How Did We End Up Doing This? Women in the funeral industry
Location of Event: Friends' Meeting House, Oxford
Charge: £8 (£6 conc) + booking fee
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Funeral director and owner of The Individual Funeral Company. Lucy says, "Before starting my own company, I worked for national chain funeral directors and was the world’s first full-time female motorcycle hearse rider in the world. Seeing how other people did things made me angry a lot of the time because I knew things could be better. This led to the creation of The Individual Funeral Company a decade ago.
I’ve become an expert in arranging natural burial services and highly bespoke funerals, often saying yes to things when other
companies would have absolutely said no. I love arranging services this personal.
However, I also believe that it is important to use this knowledge wherever possible and am an expert in funeral poverty, speaking with MP’s and at Select Committee hearings, which has led to being sought out by media regularly on any issue surrounding funerals or death."
Photo credit: detail from an original photograph taken by Trui Hussein Hanoulle
I was a one-time death-phobe turned positive embracer of my mortality. As I write, I am alive, kicking and living on Dartmoor in Devon. The change started in 1999 and happened slowly but my awakening culminated as I patiently pounded and rolled a large piece of felt that was to become a shroud. I called it a Universal Shroud, symbolising the Cycle of Life, and reflecting the terrible state of our humanised planet.
As a felt maker I was inspired by a 17th Century Act that decreed that the dead must be buried in wool. This was devised to keep the wool industry - the most important British activity that created a lot of wealth for some - thriving. My notion was that we could ditch our obsession with coffins and all the unsustainable materials that go to make up these (to my mind) unattractive and linear objects and return to a simpler, kinder way of burying our dead that is eco-friendly and generally gentler on the environment, and more comforting.
23 years on my business, Bellacouche, thrives and has gained a following. I currently work with one other who joined me 18 months ago. Her name, coincidentally, is Bella!
Sophia, founder of Woven Farewell Coffins, a small willow coffin company based in Devon and the East Midlands, says "I comes from a bountifully creative family, with a mother who role modelled entrepreneurialism with a big grin and open arms. Her dying process in 2012 was beautiful, supported and interactive with my local community. This allowed her parting gift to be one of feeling comfortable with death.
I started weaving willow then as a bereavement therapy, and continued alongside organic farming and forestry for years. It wasn't until in 2018 when my daughter was born and eight weeks later my sister was killed, that I had the space to consider what was important in my life. Basketry + death work + sustainability = willow coffins!
I started trading five years ago, and with a small team sell to families and funeral directors around the country. In the future, I'll be setting up a natural burial ground to offer biodiverse meadow burials alongside willow coffins, and am also designing the first rental willow coffin!"
Liz Rothschild set up the Kicking the Bucket Festival in 2012 as it became clear to her through working as a celebrant and burial ground manager that it was essential to talk with people before a bereavement in order for people to feel able to ask for what they really need.
A performer and writer, she regularly performs her show Outside the Box – A Live show about Death. Her book Outside the Box was published by PCCS in 2020 – drawing on a cornucopia of stories sad, inspiring, informative and uplifting alongside expert commentaries and resources. Her second book Weathering the Storm: Stories of love, loss and discovery during Covid 19 was published in February 2023.
She passionately believes that life gets better when we admit our own mortality.