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when it started life as the Star Livery Stables, next door to the soon-to-be-birthplace of author DH Lawrence – means that the company is a trusted part of the community, with much of its business coming through local tradition and word of mouth. However, even family firms firmly rooted in

their communities have to move with the times and the firm could no longer rely on providing the kind of traditional funerals that Joanne and Alison had seen their dad arrange while they were growing up. In order to thrive, it had to match the wide

choice of products and services that all the other operators, both big and small, offer in order to serve customers who are used to being able to make choices. “Things were already starting to change when I joined the company, but we were still offering a limited range of coffins and there wasn’t a huge amount of options available in other areas, such as cremated remains and keepsakes, Joanne said. “Nowadays, it’s different again. People want

to make their loved one’s funeral more personal and so they are taking advantage of goods and services that would have been unthinkable when we were growing up. “Discussing the personal aspects of the

funeral is the bit of the job that I really love because you learn about the deceased that way and if you take care of the little things then, to me, you have done your job correctly.” This is an area where being a family firm

helps, say the sisters, because there is scope for funeral directors to make a commitment to honour a specific request without having to check with a superior first and the company is finding that the willingness to listen and capability to provide is helping to drive their business forward. For example, not only has the Eastwood

Funeral Partnership developed a sideline in creating and printing personalised service sheets, it has worked with its coffin suppliers, Steve Soult Ltd of nearby Kirkby in Ashfield, to offer design touches that are unique to its own range. This, says Joanne, has been inspired by the

families’ own requests for different designs – requests which also increasingly include Soult’s own speciality, an engraving service, where names or images are carved into the coffin or cremated remains casket. Now that the funeral industry is no longer the male-only preserve it once was, some people believe that the influx of women is responsible for bringing a more caring and person-focussed approach, which encourages relatives to voice their opinions more and paved the way for more choice. However, Joanne has no truck with this - which may seem surprising given that she is

Farewell Magazine 59

currently President of the East Midlands region of Soroptimist International, an organisation for professional and business women which works to promote equality for women and girls. “In my early days, people always used to be

surprised at seeing a female funeral director and thought it was refreshing, and I agree it’s important that women are represented in this role,” she says. “However, I don’t consider myself more empathic or caring than my male colleagues are. “I have a high opinion of what they do and I see this as a gender-neutral job. Some people have a natural aptitude for being a funeral director and some of them happen to be women. “What might have an effect is that, as relative

newcomers to the industry, we females are more questioning about what should happen. We don’t just do things because things have always been done that way, whereas maybe an older, male funeral director might automatically do so.” However, Alison and Joanne believe that

growing up living above the family’s funeral home has given them a huge advantage when it comes to working in the profession. “Working for a funeral company isn’t like

working in a ‘normal’ office,” says Joanne. “People have to be able to demonstrate the utmost customer care the minute they open the door to a family or pick up the phone and it’s not for everybody. “But, since both of us had worked in the office during school holidays and grew up in this

environment, we know instinctively what to do and how to behave. “When I think back to when I started here full-

time, although I didn’t receive any significant training, there I was, as a 21-year-old woman, sitting down in front of grieving families and talking about what they wanted. “It sounds incredible now, but I was able to just get on with it, which is certainly a legacy of my upbringing.” “It also helps that we have never had any

misgivings about working in the funeral trade, like other people might do,” Alison says. “When we were growing up, we didn’t see it as anything other than normal, and that there was nothing weird about it.” “That said, I don’t remember having too many people over for tea,” Joanne adds. “Some friends did feel that coming here was a bit odd and one friend who did come over was very uncomfortable being here. She went home very quickly. “But we just had a very normal, happy family

life, although what was unusual was that our parents were nearly always on call. “Families used to ring at all hours and my

dad would have to go and answer the phone. Because we all knew that there was a high likelihood of there being a grieving family on the other end of it, we would all stop laughing or talking and sit there in silence. “It goes without saying that, as children, we

were certainly never allowed to answer the phone - but growing up within the industry has certainly paid off now.”

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