Still on highlights of the year… Best Alternative Funeral Hearse Award went to Clare Brookes and and Michelle Orton who run VW Funerals. A VW hearse… way to go!
I asked Clare about winning the Good Funeral Award, why they think they won and how they got into this line of work.
Q: Why do you think you won Best Alternative Funeral Hearse?
I’d like to think we won because of the high standard of our vehicles, our attention to detail and the care and compassion we show for the people we are serving. Volkswagen Funerals is 50% about the cars and 50% about what we do for our clients.
Q: Why do you do the job you do?
I wanted to be in the funeral profession since my mother’s family are funeral directors. At the time when I was leaving school it was rare that you saw women doing the job and I was discouraged by my immediate family. So I became a telephone engineer!
I like being hands-on making things and getting stuck in: I’m no office dweller.
I have had my fair share of trauma and loss in my life: my parents and grandparents were almost killed in a car crash when I was 19 – it was touch and go for quite some time. Thankfully they pulled through but the trauma stayed with me and I became unwell with post traumatic stress disorder.
Some years later I set off to buy a second-hand bathroom suite for my home and en route a beautiful, immaculate 1972 Hillman Imp came along on the other side of the road. There were 5 young men well squashed up together inside and as we were just passing I gave the driver the thumbs up and he smiled and waved back. Seconds later the car lost control on a bend into the path of the large van behind me which drove over it. Four of the lads were killed instantly; one died the following day. They were off to one of the lads’ 18th birthday celebrations. It made the news. (Me waving wasn’t the cause of the crash incidentally although I blamed myself.) I had to go to the inquest and relive it. The police who attended had counselling. The families were totally distraught. It took me years to get out of these dark times.
In December 2003, my father passed away suddenly, as he was reading the manual of some cordless telephones I had bought him for Christmas! I was completely heartbroken. He was my rock. I decided that I would pick myself up and make him proud of me. I have loved VWs for as long as I can remember. I had an idea that Volkswagens would make good wedding cars, and if I was to get married I would want it to go in a VW. About this time in my life I met Michelle we set about making this dream a reality and bought a Cabriolet Beetle (we called him Demis-Roofoff) and a Beetle stretched Limousine (Mark-stretch mark). We took off like a rocket and were buying more cars to meet demand.
In 2006 we started to do the same for funerals using our vehicles for family to travel in behind a traditional hearse, but looking for that right vehicle to use as our own hearse. Then in 2007 we found it, we bought him from Belgium, restored him, kitted him out for funeral use. We gave him the name Hearseby and launched our business.
I wanted or needed to help families who had lost their people and this was my way of doing it. This in turn helps me. (As we help so we are helped.)
Q: What sort of people want a VW as an alternative funeral hearse?
Absolutely all kinds of people use our Volkswagens for all manner of reasons. Some have lost elderly parents and choose a VW because as children they holidayed in them and they bring back memories of good times. Younger people may have had plans to own one and go travelling but sadly didn’t get to do it. I think that the VWs represent the fact that they were young and they were fun- loving people who had character and style. Some people simply chose them because they don’t want a sombre hearse.
Q: How far can you travel to a funeral?
We are based in the Midlands and we travel nationwide. The hearses are carried in a covered lorry and only do working miles. If asked we would even get on a ferry and go overseas.
Q: What would be your own ideal send-off?
Well I would want it to be a very V-Dubby affair. My wicker coffin would need to be transported in both Hearseby and Ernie (our hearses). It would need to be in an area that the VWs could all park up – so a field perhaps with a marquee: somewhere scenic.
I would like it to be a relaxed atmosphere where people could come and spend time. If anyone wanted, they could put messages onto my coffin and then have a get-together of those who cared about me to come and tell people a funny memory of me. I love music so there should be plenty of ‘my’ funeral music, I would want people to listen to it while I have them captive! I think a few nice smelling joss sticks would be in there burning away too. I would like to be buried at a natural burial ground (hopefully my own if I ever manage to find a place) as I love wildlife. Somewhere where the sun shines warmest throughout the year.
Make sure someone knows your Funeral Wishes: it’s free to capture and update your Wishes on Final Fling. It’s good fun too, strangely. And you can appoint a Keyholder who can access them ‘in the event’. Get ideas here.
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