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Funeral Directors Category: South West England
For a good, well run business there can be real advantages in being around for a long time. Talking to Mark Hillier and his staff, we were conscious of the comfort and confidence that grows out of long experience and of the long established high standards that run through all they do.
Hillier’s has been serving families in Swindon and the surrounding areas since the 1920s. They are the oldest family owned and run funeral director in the town and you are immediately aware of their strong commitment to the community they serve that extends well beyond the funerals they arrange.
Of course there is always a risk that an old business might be tempted to rest on its laurels, but that’s absolutely not the case here. Their guiding principle is to do whatever it takes to make sure that the families they serve are happy with the funerals they arrange, and that keeps them on their toes and responsive in a changing world.
Mark is the third generation of Hillier’s’ to lead the business – but joining it was by no means automatic. His father was concerned that he should only join the company if he was prepared to commit himself to it. Mark wasn’t sure at first and, after completing a degree in bio-chemistry, started work at Glaxo – but quickly found the corporate world of memos and hierarchy irksome. When an opening arose in 1980,he joined the family business, and when his father Michael retired in 1992 Mark stepped into his shoes. He has now been joined in the business by one of his daughters, Becky, who shares the same quiet manner and dedication to her work as her father.
Both Becky and Mark are closely involved in all aspects of the day to day operations as well as both arranging and conducting funerals. Mark’s father, Michael, still takes a close interest in the company, and occasionally conducts funerals when requested, despite being well past retirement age.
Mark comes across as extremely kind, sincere and even self- effacing – a very nice, thoughtful man. His staff clearly respect him immensely. Mark’s values and high standards set the tone for Hillier’s’ and they take great care to make sure that every member of staff shares them – when recruiting, they look for just the right combination of compassion and efficiency. The training is very thorough too and it means you can be sure that, whoever you speak to, you will receive the same high quality of care and service.
It’s an approach that inspires great loyalty, a real pride in what Hillier’s stands for and a deep commitment to the families they serve.
Hillier’s have three premises. The administration offices and arranging rooms are in the heart of the old town in Swindon, in Victoria Road in a converted and extended town house. They are known, Mark says, ‘for being there’. The entrance is actually on the side of the building in Cross Street: ring the bell or open the door and you find yourself in a pleasant lobby where a member of staff will greet you.*
Arranging rooms are set out in a comfortable but formal style with desks and chairs. This is a conscious choice. Hillier’s believe that as well as feeling cared for, people want the confidence that comes from knowing that they are in the hands of people who know their business. Where families are deeply distressed or less ready to proceed, a home arrangement is offered. Around half of arrangements are conducted at home.
The Chapels of Rest are in Whitworth Road, at The Broadway in Roebourne Cheney. This was the original building where Harold Hillier established the undertaking business alongside his building company. Over the years the premises have been developed and expanded and they now offer a spacious centre for the practical side of the business.
There are five lovely chapels in different sizes and styles, each one with fresh flowers delivered weekly by Hillier’s florist. The chapels are all open every day of the year, between 8.30 in the morning and 9.00 in the evening. Arrangements can be made outside of these hours when there is need, as there are two caretakers who live on site. The concept of caretakers is really important to Mark, he thinks it is essential to be able to respond to families rather than requiring them to fit into an appointment system, and by having trusted people on site this is easy to do = there are also caretakers at the Highworth branch where there are two chapels of rest.
Talking to Bev, who manages the Chapel it was clear that everything possible is done to support a family visiting and looking after their loved one before the funeral. Chapels can simply be made over to you and your family. You’ll be able to visit, personalise the room and spend as much time there as you want. If you want you will be able to dress and care for your loved one and bring in personal belongings and leave them there.
The mortuary is next door and you are welcome to visit it. Spacious, and spick and span, the behind the scenes area is a model of care and good practice, and has been expanded to offer sufficient room for over thirty people to be care for. You are welcome to come and help care for the person who has died if you wish to, or simply observe Hillier’s staff looking after them. There have even been times when a family have been supported in their wish to watch as their loved one was embalmed.
*Under the restrictions imposed by the government during the coronavirus pandemic, visits are only by appointment.
Hillier Funeral Service has a great tradition of providing high quality funeral services.
They pride themselves on their flexibility and willingness to respond to your wishes. If you would like a traditional funeral, Hillier’s can arrange it – with all their years of experience none will do this better – but if you want something different or special, if you would like them to use a coffin bought over the internet, if you want them to support you in looking after a loved one at home, they will be happy to work with you to make sure that the funeral is what you wanted.
Above all they want you feel that they have fully supported and helped you arrange the funeral you hoped for.
Mark sees Hillier Funeral Service as a firm with a conscience. This is not just about their own professional standards – although these are the highest – or the compassion that drives their determination to respond to a customer’s needs. Hillier’s believe that both fairness and care are part of their responsibility too. They want to offer value as well as quality and make sure their customers only spend what they need. The idea of upselling shocks them.
Respect for the person who has died is paramount too. They always use a hearse and four bearers for direct cremations because they believe that every person should receive the same dignity, no matter what type of funeral they have chosen.
Many funeral directors support the families they serve through their grief – but it is hard to think of many who have made the sort of commitment that has shaped Hillier Bereavement Care.
Bereavement care has been Mark’s passion for the past 20 years, believing that a funeral director’s job doesn’t end on the day of the funeral. Hillier’s are rightfully very proud of the free service that they offer to all of their families.
It began with a survey of local provision, and was launched with the appointment of two counsellors to support the newly bereaved. Over 20 years later, everyone who arranges a funeral through Hillier’s is contacted after 3 months and asked if they would like to be involved. Where staff feel that support is more urgently needed, a phone call will be made immediately, even before the funeral has taken place.
All sorts of support is offered. One to one counselling sessions are available from a trained counsellor. Trained volunteers will meet with people in their homes, and the Chat and Lunch group is available for everyone. This is a group that meets fortnightly with a programme of events scheduled through the year ranging from lunches, day trips to holidays. Membership in this group lasts for 3 years, after which members can progress to the MOT (Moving on Together) group which also meets fortnightly.
Independent and voluntary, Hillier Bereavement Care now supports a whole range of social activities that have evolved around the core support. There are reading groups and walking groups and coach trips every bank holiday. The October Remembrance Service is attended by 400 to 500 people each year, with those who have been bereaved in the preceding twelve months receiving personal invitations. Some people have stayed in touch and involved for 20 years.
The whole represents a remarkable long term commitment on behalf of Hillier’s, and a testimony to the dedication of the Hillier family to the community in which they live and work.
- Your call will be answered by a member of the team – see here for photos of the Hillier’s staff.
- Home visits – Under usual circumstances, Hillier’s are very happy to visit you at home to make arrangements there. Up to 50% of their funerals are arranged at home. While restrictions remain in place, arrangements are being made over the phone or by video call.
- Continuity of care – Hillier’s can’t guarantee that the person you first speak to will be always be available but with their small team they do make sure that whoever you talk to will be well informed about you and able to help.
- Family participation – Family participation is welcomed at every stage.
- Embalming – Mark is not a great fan, but has facilities for embalming if it is required.
- Same sex person to wash and dress – Same sex washing and dressing can be offered if needed.
- Ethnic specialism – Hillier’s has experience of working with a number of different faiths and distinct ethnic and cultural needs and will adapt to particular needs and requirements as necessary.
- Local celebrants – Swindon has a large number of celebrants and Hillier’s seek to find the best match possible for a family.
- Home arranged funerals – Home arranged funerals are readily supported.
- Website – clear and informative. There is pricing information on the site – and all requests for quotations are of course responded to.
- Client support – Hillier’s Bereavement Care service is an exceptional commitment to the continuing care of the families and individuals they come into contact with. The support offered is comprehensive, skilled and completely free. If you take part in it – and everyone is invited to participate – you are joining a community where there are opportunities for one to one support, for social activities with people in similar circumstances and where long term friendships have been formed.
- Prices – Hillier Funeral Service’s publish a full price list on their website. A simple funeral package is £3,167 (2021 costs) which includes professional fees, coffin, crematorium, minister and doctors’ fees. Bespoke funeral packages are from £3,562 upwards, depending on choice of cars, coffin, flowers, etc. For more information call them on 01793 522 797. There is a strong commitment to making sure that people organise the funeral they want without spending any more than they need. If your budget is restricted don’t worry, the people at Hillier’s will work with you to create a fitting funeral which does not break the bank. Be upfront with them – they’ll give you the same care and service they give everyone. If you qualify for a payment from the Social Fund they’ll help with the application. Remember Hillier’s are a firm with a strong social conscience.
- An unattended funeral currently costs £1,910.
- Parking – There is off road parking available at both the Victoria Road Offices (at the rear of the building in Cross Road) and at the Chapel of Rest in Whitworth Road.
If you choose Hillier Funeral Services you can be confident that you will be building a relationship with people who want above all to help you arrange the funeral you hope for. They are genuinely open to new ideas and are willing to be flexible to meet your needs and requirements while always offering the highest standards of care.
After the funeral you will also be offered the support of their Hillier Bereavement Care – a truly outstanding commitment to the well-being of their customers.
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.