A door opens to new opportunities

words: Ollie Christopher, F Christophers & Son

The first step is the hardest

After 15 years of training for and working in international business, the bravest career move of them all was to come and join the sixth generation of our family business, F Christophers & Son in Devon.

The traditional route for independent funeral directors is to pass the business from father to son and get trained up from 16, like my dad and the other four Freds before him. So how is a 33 year old desk jockey, who started out in the London science and technology industry (and not called Fred), going to transition across to the funeral trade?

Well, fortunately, this won’t be a remake of City Slickers as I’m no stranger to what goes on behind the curtain after growing up in the trade and working with the team in a hands-on role during university breaks. However, there’s a huge difference between helping out in the summer holidays and making it your career.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Embarking in this new direction comes with many questions and concerns. Do I have to wear black all the time? Is it OK to look like you’re enjoying your work? Scarier still – am I going to become my dad?

My hope is that I can learn as much as can about the profession from the F Christophers & Son team who have been doing this for decades, but also bring in what I’ve learned working in professional services and bolster it all with the training and development available through SAIF.

Even from the sidelines I feel the weight of change upon the profession, from the swelling dominance of funeral conglomerates to impending regulatory changes that make this job in 2018 very different to the job my father started back in the late 1950s. As much as I’d like to carry on the family traditions, many of the old ways of working are no longer viable and adaptation is essential for survival.

But one fundamental thing I think the Independents have remained true to, which is why they will always have place in the market, is that they’re not solely driven by profit and have retained the sense of community that is crucial when you’re providing such an important service.

Optimism leads to achievement

After attending my first SAIF meeting, I was heartened to find an active professional support network out there in the same capacity as I’ve found working in other professional services. The team instantly put me at ease and the content of the meeting ranged from industry horizon scanning to best practices for managing GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation). Having this kind of network available demonstrates that the independent funeral sector is holding its ground and there are people willing to stand together for progress.

On a personal level, the realisation that a background forged in communicating with and understanding people, alongside providing the right kind of guidance and information, is actually very similar to what is required in the funeral trade. Undeniably in both, the art of listening is the key.

Let’s do this!

The sense of fulfilment I’ve seen in other directors and the sense of belonging that providing this service creates in the local community is enough to instil confidence in this move, but over the coming months I’ll be relying on the support and advice of those around me, as well as the wider SAIF community. I’ll keep you updated on the progress, but if there are any ‘next generation’ funeral directors out there who joined their firm later in life as a complete career change, I’d be particularly grateful for your advice.

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