Benefits of belonging

words: Andrew Collier

Independent funeral directors are at the heart of our communities. They are friendly, helpful and familiar. Some are smaller, while others are larger, often family owned businesses. They have often been around for generations and are known and respected.

Most will go out to visit bereaved families in their homes and be able to empathise fully with the relatives left behind while providing advice and support.

But running your own business has its challenges. Add to that the fact that running a funeral service is much more than just a job, and you see why SAIF was established in 1989. There are currently more than 870 privately owned, independent funeral directors across the UK.

Funeral directors become members for a wide range of reasons, but all will stress the importance of being accountable to SAIF’s strict Code of Conduct. They appreciate the opportunities to meet and discuss changes in the sector and to share experiences with colleagues.

They also appreciate access to a reliable professional advice service as well as training options. Where a dispute does occur, SAIF provides a free helpline specifically for members and it runs an Independent Dispute Resolution Scheme as well.

The organisation has a stall at the National Funeral Exhibition (NFE) at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, from Friday 9 to Sunday 11 June. Representatives will be on hand to provide more information.

Martin Rowley of Rowley and Sons in York will be one of the attendees. He set up his business just four years ago. It now employs not only himself but his wife, two sons and future daughter-in-law.

“SAIF has important advantages,” said Martin. “In this totally unregulated sector, anyone can set up as a funeral director, and there are no legal or statutory controls.

“SAIF is important to us as it gives us recognition and credibility because we abide by its Code of Conduct and our premises are inspected every two or three years. That is very reassuring for our clients.”

Martin stresses: “It is very important to us that we are truly independent. We know it’s equally important to our clients from the constant feedback we get from them. I would say it defines us along with the quality and service we provide.

“We also regard transparency on costs as crucial. People want to know what a funeral is going to cost them, and if they need help, we can arrange finance for them.

“We are working with people at a very sensitive time in their lives. It is the family’s own needs and requests that we will meet.”

He added: “The NFE is an opportunity to meet and catch up with what has been happening in the industry. It also gives us a chance to talk face-to-face with our suppliers and to explore developments in technology and equipment.”

McClure’s Funeral Service is an independent family-owned and run business established in Newcastle, County Down, back in 1912. It also operates in Belfast.

Andrew McClure said: “We know and appreciate local customs and expectations. All our attention is concentrated on satisfying the needs of our customers. We are not distracted or bound by corporate rules handed down from head office. We are flexible and responsive to each individual’s needs.

“We have a long-term commitment to our community. This is where we live and work. It is where we plan to stay. When our clients need us, we are here. In our locally owned firm there is no pressure from head office to increase profits. We know that our business will do well when we serve our clients well.

“SAIF assists us with regional meetings and support. Knowing that if assistance is required, help is only a phone call away, is very reassuring. SAIF gives us a national voice, able to lobby the Government on our behalf to ensure the independent funeral director is not forgotten about.”

In Edinburgh, William Purves Funeral Directors is a member of both SAIF and the NAFD (National Association of Funeral Directors) which mounts the biennial NFE. The company has 29 offices across the east of Scotland, the Borders and north east England.

Director Tim Purves said: “SAIF membership is very, very useful to us. You have a voice for the profession, you can consult with other funeral directors, get advice and help from other members and from the organisation.

“There is the strict Code of Practice that we adhere to, which is a good thing, as it keeps standards high and reassures the public that they are dealing with a firm who abides by a set of standards.

“From time to time we have used their services for questions and queries, or perhaps legal help.

“SAIFCharter owns Golden Charter Funeral Plans which we offer to our clients and that is a very good product.

“I think membership of SAIF adds to our credibility and provides clear accountability. We are accountable not only to SAIF itself but also to the other members. It also means we have a bigger voice than any of us could have as individual independent companies.

“The National Exhibition brings quite a lot networking opportunities. It is definitely useful to go because you have the chance to meet so many people, listen to news about innovation and to chat with suppliers. Everybody in the funeral service has a presence there.”

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