A shabby chic hall in Peckham festooned with fairy lights. Waiters shuffle through the gathered crowd with heaving charcuterie boards. A pitch-perfect playlist gives the room a celebratory atmosphere.
You might be under the impression that you’ve just stepped into a guest-list only London Fashion Week party, but you’d be wrong. Occasionally somebody walks over to pay their respects to a conspicuous coffin resting at the end of the room. These people aren’t revellers — they’re mourners. And this is the strikingly modern face of funerals in 2019.
Often kept in the shadows, or at the very least behind the dusty net curtains of a high-street funeral parlour, Britons have long had a traditional relationship with death and its rituals. And bidding farewell to our loved ones in the conventional way has been good enough for the majority of people. But a new wave of London-based businesses are flipping the script on how we mark the end of our lives.
These woke funeral planners think that, for too long, death has been impersonal and deeply old school, with a lingering Victorian aesthetic. Spearheaded by young, thoughtful and overwhelmingly female independent undertakers, the capital’s most progressive new movement isn’t about putting the fun into funerals, but about making these once dour, emotionally distant events more relevant, meaningful and elegant.
One woman sweeping aside the stoic undertaker stereotype is Louise Winter, who became fascinated with the profession after attending her grandfather’s funeral and finding it deeply lacking in emotional intelligence. With no time or space given to properly grieve her relative, the service was formulaic and impersonal; it didn’t feel like him. ‘I decided that the only way to combat some of the problems was to become a funeral director myself and launch a service that I believe people need to have and to prioritise the ceremony rather than top hats and shiny cars,’ she says.
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