Funeral Directors Category: Scotland
Scotland’s first not-for-profit funeral service was launched in February 2018 offering a direct cremation service throughout mainland Scotland at one fixed, all-inclusive price of £995.
Caledonia Cremation are specialists in direct cremations – this is the only type of funeral they do – and they offer simple, dignified, low cost, low key (and low carbon) cremations, with a small team of dedicated and compassionate staff who provide personal, one to one support and advice for families choosing this type of funeral.
Based in Glasgow, the social enterprise was set up by the anti-poverty charity Community Renewal Trust following years of planning and research, after Paul McColgan, the charity’s CEO, had personal experience of the strain and pressure on his family when his brother-in-law died suddenly and unexpectedly in his twenties.
Caledonia Cremation was co-founded by Paul and his colleague John Halliday, Director of Community Development at Community Renewal Trust, with the express intention of tackling funeral poverty. (Help in setting up the company came via a loan from Social Investment Scotland and the Asda Community Capital Fund, and all profits are re-invested in helping people in Scotland’s poorest communities who struggle to cope with bereavement, with provision of grief counselling, advice and education).
The results in just the first year of operation have been fascinating. The emergence of Caledonia Cremation has appeared to act as a catalyst for other funeral providers to respond by offering similar low cost services, with the larger companies in particular responding aggressively to the new ‘competitor’ and promoting their own low cost alternative.
Unexpectedly though, some smaller traditional funeral directors have welcomed the arrival of a direct cremation company; the service is not seen as a profitable endeavour for them and some have referred members of the public seeking a direct cremation to Caledonia Cremation. In addition, some crematoria who have been approached by people wanting a direct cremation have referred them to the not-for-profit organisation.
In the first year of offering the service the company has helped over 120 clients, with a similar number of people enquiring about the free register of wishes service. A small number of clients were primarily motivated to choose the service because of cost, however the majority – around two thirds – did so for philosophical reasons, i.e. because of the personal preferences of either the person who had died or of their family. The non-profit nature of the company also aligns with the values of many of those choosing to use the service.
The manager of this small, tightly knit team is Ian Kirk, and it’s Ian who is very much responsible for setting the tone and the feel of Caledonia Cremation, as well as ensuring the procedures and systems that underpin it are rigorous and robust. Like everyone else involved in the company, Ian is motivated by helping people in need, and his kind, understanding and honest character is ideally suited to being at the front line of working with clients.
Ian comes from a funeral background, having spent his career working for another funeral company, beginning as a driver and then becoming a funeral director after years learning and developing his skills. He moved on into training and development of staff, and is clearly a people person at heart, caring deeply about the clients he works for, their relatives who are in his care and the colleagues he works alongside.
Ian is joined by Angela Johnstone who works alongside him in the tiny office in Glasgow. Angela comes from a care background, having spent ten years as a supervisor for Childline before a brief few months working at a large funeral provider where she learned about the industry, and also learned that she found it impossible to justify some of the prices she was asked to charge clients.
Both Angela and Ian share the same passion to do things properly, and they, along with Stephanie, who is the company outreach officer, and Iain and Hamish who help with the practical aspect of the work all feel the same sense of responsibility and pride in what they do.
Everyone who is cared for by Caledonia Cremation will be collected by two members of staff and brought to their Glasgow premises where they will be looked after until they are taken for cremation, again by at least two staff members who will commit the simple coffin at the crematorium quietly and respectfully. (Caledonia Cremation use a range of Glasgow crematoria, both local authority and charity run). There is no ceremony at this point, and families don’t attend the crematorium, but many clients choose to arrange a memorial service and Caledonia Cremation staff can assist with this at no additional cost, offering as much support and help as required.
How does it work?
The service is simple and straightforward, and begins with ensuring that anyone contacting Caledonia Cremations is certain that a direct cremation is the right choice for them. This will be established through discussion with the person who answers your initial call (probably Angela or Ian) and they’ll take their time to answer any questions you might have that could help you confirm your decision.
You can call their advice line at no cost, just to get some guidance and understanding of what is involved. You won’t be pressured in any way – quite the opposite, in fact. During the last year around 20 clients were gently directed elsewhere as it became apparent that direct cremation was not the type of funeral they required.
“We don’t ever want someone to have a direct cremation if it’s not right for them,” says Ian, “We realise that direct cremation is not for everyone, and we take a lot of time on the initial phone call making sure that people understand exactly what it is we do and how it differs from a traditional funeral.”
Once you’ve had that initial conversation, if you decide Caledonia Cremation is right for you then things can get started right away. Usually you’ll be asked for payment or at least a deposit of £100 before the staff collect the person who has died, but if you are unable to find the funds immediately, you are still encouraged to call and talk to them and tell them about your circumstances.
Once you have decided to use Caledonia Cremation’s services, your advisor will guide you through what needs to be done. You won’t ever need to go to their office, most things can be arranged over the phone, or if need be, they can come to you. Paperwork can be completed by post or, if necessary, staff will meet you at home or wherever is convenient to you. There is always someone on the end of the phone to answer any questions you might have.
The person who has died will be collected in one of the specialist vehicles used by the company, from wherever they have died in mainland Scotland. They will be taken back to the mortuary and cared for until the date of the cremation, with minimal intervention other than being washed and dressed in whichever clothes you want them to be wearing.
They will be placed in a simple, solid pine coffin sourced from a FCS Certified forest, and taken to the crematorium on the date of the cremation where the staff will witness the committal of the coffin. Once the cremation has taken place, the ashes can either be scattered at the crematorium or collected by you, either from the crematorium office or from one of the Community Renewal Trust centres in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grampian or Ayrshire. You’ll be asked about what you would like to happen to the ashes but you won’t be rushed into making a decision. If you want the ashes to be brought back to you at home, then this can be arranged although there might be a charge or a delay as they will do this personally – they don’t risk handing over ashes to a courier service.
Caledonia Cremation is an impressive example of a social enterprise that is really making a difference. Their website says ‘If you need help we promise to take care of you’, and the people who work here will do just that, they’ll offer you advice and help you to decide whether direct cremation is the right choice for you.
For families struggling to find the money to pay for a funeral, this company can provide an affordable solution. For people who just want to keep things simple for their own future funeral, or for families who don’t feel the need to combine the components of a traditional funeral (disposal of the body, ritualization of death and remembering the person who has died) all in one event, the option of a direct cremation service provided by a not for profit organisation could be a compelling choice.
For all clients of Caledonia Cremation, there is a certainty that the person who has died will be taken care of by kind, caring people. This may be a low cost funeral choice, but there is nothing cheap about the level of service that you will receive, these are among the most genuinely dedicated people we have met, and they will do their utmost to ensure that every family they work with feels supported and empowered in the decisions they have made.
Genuinely, getting it right. The company is completely geared to serving the families in the best way possible, and Ian has spent long hours ensuring that all the back office systems and procedures are in place to ensure that everything is done properly. The staff have been chosen for their caring nature and calibre, and everyone shares the same ethical approach to their work. They share the workload equally as well, with full time staff all able to do whatever is needed, from supporting families on the phone through to driving across Scotland to collect someone who has died.
The ethics of the company attract support from the public, with some people donating money to help families in desperate need. You can ‘pay one forward’ for someone who dies in abject poverty if you wish, and people do so – while we were visiting, a gentleman made a large donation which would enable two families without funds to receive help. Donations can also be made towards the bereavement support projects offered by the company.
As a not for profit organisation, Caledonia Cremation is unlike any other funeral or direct cremation business, and it is rightly being recognised for the invaluable work it is doing.
Less than a year after starting, it has been awarded two major accolades, named ‘One To Watch’ at the Social Enterprise Awards Scotland in November, it received the UK wide award in London in December.
Judges of the UK Awards said: “This new business already delivers one in every 300 funerals in Scotland. Whilst providing better funerals, they address widespread funeral poverty and provide bereavement support.”
The community engagement work, the awareness raising, the Death Cafes and the bereavement support that they offer are all motivated entirely by altruistic reasons – the underpinning feeling shared by everyone here that direct cremation can offer some people an affordable alternative to the traditional type of funeral.
The company is transparent in everything it does, and has incorporated the advice and recommendations from H.M Inspector of Funerals, Natalie McKail, who spent a long day thoroughly scrutinising every aspect of their work.
- Your first callwill be answered by Ian or Angela, or one of the other team members, Stephanie, Iain or Hamish.
- Home visits – Yes if necessary these can be arranged.
- Same sex person to wash and dress?Yes, all of the staff will do this so if you have a preference for the same sex person to do so please let them know.
- Embalming?Most people using the service are explicit that they want minimal intervention, so embalming is not normally carried out, however facilities are available if it is required.
- Ethnic specialism?All ethnic groups are served although culturally cremation is not suitable for some faith groups.
- Home arranged funerals? Happy to support families who wish to look after the person who has died themselves.
- Local celebrants? As Caledonia Cremations help many families to arrange memorial ceremonies as part of their service, they have contact with well-respected and well known celebrants and officiants throughout Scotland, all of whom fit with the organisation’s values.
- Vehicles:Unobtrusive, sign-written and smart, regularly inspected and well presented.
- Website:Excellent, informative website that gives a good sense of the feel and values of the company
- Client support: Superb. Throughout your contact with them you will be supported by the member of staff you are dealing with, and they offer professional bereavement counselling for those who need it.
- Money matters: One price for everyone for the same service – £995
Caledonia Cremation is like a breath of fresh air in a funeral market awash with endless choice, expectations and assumptions. It offers a straightforward simple service that can help families avoid falling into funeral poverty, fulfilling the purpose for which it was created.
With over 120 families helped so far, each paying just £995 for the service, and with the reported average cost of a funeral being around £4,271 (see the Sun Life Cost of Dying report 2018), it is clear that in the first year of operation, there will have been combined savings of many hundreds of thousands of pounds in funeral expenses. In addition, with the publicity about Caledonia Cremation, many more people will now be aware that there is an alternative to needing to find several thousand pounds quickly if someone in the family dies.
In addition, Caledonia Cremation offers choice to people of all walks of life, instead of engaging a funeral director, they have the option of choosing a not-for-profit enterprise that will allow a respectful, respectable way to enable cremation of someone who has died without any additional traditional funeral services.
Direct cremation is a very specific choice, and not for everyone, but for people in Scotland who are considering this option, we wholeheartedly recommend the ethos, values and – most importantly – the people that we found here.
We are delighted to include Caledonia Cremations as one of the companies we would trust to look after someone we loved. If you are thinking of using them, we suggest you give them a call and have a chat to see if you feel the same.