Funeral Directors Category: East Midlands
Just to the south of Leicester, there are three, well known funeral homes that have served their communities for decades. E. C. Gilbert Ltd. A. J. Adkinson & Son, and R.C. Weston & Son are all familiar local names, the names of practical, hard-working and compassionate men of the early 20th century, men who set up and ran local undertaking businesses alongside their building or carpentry work. For decades, local families have trusted these companies to carry out the funerals of their dead, the reputations of three safe, reliable undertakers building over the generations.
Fast forward to 2022, and almost a century after the first funerals were carried out by those dedicated Leicestershire men, the fourth generation of one of the founding families continue their work. Jenny Gilbert-Trigg, great-granddaughter of E. C. Gilbert, is at the helm of the three, now amalgamated, undertaking businesses, alongside her cousin Jamie Gilbert, Funeral Director.
As many small family firms find when owners age, without a successor willing to continue the business, the choice is to close or to find a sympathetic buyer to continue the work you have established. This is exactly what Fred Adkinson and Ken Weston found in Fraser Gilbert, the well-known third generation funeral director who ran E. C. Gilbert following the early death of his father, the son of the founder. In honour of their original founders, the different company names remain, but the three funeral homes are now seamlessly connected and united, with common values and ethos, and shared resources.
With the assistance of Helen Bozon, the company’s highly experienced General Manager, Jenny and Jamie lead and support a small, close-knit team of staff who work together across the three funeral homes, continuing the personal service of the past, and blending it with forward looking values, ideas and thinking to provide families across Leicestershire with impeccable, thoughtful and creative funerals.
This fusion of historic, traditional values with progressive, client led support is something that can only be achieved by very skilled hands, and Fraser Gilbert, Jenny’s father (and Jamie’s uncle) was instrumental in bringing the three businesses together and taking them forward as one.
It was under Fraser’s guiding hand that the largest of the three, A. J. Adkinson & Son, moved from its original premises in London Road into the adjacent, abandoned Oadby Cinema, which had closed in 1981. With the support of his family, Fraser purchased the iconic building and converted it into the spacious funeral home that is now the operational heart of the whole company.
Fraser is still very much connected to the day-to-day workings of the collective company, and he frequently is asked for by families who have had funerals conducted by him in the past, but with the arrival of the pandemic in 2020, he was reluctantly persuaded to step back a little from his lifelong 24/7 commitment to his work, leaving his daughter and nephew to pick up the baton. He still delights in knowing what’s going on at all times though, and is honoured to conduct funerals for families who ask for him, frequently amazing them by remembering details from previous family funerals decades earlier. Renowned for his vocal contribution to ceremonies, Fraser might just be asked for as ‘The man who does the singing’.
When we met Jenny and Helen and their colleagues, Fraser wasn’t in the office, and Jamie was out conducting funerals, so we didn’t get a chance to chat to either of them, but it was clear that this small team works hand in hand with each other and are all dedicated to building on the strong foundations laid by their forbears.
Under the current leadership, a tightly knit connection between the funeral arrangers and the operational team has been developed, and staff are supported and monitored (in the best kind of way) to ensure they are not overwhelmed by workload or stress as they work with clients. The mental and emotional wellbeing of staff is seen as paramount, and the leadership team have established a culture of ensuring that all staff feel valued.
When we talked about this aspect of her work, Jenny said “Growing up in the family business, my parents always made it clear that it’s not possible to pour from an empty pot, and they placed great emphasis on developing a good team who were skilled and trustworthy. Having a strong leadership team with a wide skill set is a huge support, both emotionally and practically. We’re able to discuss all issues affecting the business and this means that the burden of responsibility is never mine to carry alone.”
Having spent her childhood with both her parents working in the funeral business, Jenny is steeped in funerals,“I’ve always been around funerals, and very much immersed in it”, she says, “I tried to get away, and went to university and trained as an architect, but ended up being pulled back and started working with my dad about 15 years ago.”
The skillset of the team is underpinned by Jenny’s role as a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors’ Examining Board. Jenny provides in-house training for staff, who are encouraged and funded to go on to complete formal qualifications in their roles. Training is valued by the company as being the key to providing the best possible service, ensuring a benchmark of competency, understanding and proficiency, as well as instilling confidence in the person who has achieved a qualification in their role.
Turning to the different premises, the obvious place to start is with the largest of the three funeral homes, A. J. Adkinson & Son in Oadby. This is where people are brought to to be cared for after they have died, from all three areas that the company serves. Everyone is carefully wrapped before being brought here, gentle first offices are carried out including ensuring each person is clean, suitably covered and dignified before they are placed in refrigerated storage. Any – and all – further care will be carried out with the family’s informed consent, and will take place in a closed room, not a communal area. The company has a stock of purchased underwear and nightwear that they have available, if need be, to ensure that everyone in their care is appropriately covered. Everyone in their care is checked daily, enabling staff to keep abreast of any changes in condition.
If family members want to carry out personal care themselves, there is a purpose-built suite here with a mortuary area and an adjacent space where the coffin can be moved to once care is complete, enabling large family groups to spend time together. This space has been designed to be multi-purpose, with a reception area where different gendered family members can wait, allowing for cultural requirements, and it can also be used in other ways, for ceremonies, for large groups attending meetings to make funeral arrangements or to facilitate particular requirements of clients.
The size of the former cinema means that there is plenty of space, and it has been put to great use. When you approach from outside, you’ll notice a beautiful, well-tended raised bed of flowers, and a flagpole that is put to good use, helping the local community commemorate important events, recognising national saint’ days, and more recently, flying the Union Flag at half-mast after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Entering through a narrow foyer, which is frequently dressed to mark local and national events, you’ll find yourself in a light, airy and spotlessly clean reception area, with lots of attractive seating, both modern and traditional, and Mary, the receptionist, tucked behind her desk. Doors open from the reception area into cosy arranging rooms that are like sitting rooms, with comfy sofas and chairs, and oil paintings of old Oadby on the walls. Moving further into the building, there is another, separate seating area beyond which are the chapels of rest, a space that provides families somewhere to sit before or after visiting their person in the chapel. A fully accessible bathroom is also available on the ground floor.
There are three chapels of rest, or rather, visiting rooms, as they are referred to, designed with bifold doors so that all can be opened to make one huge space that can be used for ceremonies if families want, and upstairs there is a large catering room with a purpose-built kitchen, so the entire funeral ceremony and social reception can take place under one roof. A stair lift ensures that people with mobility issues can reach the catering suite, where there is also a cloakroom and further bathrooms.
At the rear of the building there is ample garage space, upstairs and downstairs, for the company’s two hearses and two limousines plus their Mercedes Vito that is used to collect people, while outside there is, as you would expect from the building’s former use – loads and loads of parking space.
Jenny and Helen share office space with Jamie upstairs, while downstairs, funeral arrangers Helen, Aylee and Karen are also based here, along with Wayne, the fleet manager, and his fellow funeral operatives.
In Great Glen and South Wigston, the premises of E. C. Gilbert Ltd and R. C. Weston & Son are much smaller. You’ll meet Lorraine at E. C. Gilbert, she’s the funeral arranger who is based here. The reception area has a lovely sofa to the right and on the far wall, two doors lead to the two chapels, one slightly larger than the other. On the left of the reception area is the arranging room where Lorraine has her desk, and behind this a door leads to a small kitchen and the loo.
At South Wigston, you’ll meet Caeri, the funeral arranger based here. She lives locally and has been with the company for about five years. The reception area is immediately inviting, with lamps and a reception desk. On the left, the arrangement room is like a comfortable sitting room, with lots of natural light and attractive décor. A small office is beyond the reception desk, and there are a couple of loos, a gents’ and a ladies.
There are two chapels of rest here, and R. C. Weston also has a catering room upstairs, with a small kitchen. The attractive wrought iron staircase doesn’t have a stairlift though, so it’s only suitable where no guests have mobility issues – other families are able to use the catering room in Oadby with the stairlift access.
Very much ensuring that every client achieves exactly the right funeral that they need, no matter what is involved.
Jenny again – “As a company, we’ve always been very much – we will do whatever you want us to do, and we will bend over backwards to make it happen, but I’m not sure we’ve been very good at letting people know about this. On the outside, a lot of people might see us as very formal and very traditional, but we also do an awful lot of funerals – more and more – where people come through the door who probably come in thinking they would have this traditional, fairly set, formal funeral, but when they’ve got talking to us, they’ve become aware of the possibilities and realised that they can do something completely different.”
If a client hasn’t decided what kind of funeral they’d like, the approach is to start with letting people know that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, and there is no ‘normal’ when it comes to funerals and managing the conversation so that the choices don’t become overwhelming. The company offer a document ‘a guide to arranging a funeral’ that they often send to clients in advance of meeting them, so that an outline of major decisions that will need to be made and suggestions of various options can be thought about beforehand.
“Our arrangers need a large knowledge base, and also need to be very perceptive, to understand people in a fairly short window so that they can make suggestions that are appropriate for that family. In a similar way, they need to be creative in their approach,” says Helen. She notes the seismic changes in funerals that have happened over recent years as many families choose more personal, often secular funerals, and realise that the opportunities for commemoration are, quite literally unlimited. The company has risen to the challenge of responding to these changes – when faced with unusual or requests from clients, the company approach is to say yes and then work out how to make it happen – there is always someone who will have an idea about what to do or know who to ask to facilitate specific wishes.
Constantly evolving in response to clients, listening, responding and increasing the flexibility on offer. Driving standards ever higher, and learning from every opportunity, where things go well or where things could be improved. Breaking down the barriers of old stereotypes and outdated traditions so that the company and its staff can be seen as approachable people, there to support others in their grief rather than a stuffy and unnecessary expense. Discretion and dignity – and an aversion to ostentatious ‘bowing and scraping’.
The commitment to the communities around each funeral home is evident, with staff awareness and knowledge about the cultural requirements for funerals of members of Leicester’s growing South Asian community enhanced by the specialist facilities provided in Oadby, although Jenny describes the real specialism of the company as being in providing unusual services. “I can’t remember a time when we’ve not been able to meet a family’s request – however difficult it might initially seem,” she says.
“We do a lot of tractor funerals for our rural communities, particularly through E. C. Gilbert,” she continued. “Helping families with unusual funerals adds such variety to our life as well. I can’t imagine just spending every day carrying out standard ‘package’ funerals, although there’s a place for those too. It’s just important that people have choice and understand what they are buying.”
One of perhaps the most unusual funerals that the company has been involved with was that of King Richard III of England, who died at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 – the last English king to have been killed in battle. After an extensive campaign and search, human remains were discovered in August 2012, beneath a car park in Leicester. Following detailed testing, in 2013 the University of Leicester confirmed that the skeleton found beneath the car park tarmac was that of the long-lost king.
The reburial of Richard III in 2015 was an event that was almost a year in the planning, and a huge honour to be part of. It moved Fraser to tears when interviewed about it by one of the many TV crews – Jenny recounted that he said “Never, ever in my entire life would I have imagined looking after somebody like this; I’m just an average man doing my job, and here I am.”
Reflecting back on such a momentous event when we spoke about it prompted Jenny to remember just how stressful it was, with all the preparation and secrecy involved planning the royal re-burial, while also managing the usual flow of funerals and bereaved clients. At the time, she was just relieved when it was over and everything had gone impeccably to plan, but seven years on the magnitude of the event became more real. And interestingly, despite the international importance of this one funeral, it wasn’t mentioned in the self-assessment part of our accreditation process that Jenny had completed for us. We feel this tells a great deal about this company, that they see their role not as front and centre, but supportive, unobtrusive and facilitative. We like this a lot.
- Your callwill be answered by any of the arranging team during work hours (Helen Buzzard, Lorraine Chard, Caeri Mollart, Aylee Penn or Karen Lockton). Out of hours it will be either Helen Bozon or Fraser Gilbert.
- Premises– beautifully appointed and designed to make clients feel comfortable immediately – see descriptions above.
- Home Visits– Absolutely. It’s always offered. The company feel it’s important that clients are encouraged to meet in an environment where they feel most comfortable.
- Embalming– The company encourage embalming, considering that embalming, when done well, is beneficial. It is openly and honestly discussed with clients, with a policy that nobody should ever feel pressurised into having their loved one embalmed. Written consent is always required.
- Continuity of Care– Total continuity of care. From first contact, a family will be assigned to one of the funeral arranging team who will be the single point of contact. If this person is unable to conduct the funeral, the family will meet or speak to the funeral director before the funeral date, discussing the arrangements and ensuring a personal connection throughout.
- Family Participation– Positively encouraged and always facilitated.
- Home arranged funerals– Happy to help and advise families who want to care for their relative themselves. Can offer as much assistance as required, both with care and with the funeral itself.
- Same sex person to wash and dress the person who has died? Yes absolutely. Cultural requirements of some communities require this, so it is always offered and available.
- Ethnic Specialism– All cultures and communities are equally well served. Thought has gone in to ensuring that the facilities required by the customs of various religions can be accommodated. The company cares for a wide demographic and the clientele reflects a vast range of cultural backgrounds.
- Local Celebrants– Celebrants are assessed using the Funeral Celebrant Accord, and celebrants are encouraged to adopt this. Currently there are around nine celebrants and additional ministers that the company are happy to recommend or to suggest to clients. All are DBS checked.
- Vehicles – Jaguar XJ hearses and matching limousines. Jenny is keeping a watching brief on hybrid or electric alternatives; she wants to be certain that there is no possibility of letting a family down. The hearses can accommodate two standard coffins, enabling the rare occasions of double funerals to have a couple alongside each other on their final journey. Any alternative vehicle can be sourced or accommodated.
- Parking– Plenty of parking at Oadby, at Great Glen and South Wigston there are parking spaces outside or on neighbouring roads.
- Website– Three websites, one for each company. Good, comprehensive information, easy to navigate.
- After the funeral– in January 2023 the company is setting up a bereavement group – they are very conscious of the ongoing need for people to reconnect after a death has impacted them and want to provide some wrap around care to help deal with the loneliness of grief. Clients always are contacted a few days after the funeral date to see how they are.
- Environmental responsibility – As you would expect from a company that is run with such attention to detail, environmental responsibility is an important aspect of their work. Everything is recycled, they have solar panels to generate electricity and client choice of sustainably sourced coffins is encouraged.
- Prices– Clear, reasonable prices. Extremely good value for the calibre of service you will receive from this company.
One of the best examples of a long-established funeral business that is moving beautifully forward, under thoughtful, experienced leadership. The values and ethos that shape their way of working weave the best traditional aspects of care into a genuine determination to empower clients and to enable each family to make informed choices. They avoid making any assumptions, and all the people we met exuded warmth and kindness.
Undoubtedly, this is to the credit of Fraser Gilbert, a man who has spent his life living and working within his community, dedicating himself to serving others and, in Jenny’s words, ‘loving every minute of it’. When we asked Jenny who she admired or aspired to be like in her work, it was, of course, her father.
Fraser should be very proud indeed to see the company he has given his life to going forward so very well, and the people of South Leicestershire are undoubtedly lucky to have such a wonderful funeral company to help them when they are in need.
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.