To mark International Women’s Day on March 8, the dedication of thousands of female funeral professionals in the UK who are caring for the bereaved and those they’ve lost is being recognised.
(Sue Newbold at Lancaster and Morecambe Crematorium.)
Once a rarity in what was previously a traditionally male-dominated profession, there are now many female funeral directors, arrangers and crematorium managers helping families to say farewell to their loved ones that have died.
In pre-Victorian times, before funeral directing became a profession, the practical tasks required when someone in a community died were divided amongst the male and female members of the family or village.
The caring job of ‘laying out’ the dead would be allocated to a local woman or women, who may well have also acted as a midwife.
The men would be responsible for physical tasks such as digging the grave, making a coffin, transporting the deceased and - if the family did not have enough men to fulfil the task - providing additional men to carry the coffin.
Sue Newbold has worked at Lancaster & Morecambe Crematorium, part of the Crematorium and Memorial Group, for more than 23 years.
“I joined as an administrator but after a year I became the memorial consultant, helping the bereaved to choose a lasting tribute to their loved one,” explained Sue.
“In 2015, I was promoted to crematorium manager and recently secured the position of business development manager with the Crematorium and Memorial Group, helping to operate 46 crematoria across England and Scotland.”
Sue added: “My gender has never presented any barriers to my ambitions, but I consider myself fortunate to work for a company that has supported my career progression and helped me to achieve a positive work/home life balance.
"When people discover that I work at a crematorium they are initially surprised to find a woman in such a role, but after that initial shock, they often have lots of questions about how a crematorium operates.”
The theme of this years International Women’s Day is 'Choose to Challenge' - which is somewhat appropriate for the funeral sector as it strives to cope with the changing demands of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The past 12 months have definitely been the most challenging time of my career,” said Sue. “We have had to quickly adapt to both the restrictions on funerals and constantly changing circumstances to ensure that our visitors, our colleagues and the funeral directors we work with all remain safe.
"Funerals may not return to how we knew them for a while, but we are working tirelessly to help families organise a respectful funeral for their loved one.”