Harrogate's only female funeral director says she is proud to have continued supporting bereaved families in their hour of need during challenging times of lockdown.
Nicola Major, funeral director at The Co-op and the Funeral Service Manager for Harrogate, entered the profession at time when she was one of the few female role models in the industry.
Much has changed for the better over the years but nothing before has been like the current pandemic.
Hailing from a family whose roots are steeped in the business, Nicola knows the sensitive and valuable role funeral care plays even during lockdown and strict rules about public ceremonies and meeting up.
She said: "Supporting a family at one of the worst possible times in their life and helping them along the journey from the moment they call you makes you proud.
"Knowing that you have made a difference to that family is so important to me, as well as the Co-op."
Having started in the industry at the age of 19 in 1998 as a funeral director’s assistant, Nicola found herself within a week being made a trainee funeral director.
The scale of her ability and progress was such that, in 2018, she became a manager for York and Harrogate in charge of a large number of branches - a first for a female funeral care employee in the area.
But her job was in her blood from the start. Her family are funeral directors, too, and her grandad started in the business in 1947.
Nicola said: "My grandfather founded W. Bowers in Hampsthwaite in 1947. I started at the Co-op in 1998 and 21 years later I am still happily working for the Co-op, now as a Funeral Services Manager and wouldn't change it.
"This was the career I always wanted from the age of five. My closest friends weren’t surprised when I decided I wanted to enter the profession."
When she first started female ministers had only just started to enter the church and some of the older clergy were against that but Nicola herself said she experienced nothing but support from the start and was openly accepted.
Like other sectors of society, the funeral industry has changed a lot in the last few decades.
Nicola said: "I entered the profession at the age of 19 when female vicars had just entered the church. I was openly accepted and the guys I worked with when I started gave me nothing but support.
"Families liked the fact there was a female they could talk to – back then it made a change. Things are very different nowadays.
"I was fully supported by my team at the Co-op from the start but the industry now has so many females in every role - embalmer, funeral service operatives such as driver and bearers.
"The leadership team for my region now has nine female managers and five male."
Adapting to the challenges of social distancing has been easier than you might think for Nicola and her team at Harrogate Co-op Funeralcare.
The nature of funerals has evolved in recent years to meet changing tastes in society and practices in the funeral profession have moved along with it.
Nicola said: "The biggest change in the industry has been the increase in females in the role as funeral director’s but also the way families think about funerals and that people want them more personalised i.e colourful ties, or ties for the football club they support. "
Moving with the times, Nicola has been keen to support picture coffins, motorcycle hearses, Rainbow and poppy hearses, going a certain route on the way to the crematorium/church past landmarks; anything which supports families at such a sad and challenging moment in their lives.
Before the lockdown she had introduced a Memory Box to trigger long-term memory recognition for those living with dementia.
The box is wrapped with icons from the past such as Audrey Hepburn and James Dean, is filled with contents that used to belong to Nicola’s grandad.
The items include; old coins, Victory V’s, books, jigsaws, an old cast iron, Co-op dividends stamps, old soap and a ball of wool and knitting needles.
But Nicola's proudest moment to date is when she was nominated Bereavement Worker UK in 2017 for a national award The Butterfly Awards.
Nicola said: " My proudest achievement to date is being nominated for a national award - The Butterfly Award, Bereavement Worker 2017.
"This came through a nomination from a father who had lost his beautiful baby boy, Henry. I was privileged enough to be shortlisted and attended the ceremony with many inspirational people.
"I enjoy working in the funeral industry - it is so rewarding. I love doing what I am doing, supporting and caring for families and their loved ones.
"Making that difference every day is so important."