You work as Funeral Director at Cooper & Son, in the High Street. What led you here?
I fell into the industry by complete chance. I was a taxi driver in Brighton and I saw a small notice in the Argus for a chauffeur bearer – someone who drives the hearse or mourning cars, and who carries the coffins. I applied and started working for family firm CPJ Field, who now own Coopers (for years this was run by funeral director Clive Cooper). This was back in 2011 and I loved the work. I wished I’d found the job years before. I got more and more interested in the whole process – from the family making that first phone call, through to the funeral and beyond. So I started in a training role covering a maternity leave at Coopers, and became the Lewes office’s Funeral Director four and a half years ago.
Were you nervous conducting your first funeral?
YES! Not helped by the fact we set out for the crematorium in Brighton and got stuck in horrendous traffic…
What do you like about the role?
You’re the person people are looking to for direction. Emotions, of course, can run high and raw at funerals. We’re here to guide people, and make sure it all runs smoothly. It’s great meeting the families – that sense of fulfilment that you’ve guided a family through, in some cases, a really painful period of their lives. Lewes is a quirky little town, full of people from all sorts of different backgrounds and likes and dislikes. We never know who’s coming through the door next, and every family brings their own unique story. We’re also, as a company, focusing on outreach into the community. There is more isolation and loneliness than perhaps ever before. So we host Never Alone coffee mornings in Costa, for instance, and a Forget Me Not group for people coming together from a range of Lewes care homes.
Tell me about your Lewes.
I don’t actually live in Lewes, but I do spend my days out and about in the town, and bump into lots of people I’ve got to know in my role. My wife is a Sussex girl – she grew up in Woodingdean – though I originally came from Somerset. But when we moved to Sussex I said ‘What about Lewes?’ I’ve no idea why that idea popped into my head, and it wasn’t to be – we ended up in Saltdean – but now of course I spend most of my days here, and am deeply involved in one side of the life (and deaths) of the town. We also often come over at weekends for a potter round, and a coffee – in Carafe in Station Street, or down at the Riverside. Funerals are evolving all the time – today they are often much more celebrations of a life than mourning a death. I’ve conducted them in Lewes House, at the House of Friendship, All Saints Centre…
What song will play at your funeral?
I don’t know – maybe something by Meat Loaf!