Winner of the 2016 Lo Read more [...]
Funeral Directors Category: South East England
Lucy Coulbert. Winner of the 2016 Low Cost Funeral Provider of the Year in the 2016 Good Funeral Awards with her second company, (see below), and joint runner up in the Modern Funeral Director of the Year 2016 category, Lucy is a one woman powerhouse on a mission to improve funeral provision in the UK. She’s also an exceptionally nice person.
Oxford based The Individual Funeral Company is Lucy’s creation, she owns it, runs it and is the person who will care for you and your family from the moment you first pick up the phone (no matter what time of day or night that might be) and throughout the days that follow.
Warm, friendly and utterly normal, Lucy is the kind of person you instantly take a liking to. There’s nothing hidden, no faux sympathy or pretentiousness about her, just a genuine humanity and passion for getting it right for you. She doesn’t get in your way, nor does she try and impose anything on you. She meets you right where you are, unafraid and unflinching even with the most difficult or distressing of circumstances or the most complicated requirements. She’s genuinely there to serve every family who walks through the door, no matter who they are, and she gives the same dedication, support and care to each family she encounters.
The Individual Funeral Company opened in September 2013 – a culmination of years of planning and determination, and a massive leap of faith, as Lucy explains; “When I opened the business, I had less than a thousand pounds left in the bank, and a matter of weeks to find the money to pay the next quarter’s rent. But I knew I had to do it.”
Through a combination of sheer nerve, absolute belief in what she was doing and working evenings and weekends at a second job for two years, Lucy held on through the early quiet days, and gradually the unique quality of the service she provided began to pay off. Word began to spread about the small funeral director business that provided completely bespoke service at a very reasonable cost, and eventually Lucy was able to leave her second job to concentrate fully on funerals.
This didn’t mean that she slowed down, far from it. In fact in July 2015, she started a sister company to run alongside The Individual Funeral Company – Coulbert Family Funerals, a not for profit company set up specifically to help families who are applying to the Department of Work and Pensions for financial assistance with the costs of a funeral.
The two companies work hand in hand with each other, with The Individual Funeral Company donating £100 from each funeral carried out to Coulbert Family Funerals to help fund the costs of running a not for profit organisation. Coulbert Family Funerals is named after Lucy’s grandfather, an inspirational figure in her life, and it is a rare thing in the world of funerals. Often, large companies aren’t interested in helping people apply for a Social Fund Funeral Payment.
Under the Coulbert Family Funerals umbrella, Lucy not only assists with advice on completing the application form, she works tirelessly on the family’s behalf chasing the DWP to get a response. And she sees no reason why people in receipt of a payment from the Social Fund shouldn’t receive the same care and support as every other family.
In Lucy’s own words, “We set out to genuinely help people who otherwise may not have been able to arrange the funeral themselves or would have been left with crippling debt. We are certain we can help anyone applying to the Department of Works & Pensions arrange a beautiful funeral and give your loved one the send off you can be proud of.”
This dedication to helping families who struggle to find the money for funeral costs led to Lucy being invited to give evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in January 2016. Appearing alongside a representative from the National Association of Funeral Directors, Lucy spoke passionately about her frustration with the existing system that so often leaves families waiting for weeks not knowing whether they will receive any assistance, nor how much. Her appearance led to an invitation to meet Baroness Altmann, the former Minister of State and a leading pensions expert and political campaigner to share her thoughts.
As a result of her contribution at the Select Committee and the subsequent media interest, Lucy continues to be sought out for her opinion on the as yet unchanged Social Fund Funeral Payment, and in 2017 she was invited to be part of the DWP working group seeking ways to improve the system. She is slightly bemused by this. “I don’t know how this happened,” she says, “Why am I the only person speaking up?”
It’s probably because Lucy is unlike many other funeral directors. She’s straight talking, fearless and take-it-or-leave-it honest. She’s also incredibly bright and very funny.
Her route to owning her own business and becoming the champion of struggling bereaved families is a tale of determination and dogged persistence. The daughter of a mortuary manager, Lucy knew she wanted to be involved with funerals from an early age, but as a people person she didn’t want to follow her mum into a career behind the mortuary doors.
At the age of 19, Lucy went to work for Co-operative Funeralcare and learned the basics of how funerals worked. She also met some amazing people who remain admired friends to this day, some even attending the opening of her business in 2013.
After a few years, Lucy made contact with Revd. Paul Sinclair of Motorcycle Funerals, the UK’s first motorcycle hearse service. She wanted to know if he’d offer a franchise to her, but instead was offered a job with him, and she spent the next four years driving up and down the country as one of his hearse riders.
It was a great opportunity, visiting different funeral director’s premises every day, and Lucy rapidly realised she was getting insight into both how not to do funerals, and how to do funerals exceptionally well. Everything was filed away in the back of her mind, and when she left Motorcycle Funerals for a brief tenure at another national chain of funeral directors, she spent most of her time working on her business plan for her own business.
The next couple of years were spent doing work wherever she could to keep the wolf from the door, all the time trying to get her business off the ground. Undeterred by setbacks (her bank had never given a loan to a startup funeral director before, and she missed the chance to rent the building she first identified), eventually, after driving around the area looking for somewhere suitable, Lucy saw the premises in Rose Hill, and The Individual Funeral Company had found a home.
Starting a new funeral director business is a risky thing, but Lucy held her nerve through the first months. “Social media save my a**e,” she says. “I didn’t have any money for advertising or marketing, but Facebook and Twitter were a way of letting people know I was here.”
The first funeral for The Individual Funeral Company came as a result of The Natural Death Centre recommending a family contact Lucy. The family lived miles away, and the funeral was in London – a baptism of fire that Lucy took in her stride, and since then things have gone from strength to strength.
Every funeral carried out is unique. Lucy is more than capable of organising a high profile, meticulously planned military style funeral if this is what you want – or she empower you to do as much of the funeral yourself as you feel able to.
Whether organising a ceremony in the Ashmolean Museum (the first time a coffin was allowed there) or carrying out a direct cremation with nobody attending, you can be certain that Lucy will be completely herself, and her attention, respect for the person who has died and determination to get everything right will be exactly the same. She’s completely honest and transparent and ethical, just exactly the sort of person you want to help you through the myriad of decisions involved in a funeral.
Her premises are bright and welcoming. We visited on a Saturday – you can do this by appointment if you want – and we walked past the closed shutters of the branch of Dignity three doors away as we approached. This seemed somehow symbolic. Since The Individual Funeral Company opened, the number of people using the Dignity branch has probably steadily diminished. The personal service that Lucy offers and her clear, transparent and fair pricing contrast completely with the central diary, central mortuary and lack of any mention of prices on the website that Dignity offer. “I encourage clients who are choosing a funeral director to pop up the road and ask for a quote”, says Lucy. “They’re usually back here within three minutes.”
The large windows and glass door spill daylight into the reception area, and a glimpse of Lucy’s desk can be seen at the rear of the building. It’s usually piled high with work related stuff. The window to the right of the door is used for displays – often including a coffin of some kind. When we visited, a lovely white woollen coffin was in the window with draped gold material providing a backdrop and pots of colourful anemones and grass providing a splash of colour.
On the right of the reception area is the arranging room, where a large black and white canvas portrait of Queen Elizabeth II smiles down. Furnished simply with a table and chairs, this room offers a space where you can talk in private about funeral arrangements. A curtained window between this room and the one behind allows daylight to filter into the modern, quiet room where you can spend time with the person who has died if you want to do so.
Lucy doesn’t believe in embalming unless it is absolutely necessary, so she encourages people to come and spend time sooner rather than later. Your relative will be laid on a wheeled bier on tray covered with a crisp white sheet, looking as if they are laid in a bed, and you can spend as much time with them as you want to.
Outside, Lucy has built a secure, locked cold room where she can look after several people at the same time. This ensures that all the space within the building is available for families to use, the best use of a small premises we’ve seen. Behind Lucy’s desk is a little kitchen area where she makes very good coffee, and a couple of cages alongside her workspace indicate the presence of her two beloved dogs, who are usually beside her when she’s at work.
Totally as it says in the name – your funeral will be a completely individual one. Lucy’s ethical way of working and her dedication to getting things right for you will ensure that if you choose The Individual Funeral Company you will get service and attention of the highest calibre, at an absolutely reasonable price.What’s Important?
Honesty, openness, personal service and doing whatever is needed to make the experience of arranging a funeral as easy as it possibly can be for you.
It’s Lucy herself that’s different. She’s the most likeable, kind person who doesn’t put on a front of any kind. She meets you where you are, and treats everyone with the same kindness and utmost respect. Some of the phrases used to describe Lucy by people she’s helped probably say more than we ever could:
‘ Lucy was an absolute rock for us: her compassion, sympathy, respect, practical advice and support were immeasurably appreciated by us all.’
‘Lucy was totally transparent about all costs and options so that we could make good, informed choices throughout. She was warm, personable and very professional.’
‘I will forever be grateful to Lucy for all her information, advice, support and guidance. She was reassuring, supportive, kind and understanding. She drew together a funeral that was so nice, we will all have a good memory of that day. She combined being very calm and professional with very caring and always gave just the right advice or support.’
- Your first call will be answered by Lucy herself. Day or night, 365 days a year. If she happens to be out on a funeral when you call you might speak to Hannah, her sister.
- Home visits – yes if that’s what you want.
- Same sex person to wash and dress? Yes, if you want this.
- Embalming? Not unless it’s absolutely necessary, and Lucy will advise you if this is the case. Otherwise she doesn’t believe in interfering with the body of the person who has died.
- Ethnic specialism? Lucy is happy to work with people from every culture or background and is experienced in all types of funerals. If she needs to find out particular details to ensure that the customs are carried out correctly then you can bet she will do so.
- Home arranged funerals – of course. Just let her know what help you need from her. You can pay by the hour for her time if need be, or per service required. See her website for details
- Local celebrants – Lucy can recommend a few trusted quality celebrants for you to contact. She has excellent local connections with clergy as well.
- Vehicle – The standard hearse available is a well cared for Volvo or Daimler, but Lucy has a very nice Land Rover Discovery which is increasingly being asked for as an alternative.
- Website – Very nice website that accurately reflects the values of the company. Prices for the elements of bespoke funerals and the three pre-defined services available all online.
- Client support – From the first moment of contact through to the days after the funeral, Lucy will be there for you. Many of the testimonials we have read referred to her becoming like a friend. You will always be welcome to drop in for a coffee and a chat if you’re passing.
- Money matters – Transparent and very reasonable. Excellent value for the service you receive.
- Parking – On the road outside or in nearby residential roads.
For a long time, we have been encouraging Lucy to apply for accreditation as a Good Funeral Guide Recommended Funeral Director, so it is with much delight that we are finally able to add The Individual Funeral Company and Coulbert Family Funerals to our list.
Lucy felt strongly that she wanted her premises to be ready for our visit, and it is now that her cold room is finished she felt that she was in a position to go through the accreditation process.
We are proud to now be able to include her in our listing. This woman is blazing a trail for strong, principled independent funeral directors throughout the land, and providing families she cares for with exceptionally good service. We highly recommend her.