Death has always been a taboo subject, but Louise Winter has made it her life’s mission to challenge and change people’s perception’s about death. Despite forging a successful career in the media industry, Louise decided to make a complete u-turn, setting up her own funeral service, ‘Poetic Endings’, as well as becoming the editor of the blog, ‘Good Funeral Guide‘. Louise felt inspired to move into the funeral industry because she wanted to prove to people that you can take a more creative approach to funerals and hold them in alternative modern spaces that feel less restrictive.
The blog, ‘Good Funeral Guide’ takes you into the unexplored world of the funeral industry in an unarming and sometimes humorous way. In this spotlight Louise chats to us about her unconventional entry into the funeral industry, the challenge of promoting the blog on social media, why attitudes are changing towards death, why she is only looking to work with PRs who are looking to positively make a change, and reveals her big plans for the Good Funeral Guide.
In 2009 you completed a degree in Fashion Promotion at the London College of Fashion and went on to launch Dirty Laundry, a magazine for twenty-something girls. You’ve also worked with brands such as Jack Daniel’s, Bestival, ASOS, Boohoo and Time Out. How did you transition into working in the funeral industry? It’s a long and complicated story, which is why I’m writing a book about it (watch this space!) The short and simple answer is that I’d never experienced death or even been to a funeral before my granddad died when I was 26. I was shocked by the experience I had at his funeral – the out of date crematorium in a random part of town, the stuffy funeral directors telling us where to stand and where to go, the dreadful poetry and the many sausage rolls. It cost a lot of money and didn’t seem to help the grieving process in any way. It lacked relevance to the way we lived and I realised that funerals could offer so much more.
I was desperately unhappy with the work I was doing and one day I had an epiphany. I wanted to change everything about my life and realised I could do that through death.
I went off to Funeral School, spent a summer at the back of the crematorium observing funerals and finally began taking funerals myself. I now run a funeral service called Poetic Endings where I help people to put together creative, meaningful and relevant funerals and I also edit the Good Funeral Guide – the only independent resource that exists to help consumers get the funeral they want. We’re a tiny and unpaid team. Our time is spent inspecting funeral directors and making sure everything is as it should be, as well as writing about the goings on in the funeral world.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in mortuary fridges making sure the guests are well-looked after! It’s definitely not Paris Fashion Week but I can’t imagine doing anything else!
One of the misconceptions your blog helps to break down is that you don’t have to hold a funeral in a church or a crematorium and that there are alternatives to traditional options. Can you talk a little about this and why it is important? Funerals are full of so many ‘shoulds’.
We’re often governed by doing what we think is expected rather than what we feel we need to do. Rituals without relevance just become formalities.
So many times clients ask me ‘but what does everyone else do?’ and I won’t answer that question. I help people work out what will actually help their grieving process based on who they are, rather than just doing what is expected or what’s standard.
With a funeral, you can do whatever you want to do; there are no rules. I work with venues to host funerals and wakes outside of traditional settings. Clients are often surprised by what is possible, from restored chapels to art galleries, barns and museums. You can even hold the funeral at home, or in your garden.
Don’t feel you have to be in the strange and restricted environment of the dusty and outdated crematorium! Life doesn’t fit into a thirty-minute time slot, and neither does death. Do whatever you need to do, wherever that is.
Why do you think death is such a taboo issue? Do you see attitudes changing in the future? I don’t think death is that much of a taboo subject. I think that people struggle to deal with difficult emotions and don’t know what to do with grief. That’s why it’s become such a tough and frightening topic and is called a taboo.
Attitudes are definitely changing and as they continue to change, funerals will evolve. My generation has embraced yoga, mindfulness and meditation. We’re much more equipped to deal with difficult emotions, and I think this will have a profound effect on the funerals of the future.
What do you want people to come away with after visiting your blog? After a visit to either Poetic Endings or the Good Funeral Guide, I’d like people to feel empowered about their funeral choices. There’s a whole world of options out there and some really wonderful funeral directors who can help you put together a funeral that will aid the grieving process, rather than hinder it. Don’t just call the local funeral director who claims to have been around for the last three hundred years. Do your research and find out what works for you.
How do you measure the success of your blog? The Good Funeral Guide gets over 30,000 visitors every month. We love to hear from the people who have had a look around the website and then made an informed decision about the funeral they’re arranging, whether positive or negative. It’s wonderful to hear when the advice we’ve given has really helped a family at a difficult time.
How do you work with marketers and PRs? We’re not considered a very sexy industry so marketers and PRs very rarely contact us! If anything, my inbox tends to be full of people promoting mortuary fridges, new funeral services, enquiries from people wanting to get into the business, or people wanting to hijack our excellent SEO by writing terrible blog posts! They’re sternly told where to go.
We’re a community interest company (CIC) and very picky about who we work with. We exist to help people have better funerals and will do what we can to support those who also have that intention.
How do you use social media to promote and share content? What are the challenges? We run the Good Funeral Guide which is a collection of forward-thinking people from every aspect of funeral world who want to better serve the bereaved. The main focus is a Facebook group where we share best practice, talk through issues and forge new connections.
As I’ve mentioned before, funerals aren’t a particularly sexy topic so although we have 30,000 visitors a month, finding relevant and sensitive content to appeal to the public on social media can be difficult! The Good Funeral Guide’s social channels mostly exist for people who work in the industry.
My personal Twitter and Instagram documents my own experience at the front-line of funerals and all the heartache and heartbreak that goes with it. It’s very provocative at times and not everyone likes it. In fact, I’m unfollowed quite regularly!
What can PRs do in working better with you? We’re looking to work with people with integrity. We like people who are genuinely looking to positively make a change, rather than just looking to hijack our brilliant SEO! Talk to us. We’re a friendly bunch.
What has been your blogging highlight? The Good Funeral Guide has been going for quite some time now. It was started by Charles Cowling, a funeral celebrant and writer who was disillusioned by what he experienced in the funeral world. He’s written some pretty explosive things since its conception and really enacted change in a mostly very backwards industry. I was delighted when I was invited to join the team. It was a huge honour.
My favourite blog post almost got me into lots of trouble last summer. I exposed a crematorium in London who were behaving particularly badly and no one was doing anything about it. I had taken a funeral there and was disturbed by what I saw so the next day I returned with my camera and photographed the filthy stained carpets, lackadaisical staff and the general ramshackle state of the place.
They caught me taking photos so I pretended I was looking for my lost funeral poetry book. When the blog post came out, I was petrified that I’d be thrown into the cremator!
I’m really happy that the crematorium is now under new management and improvements are being made. Just because it’s death, doesn’t mean that standards should disappear. Bereaved people are at the most vulnerable point in their lives and that shouldn’t be exploited.
What will be big in your blogosphere in the coming months? We’re looking forward to exposing the good and bad of the funeral world in 2017 and continuing all the good work of the last few years. The Good Funeral Guide website is charmingly old-fashioned and desperately in need of an update. That’s something we’re working on this year. Please don’t let the design put you off! There’s some wonderful content to read.