From cardboard caskets to 'grief purchases' - welcome to Coffin Club
- Credit: Courtesy of Jane Morgan
In a cost of living crisis, even funerals can be part of saving money says north London celebrant Jane Morgan.
From self-decorated cardboard coffins, to taking a taxi to the service, and being cremated in the morning, she has plenty of suggestions for cutting the often eyewatering cost of saying goodbye to a loved one.
"People don't feel they can shop around - they feel it's distasteful to talk about money and end up making a grief purchase," she says.
"But we shop around for everything else in life and this is our most important purchase."
Morgan is running a Coffin Club at Alexandra Palace on May 10 to offer financial and other advice to those planning a funeral. Part of a UK-wide charity, her CIC is the club's first London branch.
"We make sure people know what their choices are so they can take control of their end of life decisions, leave instructions for their family, and decide what's important to them to make their funeral personal and special."
The event features speakers, including funeral directors talking about their role; workshops on legal advice like making a will or gaining power of attorney; and the chance to assemble a flat pack coffin - or watch a woman decorate her own.
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"We don't promote anyone in particular, the whole point is to have the funeral that you want. We talk about what happens when you die, how much things cost and where to make savings. My top tips are save £250 on a limousine and get a taxi to the funeral, and if you are going to have a cremation, as 75 percent of people do, have it at 9am, it's half the price of being cremated in the afternoon."
Many aren't aware that there's no legal requirement to use an undertaker.
"One woman enabled her family to do everything themselves. They picked her up from the hospice, kept her cool, and took her to the funeral in the back of a van. It doesn't work for everybody but it let them be together and do this last thing for her. A lot of things aren't done because they are cheaper but because they are more meaningful to you."
Her favourite display item is a decorated cardboard coffin which cost just £150.
"It's absolutely stunning. No one else has a coffin like it. People can bring items from home or decorate it at the ceremony itself. As a celebrant I've found people come to a funeral that's different and say: 'Wow this is what a funeral can look like.'
"We need to change the visual story of four men in dark suits carrying an MDF coffin. An austere funeral director wearing a top hat is so removed from your daily life that you don't feel involved. It's better to find someone to be alongside you."
Raised in Finsbury Park and Crouch End before moving to Tottenham, Morgan became a celebrant 10 years ago after attending a friend's funeral.
"It was amazing. We cried, we laughed, we got involved. I thought 'this is how things should be,' and took a training course."
"It's the most wonderful job. I am a storyteller. I feel really honoured that as a stranger I get to work alongside families at an intimate time in their lives. It makes such a difference that they are able to make something unique. A funeral can be transformative in the grief process - a celebration of life enabling people to deal with terrible sadness."
Coffin Club can also help those facing the end "find ways of raising their mortality with their family".
"In our first workshop we had someone with a terminal illness whose family didn't want to talk about it because it was too difficult. When the time came, she had made all her choices and everything was in place."
And during Covid restrictions, Morgan helped families work out how to manage with as few as six people in attendance.
"It was very difficult for people, reimagining what a funeral could look like, but a couple I led were very personal and intimate and the family were actually relieved only a few people could go."
Over the decade, she's seen a trend towards green burials with an electric hearse and biodegradable flowers, and for celebrants rather than ministers of religion. But she insists services can encompass old and new rituals.
"Many don't go to church but still want prayers and hymns because that's been important in their lives. Ceremony that's familiar, the things you sang when you were young, can be very comforting. Whether you bring a poem or light candles it's all about personal choice, you can create ritual that's important for you."
Her main advice is to plan ahead, make a funeral wish list when you are not expecting to die, and remember "it's about me but it's not for me".
"Death is difficult to talk about and a bit of a taboo, but we're beginning to shift the conversation. Things like Death Cafes and Coffin Club make it lighter so people are able to talk about it. We have a lot of fun, we laugh and eat lots of home made cake.
"In the end it's a club we are all going to be part of."
Book for the May 10 Coffin Club via www.eventbrite.com/o/coffin-club-north-london-28048090833 or visit www.janemorganfuneralceremonies.co.uk