Tamworth Co-op’s funeral home in Upper Gungate has fitted screens into two luxury cars to allow mourning families to follow the hearse in a limousine.
The screens were fitted by funeral co-ordinator Trevor Palmer, who was previously the director of an engineering firm, and funeral director Paul Warwick, a highly skilled restorer of classic cars.
“We were very lucky to have these skilled guys on hand, and once the screens arrived they got to work straight away,” said Glen Speak, the funeral division’s deputy general manager.
“So many families during lockdown have been upset not to be able to follow behind the hearse in a limousine because of the coronavirus restrictions. It’s really important to many people to feel part of the cortege and formally participate in their loved one’s final journey.
“It’s not just valuable because of that. Family members sit together while following the hearse and often discuss the good times they had with their relative. Whether the journey lasts 10 or 40 minutes, that gives them the chance to talk and support each other as a close-knit group, with nobody having to drive.
“Having that time to talk and reflect in the comfort of a luxury vehicle can have a calming effect on people. It’s almost like a therapy which some people say helps them to cope with the emotion of the day. We have been constantly asked about funeral cars, and it’s nice to be able to respond positively again. We can accommodate six mourners in each car.”
Families will have the option of coming into the funeral home to go through the arrangements but the co-op advises them to communicate over the telephone and via email whenever possible.
“One thing that we have being doing differently during this period is that we send out all the brochures showing the choices available,” added Mr Speak. “We then help the families choose what suits them and their budget best over the phone. If people are keen to come into the building, then we will now allow that, but we will still send all the information in advance via email to help with the process.”
According to general manager Amanda Woodward, the layout of the funeral home is also being altered to make it more suitable for social distancing.
“For example, we have been moving tables out of our private rooms and this will allow staff and relatives to observe social distancing in more of a lounge-style setting. We will continue to allow a two-metre gap between people, for the time being, even if the restriction is generally relaxed to one metre.”
While no members of staff have been diagnosed with Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, the co-op remains cautious.
“We’ve been following very strict procedures and our staff were already trained in dealing with infectious diseases such as SARS and bird flu. They were very well prepared for this challenge. We also bulked up on personal protection equipment when the outbreak happened. Some team members have had to self-isolate, but there have been no confirmed cases among our staff.
“During the first two weeks of June we have also noticed that the number of deaths we usually deal with have been close to the monthly average for June. At the peak of the pandemic, they were treble what we would have expected. Of course, we just hope it stays that way now and that people will continue to act responsibly when they come into contact with others,” she added.
The co-op plans to fit similar screens to the remainder of its funeral fleet serving its other branches in Coseley, Heath Hayes, Great Wyrley, Uttoxeter and Woodville.