Funeral Directors Category: North West England
Jez Fixter, who co-owns this business with his wife Sara. The couple opened the doors to their beautiful premises in the market town of Altrincham in January 2022, after a long period of preparing to become the first independent partner of the successful Yorkshire based company Full Circle Funerals.
Neither Jez nor Sara had ever intended to become undertakers, but when we met them, six months into their venture, it was evident that they have both found their perfect role. They both spoke of how immensely privileged they feel to care for people from their community and to help families achieve the funeral that they want, and their commitment and dedication to their work was palpable. Originally, when they decided to open the business, Sara had intended to assist Jez temporarily until they were in a position to employ a member of staff to help him, but she quickly became totally immersed and engaged in her role alongside him.
Sara previously worked as a solicitor before spending some time raising the couple’s young daughters, and when we met, she was part way through her training as a psychotherapist. Former special constable Jez had had a previous career in HR and recruitment, and he had reached a point in his career where he felt he needed to change direction and find employment that was more fulfilling. When he began exploring options, he came across the newly launched Full Circle Funerals Partners opportunity, and the ethos and message of the company that was dedicated to gently changing the funeral industry in a positive way totally resonated with him.
Jez went through the stringent interview process with Full Circle Funerals and spent time in the Guiseley branch familiarizing himself with all aspects of the work before he committed to becoming a Partner. Over a period of a couple of years, he underwent the in-house training provided, gaining experience in arranging and conducting funerals, training in personal care, undertaking collections from hospitals and homes, learning about health and safety and manual handling, vehicle care and maintaining a mortuary, and learning the company processes and procedures. During this time, the couple began looking for suitable premises locally – which proved to be the most challenging part of setting up their business – but eventually, in 2021, they found the perfect place in Ashley Road, and, after securing a lease, they set about a complete refurbishment of the former retail shop.
Jez designed the layout of the interior ensuring that all practical issues like accessibility and mortuary space were accommodated, then, once the walls and doors were in place, the building was decorated following the Full Circle Funerals vision of a light, calm and inviting space with colours predominantly duck egg blue and cream. Lots of plants, flowers and natural materials embody the commitment to authenticity and grace that the company values, and the immediate impression is of a warm, inviting and attractive environment where every detail has been attended to.
From the outside you can see right into the airy reception area through the huge floor-to-ceiling window. A small desk to the left usually has either Sara or Jez sitting working at it, so you aren’t walking into an empty lobby. On the right is a comfortable sofa, and a doorway that leads through to the other public areas. At the end of the corridor on the left is a spacious room where you can discuss arrangements, either seated around a large wooden table (previously from Sara’s kitchen, the table has witnessed family breakfasts and dinner parties, and it now brings a homely, comfortable presence to the arranging room) or on a more comfortable sofa. Daylight spills in from the windows and a door leads out to an attractive outside space with decking and plant pots – on summer days the door is open and visitors can go outside if they want to take a break from the discussions.
On the opposite side of the corridor is the door leading to the visiting room, lit with natural light from the large window, the visiting room is a space that you can make your own by bringing in items personal to you or your relative who has died. An empty coffin on bamboo trestles is placed so that visitors can see how it will look when they come to visit their person and spend time with them, either in an open or closed coffin. If preferred, they can be laid in a bed with pillows and covers – it’s entirely up to you, how you want to see your relative, and this will be gently explored during the funeral arrangement meeting.
Adjacent to the visiting room is the spotless mortuary where Jez and Sara care for the people they are looking after. There is space for families to help to give personal care to their relative, to wash and dress them and prepare them for their funeral – this is an option open to anyone who chooses Full Circle Funerals Partners as their funeral director. Routinely, Sara and Jez carry out minimal intervention, simply carrying out any hygiene washing that may be necessary, raising the person’s head by placing a headblock beneath it, gently closing their eyes using fingertips, and placing a towel under their chin to prevent their jaw from dropping. They apply a protective moisturizing cream to every person’s face and repeat this daily – all of this is discussed with clients so that families are aware of how their loved one is being cared for – wherever possible in advance of Jez and Sara bringing the person into their care.
In between arrival at Ashley Road and the date of the funeral, people are kept in refrigerated conditions in one of the large fridges in the mortuary, where they are checked upon daily by either Jez or Sara. The mortuary can be seen by any visitors who wants to know where their relative will be cared for, just ask either Sara or Jez and they will show you and explain exactly how they care for people.
Returning to the rest of the premises, upstairs is a showroom with a number of different coffins and ashes containers on display where you can see and touch different kinds of coffins before deciding which one to choose. Not every client is interested in this, but it is available for anyone who wants to have a closer look before making their mind up. When we were shown around, the showroom contained a willow coffin, a bamboo one, a LifeArt coffin and a cardboard coffin, plus two of the more traditional wood veneer coffin styles and a number of different ashes caskets and urns.
Two other small rooms provide storage space and potential future office space for when the needs of the business expand. Downstairs, and accessed through the mortuary, a door leads to the garage where the people-carrier Jez and Sara use to bring people into their care is parked. On days when a funeral is leaving, the hearse reverses into the garage enabling a discrete transfer of the coffin out of public view.
Echoing the ethos of Full Circle Funerals, the main company this unique partner company mirrors the flexible, person-centred and personalised approach to funerals. Jez and Sara believe in supporting each client as much or as little as they require, balancing the needs of the person who has died, their family and friends and the wider community, and offering guidance and suggestions to help each client achieve the funeral they want.
Their commitment is to support every bereaved individual and they work to understand each client’s needs so that they can work out how best to help, recognising that every person may want to be supported in different ways. They invite wider conversations about how to involve or include other family members, including children, and are encouraging and reassuring about the prospect of children attending a funeral if clients feel that this is appropriate.
Immensely likeable and thoughtful, both Sara and Jez are very aware of wellbeing, both their own, their colleagues and their clients, and they understand the importance of supervision as they experience the multitude of different scenarios brought to them by clients – the support from the larger funeral network that they are part of provides them with learning and best practice as well as regular confidential discussions to ensure that they stay well balanced and able to give clients their best service.
Encouraging clients to make choices that are right for them by providing as much support as is required. Jez and Sara appreciate that everyone is different and that some people may not want to be overwhelmed with choices, while others may be keen to explore everything that is possible. Their priority is to create a safe space, both physically and emotionally, where people can be involved as much or as little as they feel comfortable with, and to tailor conversations and decision making to each client’s needs.
Their approach is always to put the client first, and to take the lead from them while ensuring that they provide all the essential information that is needed. A funeral arrangement takes the form of a gentle conversation exploring the client’s wishes, and then responding accordingly with advice, guidance and ideas as required, always with warmth and kindness and an awareness that the resulting funeral will be a co-production between everyone involved; the client, their family and friends, the celebrant that they choose and Jez and Sara as the invisible string binding everyone together.
Communication is incredibly important to them, and they see their role as being part of the team who are all working together to make the family’s wishes happen. This subtle skill is something that all the best funeral directors have, an ability to be totally supportive while discretely empowering of each client, and for Sara and Jez they have the advantage of being a couple who work together and whose lives are absolutely dedicated to being the best they can possibly be as they grow their young business.
They have impressive self-awareness, maintaining professional boundaries and being very aware of the risks of allowing the all-consuming nature of their work to affect the balance in their lives – with two young daughters, they consciously make sure that they have family time where work issues are set aside, and they make time to relax. It’s clearly challenging to do this when so much about their work is inspiring and exciting them; not just the new skills of funeral directing, but the engagement and involvement in the thriving community of Altrincham where new businesses are being established and the energy of the market town is buzzing – the new funeral company fits perfectly into a landscape where other young businesses are appearing.
Opening their doors to the community and going out to let people know about how it is possible to have a different approach to funeral directing is a big part of the work in the early stages of a new funeral company, and both Sara and Jez are enjoying the opportunity to be more immersed in their community. In the short time since opening, as well as hosting a Pop Up event with two other local businesses in their premises, the couple have taken part in local carnivals and events, offered support with careers advice for a day at The Dean Trust Broadoak School in Partington, fostered a corgi in the Trooping the Corgis event to raise money for community arts projects, raised funds for the bereavement charity Once Upon a Smile by Jez abseiling down the Trafford Palazzo, joined in community litter picks and generally got completely involved with the community around them.
This is, as far as we know, the first franchise of a progressive, modern funeral business. Sarah Jones, the inspirational founder of Full Circle Funerals, first conceived of the idea of spreading the ethos further by offering partnerships several years ago, and at the time we were unsure how the calibre and quality of the Full Circle ethos could be maintained with a partnership model.
It’s clear that Sarah had way more vision than we did, as this is the perfect example of how, with the right people involved, a new business can have an extraordinary jump start by sharing and adopting tried and tested values that have been established in a parent company. The constant support and encouragement that Jez and Sara receive from the main company is evident, and they have developed a collaborative approach where they share ideas and suggestions back and forth. There is always someone at the end of the phone to advise if necessary, and the training offered is ongoing and comprehensive. They are able to share resources and innovations that are developed in Yorkshire, and have access to all of the excellent offerings such as the Full Circle Funeral podcasts and bereavement support groups.
It was a pleasure to see how seamlessly the values and essence of Full Circle Funerals has been absorbed into the new Partner, and how they imbue and inform the work that Jez and Sara are doing.
- Your first call will be answered by Sara or Jez
- Home visits – absolutely, or they will meet you wherever you would like them to.
- Family participation – as much as you want, you are positively encouraged to participate if you feel able in every aspect of personal care for your person, and you will be supported to do whatever feels right for you.
- Same sex person to wash and dress? Yes, both Sara and Jez carry out the personal care for the people they look after so if you would prefer one or the other just say so.
- Embalming – if decided that it is appropriate by the family, perhaps if there is to be an extended period between the death and the funeral with multiple visits planned, then embalming can be arranged. The process is always explained using gentle and sensitive language, and the client will sign an embalming consent form before embalming is carried out.
- Ethnic specialism – Sara and Jez serve all ethnic and cultural groups
- Home arranged funerals – happy to assist families who wish to organise a funeral by themselves by offering advice and minimal practical support. They are also happy to support people who want the full funeral director service but prefer to keep their person at home.
- Local celebrants – over the time since they opened in January 2022, Jez and Sara have taken time to get to know and observe local celebrants. They have details for a large number of celebrants locally but will generally suggest two or three who they feel will be most appropriate for a particular family, they feel that this is the right balance for clients between choice and control. They will always discuss between them who to suggest to a client, to make sure they pick the right shortlist.
- Website Part of the excellent main Full Circle Funeral website, endorsing the values that they share.
- Client support – superb. Throughout your involvement with them you will feel fully supported, and that can continue after the funeral if you want. They can signpost you and your family to appropriate bereavement support and clients have access to the online bereavement support group run by Full Circle Funerals.
- Money matters -excellent value for money for the person centred service you and your family will receive.
- Parking – available outside.
Jez and Sara are exactly the kind of people who we would want to find if we needed to arrange a funeral. Thoughtful, gentle and dedicated, they have the emotional intelligence and skills that we look for in all of our Recommended funeral directors, and with the considerable support behind them from the experienced team at Full Circle Funerals in Yorkshire, they already have settled into their roles as though they have been doing this work for ever.
It is clear from the testimonials and references that we have read that the support offered by this funeral service is unparalleled in the area, and we have no doubt that as this young company becomes established, it will go from strength to strength. This is due in part to Sarah’s foresight in creating this kind of offering, but in the main to the qualities and skills that Jez and Sara have brought to their work. It is clearly, for them, a vocation that will enrich their lives and serve their community for many years to come – we are delighted to include them in our list of funeral directors we would trust with someone we loved.