Funeral Director/s: N Read more [...]
Funeral Directors Category: South East England
Nicholas Tonks. Managing director, owner and lead funeral director, Nicholas took over the business when the previous owner decided to retire and sell in 1999 (Nicholas was managing the company at that time) and he takes the responsibility for protecting the principles and values of this long-established funeral company very seriously. He directs nearly of all of the funerals carried out, although he is supported by colleagues James Drury and David Bunting, who also conduct funerals.
Nicholas grew up in a family where both his father and grandfather had spent their lives in the family funeral business, but he didn’t feel inclined to follow them – he chose instead a future in medicine, recognising that he was a people-person, and wanting to help others. It was a chance encounter at a funeral home that made him realise that the funeral sector is as much about caring for those who are alive as it is for those whose life has ended, and he changed direction to immerse himself in learning all about the funeral sector, gaining qualifications with both the British Diploma in Funeral Directing and a degree in Funeral Service Education which entailed two years of full time study in the USA.
Nicholas is exactly the kind of person you would want to meet if you needed to arrange a funeral. He has a calmness about him and he’s a really good listener, he’s enormously knowledgeable about everything to do with funerals, and he gets on well with everyone. There’s a knack to being able to make people feel at their ease, and Nicholas has it, and he has managed to acquire a team of colleagues who work with him who share this precious ability. And he really values his staff, he considers that it’s the people who work within Jerrams Brothers that make it special.
Everyone here is empowered, they have total freedom to act as they wish when arranging or attending a funeral. They are trusted to know how best to be, and this has the result of making them very, very good indeed. Building close relationships with clients is something that is encouraged, Nicholas recognises how important trust and commitment is on both sides, and he knows his colleagues well enough to know that close, honest and real relationships between staff and the families they serve is the key to the success of the company.
This makes Jerrams Brothers quite unique – it is part of the communities it serves because the people who work within it want to be part of these communities, to be connected to the people who have been bereaved, some of whom become long term friends. Woodstock in particular is a small, tight knit community, and the little branch office tucked away behind The Crown pub in the heart of the town is very much part of the fabric of the neighborhood. It’s a converted Cotswold stone cottage, complete with original beams, and although small, it’s a peaceful and tranquil place away from the hustle and bustle of the market town outside. When you step in from the street, you’ll find yourself in a small reception area, and there is a family room to one side where you can discuss funeral arrangements in private. A spiral staircase leads up to the little kitchen and bathroom, and a lovely office which is where bereavement counselling takes place for those who choose to take it up.
The Kidlington office is larger and located in a more modern building in the Kidlington Centre. Similar in it’s unostentatious feel, the Kidlington branch is decorated in lilacs and pinks, and it is here that people are brought to be cared for in the mortuary at the back of the premises. This is where the chapel of rest is, a quiet, tastefully decorated space which clients can spend as much time in as they want, and it’s where you’ll find Diane Drury, the company’s Funeral Coordinator, and Paula Burman or Lauren Tomkins.
Diane joined Nicholas having had a previous career in banking; she is very like Nicholas in being a people-person, and her background has always been customer focused. Diane is quite lovely, capable, friendly and incredibly nice, and committed to doing the absolute best she can for every client she works with or family that she supports. While usually office based, if a family wants Diane to be present at the funeral ceremony then she’ll be there – as would any of the other staff members if they were asked for, or if they feel they need to be there for any reason.
Nicholas hires in vehicles from a carriage master so there’s no garaging required, and therefore the focus in this company is entirely on the people, both living and dead, who they are involved with looking after. It’s the company policy that each family has the opportunity to build a relationship with one member of staff, so there is ongoing support and continuity of care. Nicholas personally contacts every family once the funeral ceremony has taken place, and Lauren or Paula will also be in touch with various letters and leaflets to support each family as they move on to adjust to life without a beloved relative.
This ongoing care is something that Nicholas is very passionately committed to – it’s his fundamental motivation to do this work, supporting people through the darkest days, weeks and months following a death, and he sees it as his vocation to be a bereavement carer. He is the Bereavement Link for Radio Oxford and has been a frequent speaker on issues surrounding bereavement, and he founded the Oxford Bereavement Blog, an online hub of information for people who have been bereaved. He is also very proud of Jerrams Brothers’ recent introduction of bereavement counselling, which is available to any member of the community regardless of which funeral director they used.
Out of work, Nicholas has a young family, who keep him busy and take up much of his free time, but he somehow manages to be very involved with local community activities (he lives just outside Woodstock, between the two branches of his company). He’s vice chair of the local Chamber of Commerce and a trustee of a local charitable trust, he attends local Death Cafes and supports the Woodstock Open Gardens initiative, competing in the local Blenheim Palace Triathlon to raise money for charity. He’s just basically a really, really nice man.
The Jerrams Brothers company motto is “safe in our hands”, and this ethos runs deeply throughout everything that anyone in the company does. It refers to both those whose lives have ended, who are safe in the care of the people in this small, family run business, and also to their relatives, who will be safely guided through the labyrinth of decisions required when a funeral is being arranged to arrive at a feeling of having achieved exactly what they needed.
Putting each client at the heart of the funeral arrangements. This means first and foremost, listening. Only after listening to the needs or wishes of each client can a meaningful discussion begin on how to achieve their hopes. Nicholas expects that he or Diane will meet each client at least twice on the journey towards the funeral ceremony, so there is plenty of opportunity for exploring exactly what each family needs and finding ways of achieving this – there will be at least three hours of time when you have their exclusive attention to talk through what you want. And it’s pretty much a certainty that you will be able to attain this – as Nicholas says, “I have been managing director of our business for 20 years, and I cannot think of a single time that we have not been able to accommodate a client’s wishes.”
Solid principles of superior client care and meeting the individual and unique needs of each family in a completely personal way. It is fundamentally important to Nicholas that clients can know, like and trust those they are engaging to help them with funeral arrangements, and he is committed to achieving this through being transparent and honest, and through allowing his staff to have autonomy in their work. A commitment to ongoing support and to finding ways of addressing the wider question of the impact of being bereaved on people in the community. And upholding the family values of honesty, respect and consideration.
- Your first callwill be answered by Nicholas or Diane, or possibly Paula or Lauren, the administrators, or maybe by James Drury (general manager) or David Bunting (assistant funeral director). James and David are the out of hours staff.
- Home visits? Absolutely – free, no obligation home visits are available if you would like Nicholas or one of his team to come and meet you at home. For clients who want to care for someone at home, Jerrams Brothers are happy and willing to help, and they have in addition formed a link with a local home funeral provider who only offers this service, and will seek their support if needed.
- Same sex person to wash and dress?Yes, if it’s important to you that your relative is only cared for by people of the same sex then just make sure that you tell them. People in Jerrams Brothers’ care are routinely bathed and have hair washed and blow-dried when required, and there is a trained cosmetologist within the team who can apply make-up if this is asked for.
- Embalming?Only when necessary, and not as a matter of course. It is not normally required.
- Ethnic / cultural specialism? Happy to serve clients from all ethnic, cultural or religious groups. If they feel that another funeral director might be better able to serve families with specific needs they will always suggest and support this.
- Local celebrants Nicholas and his team have a small number of celebrants who they know well and can recommend to clients. They will only work with celebrants who they believe will meet the emotional and practical needs of clients and who will deliver outstanding funeral ceremonies. Nicholas will always sit in on ceremonies to ensure the smooth running and support clients, so he and his colleagues are well placed to be able to suggest celebrants who might be a good fit with each family.
- Vehicles– hired in from a local carriage master, top quality Jaguar hearses and limousines which are less than three years old and perfectly turned out. Alternative vehicles can be chosen depending on what each family decides.
- Website– informative, nice background details on Nicholas, costs outlined although not detailed.
- Client support – exceptional. One to one support throughout the period leading up to the day of the funeral ceremony and beyond, with ongoing support after the funeral has taken place.
- Money matters – very good value for the personal service that you will receive from this lovely little firm.
- Parking– at Woodstock there is a car park just past The Crown pub on the right where you can have free parking for up to three hours, on street parking available around the town. At Kidlington there is free parking in the large car park right outside the office.
This is an example of the very best kind of funeral directors – traditional but with a modern approach, totally dedicated to providing every client with the personal support and guidance that they need, no matter how complicated or how limited this might be. They see their work as a partnership with each family that employs them, one in which their role is to be part of the team of people involved with creating a funeral ceremony that is really meaningful and appropriate
This has to be completely down to Nicholas’s determination to retain real family values in his work, the same values that would apply at home. It’s a perfect example of a family owned, family run funeral company – absolutely one that we would trust to look after someone we loved.