Simon Welham from Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials reflects on how the south London and Kent funeral directors have managed over the past year of lockdown and pandemic.
Hello, I’m Simon Welham from Welham Jones funerals & memorials and I hope that this 4 minute video documents, from a social history perspective, our COVID journey.
Right from early January 2020, unlike the SARS or Bird-flu scares, COVID-19 seemed to me to be a real threat. In fact, given its origin in China and the migration of millions of its citizens for the Chinese New Year it surprised me that COVID wasn’t here much sooner. Have you seen just how many Chinese students attend UK unis!
Anyway, we started buying PPE in batches from early January as the likelihood of a pandemic increased steadily. We watched the statistics earnestly for the first European case, the first UK case, and inevitably the first death.
We monitored our trade association’s guidelines to ensure we were compliant and prepared risk assessments and staff guidelines on what to ask clients on the phone, what PPE should be worn and when.
Above all we wanted to know could we catch it from the dead?
We liaised with Kent Resilience Forum, reported our status; green amber and red for both storage and staff. Staff sickness and isolation I rated a greater risk to the business than COVID itself.
I looked at any projections I could get to try and quantify just how bad it could get, by which I meant how many excess deaths over and above the seasonal average.
For Kent, it was a wide range depending on Public Health England’s best and worse guesstimates, of between 100 and 2,000!
The question, though, was would they all be at once, or spread out over time?
And then on March 23 the lockdown. For us business as normal albeit with very limited attendance. Our offices shut to the public, isolating our staff in a virtual bubble with a their families. No more than six at a funeral.
Deserted roads – no traffic queues. Virtual meeting on Zoom, all paperwork to be singled. With Signable and served electronically, something the powers that be said could not be done. ‘O the power of emergency legislation!
Limousines off the road and in storage; bearers, clad in face coverings having to make their own way to cemeteries and crematoria. No church services. Coffin shortages due to demand, especially those from Asia. Doors plastered and covered with appeals for hands, face, space and of course the ubiquitous sanitiser.
And in southeast London what resembled mass graves and a constant shuttle of hearses from Tower Hamlets.
Thursday evening at 8 – a clap for the NHS and, almost an afterthought, key workers such as us.
And at our head office, additional storage capacity courtesy of, of all people Tube Monkeys.
Then, as the days grew longer and the R fell back, lockdown was lifted for a few brief months, churches opened their doors, horse drawn hearses returned along with limousines now divided with Perspex.
Clients able to visit our offices, socially distanced of course.
Four tiers, then five as Autumn became winter and eventually Tier six and my goodness, if we thought the spring had been busy Winter 2021 was almost apocalyptic.
Seasonally we have been and remain 25% ahead of ‘normal’ and from a quarter of all our funerals being COVID victims in spring 2020 it was well over a half during January and February2021, with full PPE in the mortuary de-rigeur. How fashionable!
The delay in getting a funeral rose toward 5 weeks and we struggled to get families to choose coffins, meaning even greater pressure on storage capacity.
With 30 mourners maximum and webcasts allowing friends and families to drop in virtually – its just not the same.
No wakes, not because they aren’t permitted; they are but the venues are shut. So, cream teas in a box to take away, with a drop of fizz of course.
And there I will leave my resume. We’ve been vaccinated, the road map to normality published. Can’t wait.
And here’s hoping we never see the like again.
And the moral of our story – hope for the best but plan for the worst.
Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials has 7 local funeral homes :
Monday 9:00 am–5:00 pm
Tuesday 9:00 am–5:00 pm
Wednesday 9:00 am–5:00 pm
Thursday 9:00 am–5:00 pm
Friday 9:00 am–5:00 pm
You can call us 24/7 7 days-a-week. He are here for you.
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