"Emily really showed us what support was out there as well as her own local business experience. It was useful to know what services were in our backyard to support us."Lucy AtabeyCo-owner of White Feather Funerals
The male-dominated and traditionally family-run funeral industry is not usually seen as a hotbed of innovation, but White Feather Funerals are doing something different. Part of a movement that is making the sector more accessible and less austere, White Feather Funerals and its founders, Lucy Atabey and Dawn Bew are looking to doing things differently.
‘The funeral business has been a bit of an old boys’ club for the last few hundred years, but we are a part of a female-led movement to provide much more choice to families, offering transparency rather than smoke and mirrors,’ Lucy Atabey, co-owner and founder explained.
‘The funeral director’s responsibility is to understand the character of the person who has passed and help families provide the send-off their loved ones deserve. Over the years, many funeral directors have commoditised the process with packages, but we feel this can be to the detriment of families, with the result that they often get things they or their loved ones did not want or need, all without knowing that they can actually have more control!’
On entering its high street premises, you can tell immediately that White Feather Funerals is not a traditional funeral director. The décor is light and airy, and you are struck by the noticeable lack of coffins or the colour black. Instead, you are greeted by ‘Pete the Peacock’ in the front window, white-feathered like the company logo, and a tasteful wall decal stating ‘memories never die’. It reflects the company’s ethos, ‘Fresh, Contemporary, Transparent’.
"White Feather Funerals is not just the beginning of a new brand, but a promise and assurance to the recently bereaved."
‘Most independent funeral businesses take the surnames of their founders, but we wanted our business to represent something simple to loved ones left behind,’ Lucy explained about White Feather’s unusual brand name.
‘White feathers are known to be symbols of peace but also provide a thoughtful little message to remind ones left behind, that the bereaved are still with them. It is like our role: we help families find natural, gentle comfort in a sad time’.
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Lucy and Dawn’s backgrounds were not in the funeral sector but in the business world, Lucy continued: ‘It’s quite a big thing to change career in your 50s after years of thinking about it. To go from being a marketing professional for many years to something very new, and very intimate is incredibly exciting and highly rewarding.’
Focusing their offer on more bespoke, thoughtful consultation, White Feather were inspired by the funerals of Lucy and Dawn’s loved ones: Dawn lost her mother and found that the traditional funeral experience she had made her feel she had short-changed her mother, as she did not know at the time of all of the options available. Lucy lost her friend Ade in 2019 and experienced a unique outdoor ceremony at a Norfolk stately home that was capped off by a thoughtful firework display: ‘It was different from the usual regimented crematorium and time-limited church services. I came back to Heathfield and I felt like I owed it to him to start this business.’
‘Having a ‘good’ funeral, is about the grief journey,’ Dawn said, ‘If the funeral you’ve organised or attended is a true reflection of the deceased, more often than not you are able to process the grief better. You can have a service and your wake at the same venue, or even wear Hawaiian shirts if you want! If you don’t want a hearse, you don’t have to have a hearse! Families should know there is a lot more freedom now to honouring their loved ones.’
Since opening in early October, White Feather Funerals has not gone unnoticed by locals: ‘We have had such a positive response in Heathfield!’ Dawn said. ‘Though it has been a challenge getting the message out there due to Covid restrictions, we have already had visitors pop by to say how refreshingly different we are’.
Lucy and Dawn are not worried about their future, and the key reason is their location: ‘Heathfield is our town, our community. The towns and villages in South Wealden are growing rapidly, so we do not feel we challenge other funeral businesses.’
"Healthy competition makes you review things, makes you up your game. If you are not challenged or challenging yourselves, ultimately who loses out is the families"
Emily Wright, business manager at Locate East Sussex, was instrumental to help White Feather to get to this stage of the journey. ‘Emily really showed us what support was out there. As well as her own local business experience, it was useful to know what services were in our backyard to support us.’
Lucy and Dawn, with Emily’s advice, were able to secure the funding necessary for the fit-out of their new premises. They required a new mortuary to be installed, and the funding sources that Emily introduced them to enabled them to cover significant costs for a new low energy, environmentally-friendly cooling system. ‘It is important to us to have the right facilities, freeing us to focus more on our clients.’
‘We are small now, but we have access to many different independent and freelance businesses in East Sussex, and we plan to expand soon.’
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