Funeral Directors Category: London
Daniel Sesu and his wife Abi are the couple behind Abney Funeral Services, and it is their combined and unique passion, commitment and dedication that has been poured into this small company since they took responsibility for it in 2017. Their love for their work is tangible, and their determination to be the absolute best they can be for the families they serve is both admirable and refreshing.
Formerly a branch of the family business run by Abi’s parents, Daniel and Abi re-named and re-branded the company, commencing trading as Abney Funeral Services in January 2018. They set about building a funeral service in line with their own personal ethos, retaining much of the original, much loved and respected local business, but adding and layering new touches and nuances, in keeping with the direction they see the funeral service heading.
Daniel trained and worked with his father-in-law, Collin Leroy Carter, who was known as one of the leading black entrepreneurs of the 1970s. The funeral business that Collin founded was, at that time, the only one in the UK that was owned by a person of African-Caribbean descent, and Daniel undoubtedly learned a huge amount while working alongside him. The traditional values of a family run funeral company and the understanding of the differing needs of people in the local community can only have been learned through experience over the years.
Daniel comes from a professional sports background; as head coach for the Ghana under-18 basketball team, he successfully took them to their first ever continental basketball championship. His natural mentoring and counselling skills are apparent in his role as a funeral director, as are his drive and determination to keep improving in every detail of his work. This resolve is something that is shared by Abi, who, although she doesn’t conduct funerals, is very much at the heart of everything that goes on at Abney Funeral Services.
Growing up, Abi was used to being around the local people who had died and whose families had entrusted her father with their funerals, so the world of funeral directing held no fear for her. She didn’t just step into it automatically though, after leaving school she pursued a career in medicine, working at Great Ormond Street and in private health care before finally coming back to the family business and working alongside Daniel and her father.
With the creation of Abney Funeral Services, Daniel and Abi have set about creating the funeral service they feel is needed in the local community, as expectations and requirements evolve with the changing times. Retaining traditional values while gradually introducing new ideas is always challenging, but so far it seems to be working, and there is an impressive blend of the old and the new about the way that they are working. Impeccable manners and appropriate respect for older members of the community melds seamlessly with high tech innovations introduced to suit clients used to online communication and speedy responses to enquiries – more about this later.
Underpinning everything though is the importance of the care of those people who have died and whose funerals Daniel and Abi are responsible for. Everyone cared for at Abney Funeral Services is covered, nobody is ever left naked and uncovered, and while they are being washed and dressed this cover is maintained as much as possible to ensure modesty is preserved at all times.
The utmost respect and dignity is afforded to everyone they look after, and each person is treated as an individual, addressed by name when being attended to or moved, just as if there were a possibility they could hear. Every detail is thought of, down to attending to the nails of a lady whose acrylics had grown out a little before she died – by the time Abi had finished looking after her, her nails were immaculate and perfect.
When this level of care for the dead is witnessed, it is evident that there will be equal – if not more – care for their families left behind, and testimony from clients who have had dealing with Abney Funeral Services confirms this. Over and again clients describe the sensitivity, compassion, professionalism and kindness they received, detailing how much they appreciated the thoughtfulness and patience – and the little touches that made a difference to them.
And it is the little things that do make a difference. Providing seating at the graveside for older or infirm guests, offering shoe covers to keep mud off of smart shoes, giving each family a booklet provided where important timings and details are written so that the funeral directors can be held to account. Changing the decoration of furnishings in the chapel of rest to match the family’s preferred colour scheme, adding coloured details to staff uniforms on the day of the funeral, a complimentary Book of Condolence for all funerals, factoring in plenty of additional time so that families aren’t rushed away from a ceremony, sending a custom card to families after the funeral to thank them for entrusting the care of the person who died to Abney Funeral Services – all thoughtful, extra small things that together demonstrate the attention Abi and Daniel pay to the details of their work.
Another example. The vehicle used to bring people back to Abney Funerals is carpeted inside, and has flowers lining it, so that the person who has died is placed in a comfortable and beautiful space when they are taken from home. It’s something that probably hasn’t occurred to most other undertakers, but the solace that this preparation of the interior provides to families (who are always encouraged to accompany their relative to the vehicle) must be immense.
The premises on Stoke Newington High Street are large and inviting. Ring the bell and Daniel or Abi will come and greet you, or it might be Rabah, their talented in house graphic designer. (It is Rabah who creates the beautiful high quality Order of Service books with unlimited photographs at no extra charge).
Once inside a comfortable reception area leads on to various rooms, an office space, a private room for making arrangements, a multi-faith chapel of rest, a preparation area with facilities for ritual washing and caring for the dead and refrigeration facilities. There is also a small kitchen and client washrooms.
Old fashioned courtesy, professionalism and good manners blended with intelligent, thoughtful and thoroughly modern service. Daniel and Abi see their roles as entirely supportive – as they say, “the focus and attention of the funeral should be on the family and the deceased, not the funeral director who is effectively a stranger and whose role is to facilitate, not dominate the day”.
They will gently guide each families through the labyrinth of decision making involved in planning a funeral, tailoring their input as appropriate. Some families know exactly what they want, others don’t know where to begin. No matter which, Abi and Daniel will ensure that each family feels that they are in control and have ownership of the whole process, and are supported in all the decisions they make, no matter how complex or unusual.
The most important part of Daniel and Abi’s work is the care and respect shown for those who have died.
From this, everything else flows – the tending to the person throughout their stay with the company, the support for the bereaved family members, the empowerment of those responsible for making the arrangements, the invitation to some and spend time with their dead relative at the earlies possible opportunity, and as often as is needed, the thoughtfulness in anticipating everything that could help make the family’s experience as smooth as possible, the planning and timing of the day, the appearance and courtesy of all staff involved, and the meticulous attention to ensuring everything goes to plan.
A willingness to embrace and include technology where it enhances the service that is already on offer. Each family is offered a unique log in to an online system called SLACK, where they have access to direct and instant communication with the company. Changes and amendments to the details of the funeral can be instantly communicated, and the order of service worked on collaboratively. When our visit to Abney Funerals was scheduled we were privileged to be invited to attend a funeral taking place on that day, and the family kindly agreed to allow us to be added to their private SLACK channel so we could witness this liaison directly.
Here’s what this family told us about this way of communicating:
‘Slack is a great way to communicate and it means that as a grieving family, we actually don’t have to constantly go back and forth to the office and it also gives us peace that everything is in the hands of people we can trust. It keeps the line of communication open between us the family and the staff at Abney, which has made us feel a close part of everything that has been happening.’
- Your first callwill be answered by Daniel or Abi. Or Rabah if they are both busy.
- Home visits – Yes of course, just ask.
- Same sex person to wash and dress?Yes, this is the norm. On the rare occasions assistance is needed from a member of the opposite sex then every effort is made to ensure that privacy is maintained.
- Embalming? Daniel and Abi don’t feel that embalming is conducive to the best care and dignity of those who have died, and they have made the decision not to carry out embalming at all. While this means that Abney Funeral Services will no longer be offering repatriation outside of the UK, the decision is very much in keeping with their ethical approach and commitment to the environment, and one that feels right for them, their staff and their business.
- Ethnic specialism? Stoke Newington is an ethnically rich area of London, and Abney Funeral Services isskilled at accommodating all kinds of cultural or religious needs. Many clients are from African and Caribbean descent, and the company has many years of experience of working with this community and the cultural customs involved.
- Home arranged funerals? Very much so – this is an aspect of their work that Daniel and Abi are keen todevelop, they are working on tailoring costing of their services so that families can select just the aspects of assistance they need. They are also considering purchasing cooling equipment that families will be able to hire to enable their relative to stay at home until the date of the funeral.
- Local celebrants – Two excellent local celebrants who have worked closely with the company before. If neither of these suit you then they can suggest a selection of alternative celebrants and encourage you to speak to them and get a feel for whether they are the right person for you.
- Vehicles: Well presented. The company’s vehicles are seen as representing the service as much as the staff do, and as such are a vital asset.
- Website: Currently being upgraded.
- Client support: Excellent throughout, from first contact until after the funeral has taken place. They can signpost clients for more detailed support if they feel it is necessary.
- Money matters: Excellent value for money. ‘Fair prices and openness with no surprises and no pushy up-selling’ is their ethos. With every estimate the most affordable options are the first discussed, and every price that is quoted is the price that clients are asked to pay. NB Payment is asked for in advance of the funeral unless the account is to be paid by the DWP or by an insurance company.
- Parking: Some on street parking nearby (parking metres) although Stoke Newington High Street is on a red route with no parking.
You won’t find a more attentive, thoughtful or genuinely good funeral directing company within miles of Abney Funeral Services. Daniel and Abi see their work as a privilege, a service that they are honoured to be able to provide for the community around them, and they are deeply committed to doing this in the best way possible.
“If we can’t do it well, we simply won’t do it”, they say, and having spent a day with them and their staff and seen the way that a complicated funeral ran completely smoothly from start to finish, it is apparent that this perfectionism is a way of being for this small but beautifully formed business.
The couple share a vision of how funerals can be done better, and from what we saw when we were with them, they are in the process of making this goal come true.