In a matter of a few weeks, cremation funerals have changed more than during all of my 37 years in the industry, yet our sector has adapted with remarkable speed and resilience. We are continuing to provide our vital service under the most trying of circumstances and our entire sector should be proud.
How we’ve adapted
We began making our first significant changes at the start of March, deep-cleaning our crematoria and making sure staff and mourners had access to hand sanitiser and hand washing facilities.
But it wasn’t until the start of April after the introduction of the “lockdown”, bringing with it new social distancing rules and the passage of the Coronavirus Act, that funerals changed almost overnight. The legislation instructed us to restrict funerals to close family and friends only and to shut our grounds to members of the public.
Crematoria operators had to adapt quickly to put in place social distancing rules to protect the safety of our employees and the bereaved.
At The Crematorium and Memorial Group (CMG) we initially placed a limit of 10 people attending funerals across our entire estate of 46 crematoria. However, we have since carried out detailed assessments of the number of people who can attend while maintaining social distancing and this has allowed us to increase this limit at almost all of our crematoria.
These limits go against the instinct of everyone who works in the funeral sector. We know how important it is for people to be able to attend the funeral of a loved one, but we also recognise that the most important thing is that funerals continue in some form, so that families are still able to say goodbye.
We and many other crematoria have begun looking at how we can give people the best experience possible under the circumstance by ensuring we have live streaming available where our facilities and broadband capacity will allow it. What is interesting is that while many are having small services, we are increasingly aware of a desire among people to have a memorial or celebration of life later.
More broadly we are doing everything we can to be flexible and accommodate family requests while staying in line with the government guidance, and keeping everyone safe.
Preparations in the background
Alongside these dramatic changes to funeral services we have also been working hard behind the scenes to put in place preparations that will ensure we are able to continue to operate however challenging this situation becomes.
Part of our permit for operating crematoria means having a plan for situations such as this and we have begun putting these into action for the first time.
We are training more staff to operate our cremators in case of increased employee absence as a result of Covid-19 and have made arrangements that ensure our cremators continue to be maintained within the social distancing guidelines. We also have the flexibility to move staff amongst our crematoria if required.
We have already had to increase our operating hours, which includes developing procedures for how to operate cremators that are running more than usual along with opening our chapels in the evenings and at weekends.
We have also ramped up our internal communications to ensure everyone working for CMG knows exactly what is required of them. In short, we are confident that we have the contingencies in place to keep operating in this crisis and the capable and resilient colleagues and suppliers who will ensure we are able to deliver these plans.
What the future holds
We don’t know yet how far we will have to draw upon our contingency plans, but one certainty is that the situation will continue to change.
Only this week the government reversed its decision to ban people from visiting grounds, crematoria and cemeteries. This was the right decision. We know first-hand the distress it was causing people who were unable to visit the graves and memorials of their loved ones. But it meant we had to adapt quickly to put in place measures that keep our staff safe, while providing information and signage for the public about what the change to the rules means.
We are in no doubt that there will be more challenges in the coming weeks and months that our sector will need to adapt to. We can’t predict how this crisis will unfold, or how funerals will change when the lockdown is released.
We’re proud of how we have responded so far. And we are confident that the people who work at CMG and across the crematoria sector as a whole, will continue to respond with fortitude and compassion whatever this crisis throws at us.