unusual coffins that we have supplied is the Red Arrows jet coffin (pictured below) for a customer who is passionate about them. We were on television with one of the Ghanaian Fantasy Coffins, a Mercedes Benz – (in Ghana you are usually buried in a coffin which denotes your trade: a boat for a fisherman, an eagle for a chief etc.) – and we were perceived as having made it ourselves. Consequently we received an order for a Red Arrows Jet…..of course, this coffin is only suitable for a burial! In this case we had to design it so that the nose and wings were detachable in order for it to fit into the grave! We have also made a coffin with a ship’s wheel on top for a sailor. Coffins decorated with football colours are also popular. Families who have lost children welcome the idea of all the friends decorating the coffin with their favourite poems, paintings and logos. A horse-lover was buried with their saddle and bridle, with a large picture of the horse on the coffin lid….and many, many more.

What is the most unusual funeral you have organised?

We have arranged so many funerals that it is hard to say which is the most unusual. We have buried wizards with their wands, spells, dead owls and all; cremated buddhists while chanting, burning incense and strewing flowers (with subsequent hoovering of the crematorium floor!). On one occasion the committal was timed to coincide with an explosion of kazoos, whistles and party poppers and the releasing of hundreds of balloons, followed by toasting the deceased with champagne; on another the coffin disappeared to Welsh miners singing ‘The Red Flag’ and waving The Little Red Book.

We believe that carrying out such requests, as long as they are within legal bounds and are included within the dignified structure of the funeral, have been uplifting to the bereaved, because these happenings have been at the bequest of the deceased whose wishes had been recorded before they died. When a personal approach has been planned in this way, people often say that the deceased would love to have been at his/her own funeral.