Funeral Directors Category: London
Hasina Zaman and Allistair Anderson. A former teacher, lecturer and artist, Hasina founded the company back in 2012 when she perceived a need for a completely different type of funeral service for the diverse community of East London where she had lived and worked for over 20 years.
“We saw a lack of compassion and care in the way funerals were being carried out. They were becoming meaningless processes, with little or no personalisation or involvement from family and friends. I knew we could do something different – provide a support service where the family was at the heart of the funeral, and tailor what we provide to exactly what each family needed from us. We began with arranging funerals in the bereaved families’ homes or their work place. Initially we worked closely with Quaker Social Action, supporting them in providing affordable funerals, buying in services from other local funeral directors as we needed to keep costs low.”
Allistair joined Hasina in 2013, when he left his position at City of London Cemetery and Crematorium, just a few hundred yards along the road from the Compassionate Funerals premises that were officially opened in February 2016. With 20 years experience working in a wide variety of roles with some of the best local undertakers, cemeteries and crematoria in London, Allistair has the calm confidence of a man who knows his stuff, and more importantly, knows what he wants to do differently from the status quo.
Hasina and Allistair worked from home for the first few years, with the kitchen table serving as an office base. In October 2015 they acquired their premises on Aldersbrook Road, and after some major renovations to the building they held an official launch party, opening the doors to their beautiful space for the general public. It’s the most unfunereal funeral parlour we have visited – light, open, airy and beautifully furnished with comfortable sofas and a low coffee table on a richly coloured rug. Rainbow coloured chandeliers are suspended from the high ceilings, and Hasina’s mosaic art is scattered around, giving flashes of colour like jewels glinting in the sunlight that filters through the leaded windows.
The arranging area space is large enough to be used for Death Cafes, training sessions and even a charity fundraising music evening, ‘Bold or Bollywood’, where around 40 people gathered to listen to different live artists playing. “We wanted this to be a space where families would feel at ease and be comfortable when they are at the most delicate and vulnerable,” said Hasina. “And we also want to use it for awareness raising events in our community.”
Through a plain wooden door is the room used for families to spend time with the person who died, whether washing and dressing them with help from Hasina and Allistair if needed, or just sitting alongside the coffin and being in their presence. Simply furnished, with a wooden dresser containing the rose essential oil that every body is anointed with, the room is quiet and peaceful without being somber or dreary and shares the same high ceiling as the arranging area, with a similar blue chandelier. The space has been expanded to include a second viewing and meeting room, and a new mortuary.
Great death care is at the heart of the way Hasina and Allistair work – they are gentle in their handling of each person and actively cultivate mindful presence of the person whose body they are caring for, whether the family are present or not. Hasina comes from a Muslim background, and within the Muslim faith it is believed that once a person dies their soul hovers above their body and they can hear and feel everything that takes place.
Gentle movement and awareness of the person whose body they are caring for are second nature to Hasina and Allistair, and they train anyone assisting them in the same reverent approach to the body. Even the embalmer (who is occasionally called in to carry out embalming where a funeral is taking place several weeks after death and an open coffin is required by the spiritual practice of the family) has learned that when he is working for Compassionate Funerals, he needs to honour their ways of handling the dead.
When someone dies and comes into their care, they will be brought to Compassionate Funerals a few days before the funeral to be washed, dressed and placed in their coffin. They will remain in the on site mortuary until the day of the funeral.
Additional services and staff are hired in as needed, keeping the costs lean and non-exploitative. They prefer to use local businesses where possible to support the local economy. The company has just two vehicles, a people carrier used to collect people who have died and an eco car for work use. Allistair is keen to explore hiring an eco-hearse for families who have strong environmental ethics, and is also interested in the idea of a bicycle hearse or a hand bier to enable families to take their dead to the nearby cemetery in a completely green eco-friendly way.
Each funeral is bespoke and arranged to fit the budget of the individual family involved, with the focus always being on empowering bereaved people to have the perfect send off for their loved one. They have also begun to offer repatriation services, to better serve the diverse communities of London.
Whoever you meet when you first make contact with Compassionate Funerals will be with you from that day onwards, until the funeral and beyond. They offer to visit clients at home the same day a call is received, or arrangements can be made at a time to suit the family, either at home or at Compassionate Funerals HQ (as Aldersbrook Road is called). From that point onward, you have a person who will walk alongside you through the days leading up to the funeral, being with you when the celebrant or faith leader meets the family to ensure seamless continuity. On the day, he or she will co-ordinate the funeral exactly as you have created it, offering as much or as little support as you need.
After the ceremony, they will always accept an invitation to join the reception if it is offered, believing that for many families this is an important thing as they have been so involved with planning the funeral from the onset. “I have never forgotten what happened once when I was driving a limousine for a national company years ago,” said Allistair, “The funeral conductor was invited by a family to come in for a drink after the funeral. He declined, saying he had to get away. Then the gentleman held out his hand to shake hands and passed him a gratuity, which was gratefully accepted. The man was seriously unimpressed. ‘So you’ll take my money but you won’t take the time to have a drink with me’ he said. I have always remembered that. If a family asks us to be there after the ceremony, we are honoured and will always accept.”
After the funeral, each family is offered an After Care Contact, where they can talk about whatever they want – it’s an opportunity for Compassionate Funerals to signpost individuals to bereavement support if they think there might be a need for it.
Hasina is a strong advocate of training in all aspects of the work they do, and training opportunities are taken where and when possible. Hasina has completed the National Association of Funeral Directors’ DipFAA course and DipFD course, whilst also offering training to the community around them; Funeral Awareness Workshops aimed at carers and CQC friendly Level 2 in Death, Dying and Bereavement courses are both provided by Compassionate Funerals.
They also have strong links with many diverse groups in the locality, and have an extensive community engagement programme, running Death Cafes, Advance Planning, Difficult Conversations, Fun Days, Jumble Trail – and they have a mobile ‘Before I Die’ wall that they use as a conversation starter at events locally. They partner with Redbridge Libraries in a funded project called ‘The Final Party’ which aims to remove fears and barriers around the subject of death through various interactive events. They fund raise for both local hospices, and are a Drop Spot for recycled goods for one of them. They are also often asked to speak publicly with various professions: GPs, nurses, hospitals, universities and adult social services, and do radio, TV and print interviews whenever they can.
A holistic, bespoke funeral service that puts the family at the heart of each funeral.
Hasina and Allistair wanted a fresh approach to funerals, and to support each family in leading the funeral, and they have created an undertaking service that does exactly this. Intelligent, sensitive and creative, they listen intently to what is said and, where appropriate, make suggestions based on the inspiration and information each family provides. Compassionate Funerals is a business that is meeting the needs of the community it belongs to, providing gentle, deeply personal support for those who are bereaved no matter what their background or circumstances.
What each family wants. And personal, compassionate care, both for the bereaved and for the person whose body they are caring for – they treat every person with the utmost respect for their dignity and modesty, even though they are no longer alive.
Every funeral. As every family is different, so is every funeral carried out by Compassionate Funerals. Hasina and Allistair are there to guide and support, but the funerals they carry out are created by the families who engage them. Every funeral is tailor made according to the needs of the clients and their faith and culture, and each funeral acknowledges the character and the service and contribution made by the person who has died.
- Prices here. The CMA standardised price list can be found here.
- Your first call will be answered by Allistair or Hasina.
- Home visits – Yes. They will offer to visit the same day.
- Family participation – Absolutely yes – this is positively encouraged. As much participation as you want.
- Same sex person to wash and dress? Yes, no problem, just ask.
- Embalming – Not routinely carried out unless there is a repatriation or the funeral is being held some weeks after death and the family wants an open coffin as part of their spiritual and faith practice.
- Ethnic specialism – Compassionate Funerals have served many diverse communities in the area ; Turkish, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Gambian, English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Polish, Romanian, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, Georgian, Greek, Italian, Congolese, Nigerian, Iranian, Iraqi, Spanish, Hungarian, French, German, American, Canadian, Kenyan and Sierra Leone are some of the ethnic groups they have worked with.
- Home arranged funerals – Yes, they actively promote the choice and support to die at home and are happy to help families doing most of the funeral work themselves.
- Local celebrants – They have a number of great officiants and celebrants that they work with and match them according to the client’s needs and requests. They are in close contact with them throughout the whole process, to ensure everyone is completely up to speed with the arrangements.
- Website – Informative and attractive website. Good on social media and a video series answering questions clients might have. An itemised price list is shown on their website to give an overview of what kinds of costs to expect, although every funeral is costed individually.
- Client support – Complete support throughout the whole funeral journey
- Money matters – Extremely good value for a bespoke service. The aim is to meet clients’ budgets and help create their service within that. They also work closely with the charity Down To Earth to help families with financial difficulties.
- Parking – Available in the residential street adjacent.
We could have stayed for hours talking with Allistair and Hasina. Their dedication and passion is rooted in a clear-eyed understanding of the importance of their work within the wider sense of doing death properly. Here is Hasina’s explanation of what their work is all about – we wholeheartedly agree with her:
‘We are fortunate in that we always put the family and their loved one at the centre of the funeral. This has given us the edge to ride the wave of change that is happening throughout the UK. We feel that great consideration must be given to the state and care of bereavement, otherwise as funeral directors, we are allowing families to live with deep effects of loss, which settles into our cells and then get carried on out into our future. We feel that there is lots of healing work that is required by our profession.
The funeral industry requires upgrading and this is an exciting time that we are in. We feel privileged to be in the position of this transformational conscious change.’
Any decisions you take on engaging the services of a funeral director should be based on your views and research. You should not rely solely upon the views and opinions offered by us.