Funeral Directors Category: London
Poppy Mardall is the founder of this modern funeral company which has grown from humble beginnings to become a smart, contemporary business with a team of dedicated and passionate staff. We first met Poppy when she was researching the funeral world back in 2011 and it has been fascinating to watch her journey to where the company is today.
Poppy, a fine-arts graduate, started the company after leaving her previous role as deputy director at Sotheby’s to work out how to do something with her life that was ‘meaningful and frontline’. Personal experience had led her to do some research into the funeral industry, and although never planning to be an undertaker, she was shocked to find how rigid and stereotypical the business was. She had been drawn to the subject of death and dying because it seemed to be an unfashionable subject, and this made her feel it truly needed work. Given some wise advice from the Natural Death Centre that ‘families don’t need lots of ‘middle-men’, they just need someone who can help them with practical things’, Poppy set about becoming just that.
She had never seen a dead body before deciding to enter the funeral world, but after researching the training options available and being disappointed by what she found, Poppy decided to try and gain experience by spending time with undertakers. She visited funeral directors and asked to spend time in their businesses, then spent months mostly in mortuaries and behind the scenes before launching Poppy’s Funerals in 2012.
From the beginning, the company was different – Poppy has clear ideas about what is important and her mission is to empower and support people to have the funeral that is right for them She believes passionately in helping people to take creative control of their funerals, with the support and encouragement from Poppy’s Funerals’ staff if needed. Poppy is very hands on, but also strongly supportive of her growing team and keen that they feel empowered to run funerals themselves. “They are all legends, fabulous, kind, genuine people who are quite capable of helping families with their funerals. I step in when I’m needed, but I’ve had to move my office out of the main office to stop myself getting involved in everything.” With a one year old daughter and a determination to keep a good work life balance, Poppy spends time away from work with her husband and family and friends, and loves live music, travel, and swimming in the sea.
The business operates from the most beautiful premises, a lovely light Victorian building in the grounds of Lambeth Cemetery. Formerly the cemetery office, Poppy’s Funerals now has the use of the entire building, with three airy reception rooms downstairs used for family meetings, and the offices located upstairs. A few steps away is one of the original chapels which now houses Poppy’s bespoke mortuary – unlike any other we have visited – and a small family room where families can spend time with the person who died.
Everywhere in both buildings there is the same feeling of light and air; the meeting rooms are comfortable and stylishly furnished, uncluttered by any brochures or funeral-related displays, with the trademark poppies branding in vinyl on the glass of the windows ensuring privacy from passing eyes. Contemporary artwork is displayed on the walls, loaned from Sprout Arts, a community Arts Group showcasing local artists. Kids are welcome, and baskets of interesting puzzles and games are provided for any children accompanying families visiting the premises. The thoughtful anticipation of what people might need is continued in the baskets of useful items in the bathrooms – nappies, wipes and sanitary stuff all there to help yourself to if you need it.
The mortuary space is high ceilinged, with sunlight streaming in through the arched windows. The new hardwood flooring complements the light wooden paneling on the walls left over from the days that this building was used for funeral ceremonies – there is no plastic flooring here. Large fridges across the building offer refrigerated space for up to 30 people at a time and coffins are stored on neat racking. There is a spacious washing area where families are welcome to come and help wash and dress their relative ready for their funeral. A small family and friends room is to one side of the building, and this is where you can spend time with your person who has died if you want to visit them.
The mortuary is Aaron’s domain, he’s the logistics and mortuary manager, and responsible for the overall care of everyone who is being looked after at Poppy’s. He’s assisted by Neil Wilford, the logistics and mortuary assistant (who has additional bonus skills in digital systems and IT – Neil developed the company’s bespoke IT system). Aaron and Neil have a small office in the building so there is always someone on hand if visitors need assistance. If you are thinking of using Poppy’s, then we would urge you to ask to visit the mortuary – most people don’t, and the staff would love to be able to show them the space where people in their care are looked after – they are all really proud of it.
Since the early days, when the office was in Poppy’s bedroom and she rented facilities firstly from other funeral directors and then from a public mortuary and hired equipment as she needed, the ethos of the company has been the same. Kind, genuinely warm people helping bereaved families have a better experience of funerals by supporting them with whatever they want or need at the time. Poppy herself completely embodies the values of her company, and she has drawn some of the nicest people to work with her. There is now a team of 12 people, supported by part time staff who are brought in to help as needed.
As the business has grown it has needed to acquire a structure, and when we visited in 2020 it was clear that this is a solid, professional business growing on good foundations. While everyone in the team is capable of carrying out any of the work required, people have roles that are suited to their skills, and all work very closely together. Poppy continues to be the head of the team, and is still hands on, although with three young children at home to occupy her energy “I come to work for a rest!”
Isabel Potter is Poppy’s right hand person – when she first read an article about the then fledgling company while she was on her way to work one day, the immediately felt a strong urge to hand in her notice and go and work with Poppy doing funerals differently. It was just a few weeks before she met Poppy and started working with her, doing whatever was needed. Now Head of Operations, Isabel is passionately devoted to her work, and her enthusiasm for it is as strong as Poppy’s. “She’s so infectious,” Isabel said, “Poppy is so determined to change the world of funerals for the better and you just can’t help being inspired by her.”
Senior Funeral Director Victoria Mellor supports the two funeral directors, Amy Szott and Hannah Ditch, while also carrying out funerals herself. Zeban Hussain and Sarah Bax are the two Client Support Advisors – it’s most likely Zeban or Sarah whose voices you will hear first if you phone Poppy’s, although if they are both busy any one of the rest of the staff may pick up the phone.
Zeban and Sarah’s role is to listen carefully to clients, and answer any questions they may have. They are skilled in sensing whether the company is the right one for people making enquiries, and are equipped with information to answer all the usual questions that people ask. If callers feel that they would like to engage Poppy’s to carry out a funeral, then Sarah and Zeban will take initial instructions and details, and begin to establish some of the necessary contacts for you, before making arrangements for you to meet either Amy, Hannah or Victoria. There is a seamless handover between the staff so that clients feel fully supported throughout their contact with the company.
Supporting the business behind the scenes are other members of the team – Peggy Freyne, the Finance and Admin Assistant, Jack Simpson, Marketing Manager, and Dylan Brethour, Content Writer.
If you want a traditional style black funeral with a hearse and limousines then Poppy’s can do that. Or if you want a simpler version with either the silver Ford Galaxy or the ‘Poppymobile’ (a decorated Mercedes Vito with a lovely hand made wooden deck) then that’s what you get. Or any variation in between. They will do whatever it is that you want. Their standard attire is either a smart green fleece with black trousers and shoes or black suits, though they will wear anything that a family wants them to. They’re very keen to encourage family involvement too – family members of any age, from 8 to 80, are welcome to carry the coffin if they want to and are encouraged to do so. Poppy’s also offer an stripped down ‘A to B’ service, transport only for families in Greater London wanting to organise a funeral without a funeral director but who need a little help with getting the body ‘from a to b’ on the day.
Everyone at Poppy’s has the same passion for down to earth, personal, professional service for the families that choose them. Everyone utterly believes in giving families whatever they want or need from a funeral, and they pride themselves on giving honest, straightforward advice – as much or as little as is needed. Overridingly, Poppy and all her team believe in caring for the dead people in their charge with gentle, careful hands and looking after them as if their families were standing beside them. Each dead person is called by name, there is no ‘deceased’ at Poppy’s, nor is there any embalming. Simple, natural and caring, completely professional yet totally human, the Poppy’s team brings a refreshing new approach to funerals that attracts admiration and respect from all they encounter.
Pretty much everything. The best way to see this is to look at their excellent website. If you like it, then Poppy’s Funerals is probably just right for you. If your reaction is different, then you’ll probably be better looking for another type of funeral director. Everyone at Poppy’s is very conscious that their way of approaching funerals is not for everyone, and would be completely unfazed if a family decided not to use their service after meeting them. They positively encourage clients to be sure they are comfortable with the way they work, nothing worries them more than a family not being completely happy with the funeral arrangements. They are fiercely proud of what they do and conscious of how incredibly important it is to get everything right, every time. They would much rather you went somewhere else than stayed with them and weren’t happy.
Poppy is very keen to spread the word about doing funerals differently, and takes education very seriously, providing myth busting / behind the scene talks for local healthcare professionals or anyone else who is interested. All of the team are encouraged to do this outreach work.
- Prices here and here. Simple cremation £1950 all-in – A to B service for those wanting minimal help £750
- Your first call will usually be answered by Zeban or Sarah – or whoever is nearest the phone (or whoever is on call if after hours).
- Home visits – Yes, totally happy to make arrangements either at your home or at their premises. Just tell them which you’d prefer.
- Family participation – Absolutely yes – this is positively encouraged. As much participation as you want.
- Same sex person to wash and dress? Yes, no problem.
- Embalming – There is no embalming at all at Poppy’s. Bodies are left in their natural state with no invasive procedures.
- Ethnic specialism ‘We help anyone who wants our help. The only thing we don’t do is embalm but this has never got in the way of helping a specific ethnic group.’
- Home arranged funerals – Of course. Poppy’s are happy to act as a helping hand or consultant for families caring for their dead person at home and do so quite regularly. Their A to B service is available for families who need assistance with transport but otherwise want to do everything themselves.
- Local celebrants – In their experience choosing a celebrant is a very personal choice so they might suggest three to five and suggest the family call them to find someone they really connect with.
- Website – Superb. Good looking, reflecting completely the look, feel and values of the company. Prices clearly displayed and an option to create a ‘Wish List’ noting down funeral plans and estimated costs, either for now or for the future, which can be saved or e-mailed to family or friends.
- Client support – Extremely good. You will have one person taking care of your funeral arrangements throughout. E-mails and phone calls answered straight away, and for families needing a little more support the staff member looking after you will happily call you daily to make sure everything is proceeding as you want.
- Money matters – Very good value. The prices are clearly displayed to one side of the home page of the website so you can see at a glance the costs involved in the various options offered. There’s nothing hidden, and no up-selling. They provide only what you want and need, and believe everyone has the right to an affordable funeral.
- Parking – Absolutely loads of space to park. As you drive in the gates to Lambeth Cemetery Poppy’s offices are in the gatehouse on the right, and there is free parking on the roads inside the grounds.
This is a business with a huge heart. Not only do they give their clients unstinting support and encouragement, they truly believe that a meaningful, authentic, personal funeral has the power to change lives for the better, and they consider it their duty to try and achieve this for everyone that comes to them. Poppy Mardall has created a wonderful, ground-breaking new type of funeral directing in London, and her team of equally lovely people are passionately involved and completely devoted to what they are doing. Their aim is to change the world they operate in for the better, one funeral at a time. From what we saw, they are doing this every day. London is lucky to have them.
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.