Managing New Forest Crematorium: From retail to bereavement

Throughout the pandemic, many people have had time to reflect and think about what they want to do in life. Case in point, Graeme Horobin, site manager for the upcoming New Forest Crematorium, made the transition from retail to the bereavement sector. Funeral Service Times sits down with Horobin to discuss the transition, providing insight into the crematorium and his hopes for New Forest.

What is your employment history?

I have worked in retail since I was 17 years old. I started out as a bike mechanic, and then managed out of town superstores, moving on to regional management and everything in between.

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What inspired the transition from retail to the bereavement sector?

Retail is always changing which has always kept things interesting, but through the pandemic, I, like many others, took the time to think about what I really wanted to do. I then attended a funeral at Test Valley Crematorium and was blown away by the care and attention to detail that I saw on that day. And compared to other funerals I attended, I just thought it was a much better experience and that got me thinking.

Why did you apply for the position of a site manager at New Forest Crematorium?

I love the New Forest and as a family, we have spent a lot of time there at weekends, walking and enjoying the surroundings. When I saw the position open up, it just seemed like a role that I could do, and also enjoy.

How will your experience in retail help in your new role?

As a retail manager, you end up being an HR manager, H&S manager, operations manager, customer service manager, and all sorts of other things. I think the skills I have developed over the last 35 years are almost entirely transferable to this new role. Caring for customers can translate to caring for families and for the bereaved. It’s still all about care, but at the Westerleigh Group, this means exceptional care.

What are the main differences between the two industries?

It’s nice and satisfying to be working in an industry where you can really make a difference to how family and friends feel on a very difficult occasion. If we get that right, then that’s something to feel very proud of. 

Was any training provided to help you prepare for the role?

Loads! Once I had completed the health and safety training, I then moved into my cremator training with Colin at Test Valley. I found it fascinating, and still do. I have also  travelled around the country to visit several Westerleigh sites to see how they work, in order to take the best bits from each. A brilliant local funeral director at AH Cheater was kind enough to let me spend some time at their premises so I could better understand how it all links together.

What are you looking forward to in your new role and once the crematorium opens?

Working with the local funeral directors to make sure we offer the best service we can to them and to the bereaved. I am also really keen to work closely with local business and the community to see what we can do to support any local initiatives wherever possible.

What are the design features of the New Forest Crematorium? 

It’s a modern building with a flat roofed chapel which has a huge skylight. It will be bright and airy, with views across the neighbouring Great Woar Copse. Funeral directors will be pleased to hear that there is shelter from the elements all around the building too.

How will it be different from other sites?

The location is unique, and being the latest, most up-to-date crematorium in the country, we have learned from every site we have built, so this one will clearly be the best. We will also have the latest technology, music and AV systems to create an even better experience for everyone. 

What are your hopes for the crematorium?

Fairly simple, I want it to become part of the local and wider New Forest community, giving a choice to bereaved families. I want it to be a peaceful place of reflection where people can experience a uniquely personal experience that will honour the passing of a loved one.

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