Garstang funeral director welcomes changes to funeral restrictions after 'difficult time' for families

A funeral director who runs a funeral home in Garstang has welcomed changes to restrictions which are due to come into effect this month after a difficult year for families and for his team.

Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 12:42 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 12:56 pm
Greg Hodgkinson Independent Funeral Director, Bridge Street, Garstang.

Greg Hodgkinson has been in the business for nearly 25 years but the last twelve months have been particularly challenging for funeral directors and bereaved families alike.

In the midst of a global pandemic, restrictions severely limited the number of people allowed at funerals and remembrance ceremonies to 15 and then, later on, 30 people.

It has now been confirmed that the cap will be lifted from May 17 as part of the government 'road map' out of lockdown.

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Greg Hodgkinson outside his funeral home in Garstang.

Greg has welcomed the announcement, saying: “We all think it’s great news really.

“It has been so difficult for families over the last 12 months where people have been limited in terms of numbers- to maybe not even 30, maybe 10 or 12 or 15."

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Greg says that families have had the extra challenge of deciding who to invite to stick to the restrictions.

Greg Hodgkinson has been in the funeral business since 1997 when he started out at Brown Funerals in Preston.

“I think it has been very hard for families to deal not only with the bereavement but also deciding who to invite."

“Some families have got couples and in-laws and have had to maybe decide that the sister can come, but the husband can’t because they’ve only got 15 seats.

“It was very difficult at the beginning when the main mourner, the husband, wife, father, or daughter, was sat on their own two metres away from anybody else.

“Seeing the Queen all alone at Prince Philip’s funeral I think resonates with a lot of people.

Funeral arranger at Greg Hodgkinson Funeral Director, Diane Crompton. Diane spent 30 years with Greater Manchester Police and wanted to use her experience working with bereaved families that she gained as a family liaison officer.

“Not having to now pick effectively a guest list will make life so much easier for people."

He said that grave-side services have been ‘very intimate’ but difficult for some.

“A lot of churches have been closed and we have had services around the grave with 20 or 30 people but people of a strong faith have struggled with that because they want to go into church and worship,” Greg said.

“But at the same time it has made the service very personal, very intimate.

Funeral arranger Tracey Watson from Greg Hodgkinson Funeral Directors. Tracey worked as a nurse, paramedic and a teaching assistant before joining the Garstang funeral home. She joined Co-op Funeralcare in Blackpool in 2012 and gained a Level 3 BTEC Advanced Diploma in Funeral Arranging.

“However, in December and January when you have rain coming in sideways that’s not great.”

So long as venues are able to maintain social distancing, they can host more than 30 mourners from May 17.

However, Greg says that some small venues and places of worship may struggle to accommodate the increased limit due to small spaces.

“A problem will arise for venues holding the events because some chapels like Lancaster and Beetham can seat maybe 150 people but Preston crematorium has a small chapel.

“There may be unlimited numbers but they will still have to restrict in such a small place."

Greg thinks that the pandemic has brought changes to funerals that are here to stay but others may be ditched as restrictions are eased.

The experienced team of bearers at Greg Hodgkinson Funeral Directors. Some spent their lives in the emergency services.

“The lockdown has given rise to people paying their respects as hearses and corteges pass.

“Maybe we will move away from that but I think it’s great."

The funeral director thinks that live-streams and final journeys are here to stay for the time being.

“I do think they’re here to stay but perhaps not as much,” he said.

“Live streaming has really opened it up to people.

“They have been there at crematoriums for people who maybe can’t get to the service if they live in America or Australia for example.

“People get recordings and keep them to watch afterwards now.

“I think there will be less and less need for it because more than 15 people can come.

“But I do think the cortege routes are here to stay with neighbours coming to the end of their drives or the road and older couples who may not be able to drive can pay their respects.”

The funeral director has also seen a rise in social media announcements following a death and thinks this is a growing trend.

“People are using it as a tool instead of the good old-fashioned written obituary in the newspaper," he said.

Because Greg and his team are the point of contact for grieving families, the past year has been particularly hard for them emotionally.

“It has been hard in a way that people may not realise,” he said.

“Having to explain to a family that they can only have ten people, or that they can’t do what they wanted to do has been difficult for me personally.

“Having to deal emotionally with a family member’s reaction, when the decision is nothing to do with us but it’s due to restrictions, has been a struggle.”

“People come to us at the lowest point in their lives and we have always tried to allow people to come to our funeral home to pay respects in small groups, unlike some larger companies who may have had to prevent people.

“We have had to take a lot of precautions but it’s great news that we’re now getting back to a little bit of normal service.”