A memorable milestone achieved
When your company reaches its 125th anniversary, it’s clear that you are doing something right.
In 2016, Bennetts Funeral Directors of Essex celebrates that impressive milestone. With premises in Brentwood and Billericay, this independent has gained a vital place at the heart of its community.
The business was started by Edward Bennett, grandfather of the current managing director, Jane Bennett. Initially set up as a builder’s, the company was first listed as an undertaker’s in the 1891 census. In the late 1920s, the business was passed to Jane’s father, Arthur Bennett, and she joined the company in 1988 having previously worked in the City.
Bennetts moved from its original location in Brook Street, Brentwood to its current site in the town’s High Street in 1932. Among other distinctions, Arthur Bennett built the first funeral director’s mortuary in Essex.
“Back then we still used horses and horse-drawn vehicles,” said Jane. “We have pictures of old Austin Princess vehicles that we used at one time.
“My father ordered a Rolls Royce Phantom VI hearse to be built for us and we took delivery in 1973. We still regularly use that same hearse, along with Rolls Royce Phantom VI limousines which we also bought in the 1970s. My father was extremely proud of these vehicles, as we are still.”
Jane said that from a business point of view achieving the company’s 125th anniversary is a major highlight.
“Personally speaking, taking over from our previous manager after never having been involved in the business was a steep learning curve. However, we have won several business awards including Best Business of the Year in the first awards we entered.
Subsequently, we have won other business awards in categories such as Community and Training and Customer Service in our own right and as part of Grief Journey Essex.”
With her 30th anniversary with the firm coming up in 2018, Jane confirmed that she has seen massive changes over the years.
“As well as obvious things such as the vehicles we use, there has been the trend toward much more personalised services with more family involvement in the service itself and the style of coffins.”
As far as the development of funeral transport goes, the company has made its own notable addition in 2016 with the purchase of its own Land Rover hearse. “It’s been met with a great deal of enthusiasm,” said Jane. She also noted that one of the biggest changes has been the increasing dominance of, and reliance on, IT and new technology.
“Naturally, we have our own website, and Facebook and Twitter presence, we write blogs, and we are able to prepare service sheets with fantastic pictures and layouts in house.”
Relationships and respect
One thing that hasn’t fluctuated since its first day is the company’s determination to be an integral part of the community it serves.
“Bennetts Funeral Directors are very much part of the community – we always have been,” added Jane. “It is important to us to build relationships, and to gain friends and respect in the wider community. We support events, lend gazebos and coffins, hold open days for other parts of the community to join in with, provide raffle prizes and share information as necessary to promote events.”
In addition, the company began a bereavement support programme almost 10 years ago. It is very well supported by many bereaved local people who in turn support others.
“We have a general bereavement group, bereaved parents groups and we run Grief Journey courses throughout the year,” she said. “Those running the groups have received training from Dr Bill Webster. Our bereavement support programme is recognised locally as being of immense benefit to many families.”
As with other independents, Bennetts Funeral Directors treats each funeral and each family with the same respect, care and attention. During its long history it has had the privilege to look after funerals for Lords and Ladies and those with honours, from the simple to the extravagant. There have been services at Westminster Abbey as well as at gravesides, those with hundreds of mourners and those with none.
“We have arrived at the service with simply the hearse – or on one occasion with a JCB digger – and at the other end of the scale we have had police escorts and lots of vehicles,” noted Jane. “Of course, those are more elaborate, but we do our utmost on every occasion.”
The opportunity to be part of an organisation like SAIF is valued highly by Jane. She believes membership gives essential support, information and back up.
“If we are unsure of anything, a quick email generally clarifies things. The SAIF AGM weekend gives funeral directors a chance to catch up with peers and get an update on forthcoming legislation among other things. There are other advantages related to vehicle insurance and so on.
“Similarly, we have worked closely with Golden Charter for some time. We have had some ups and downs, but are now receiving excellent support.”
Having reached 125 years, the company enthusiastically grabbed the chance to celebrate. It marked the occasion by planting 125 trees in various locations close to its offices and holding a special open day. It also supported three charities; Special Needs and Parents (SNAP), St Luke’s Hospice, Basildonand St Francis Hospice in Havering-Atte-Bower. At St Francis, the company commissioned the creation of a memory tree. Families can purchase a leaf on the tree in memory of a loved one, with the funds going directly to the hospice.
Asked for advice that she might give to new or younger funeral independents, Jane had several wise words. “Be prepared to be available at all times, put in the time and the effort in your local communities, be open to all requests – so long as they are within the law – and try to be impartial with families who are in dispute, as is so often the case nowadays.”
Meanwhile, looking forward to the next 125 years she commented: “Who knows what will happen. I would like my family to still be involved, but I have no idea what will happen to the profession over that period – will there still even be funerals?”Tags: 100 Club, 125, anniversary, Bennetts, Bennetts Funeral DIrectors, Billericay, Brentwood, Essex, Jane Bennett