The changing face of ‘Co-op’ funerals

A major cultural shift in the UK’s approach to one of the most fundamental social rites, the funeral service, has been confirmed in a new, wide-ranging report, which...

The Ways We Say Goodbye is the first study of its kind to draw information from the arrangements being made at funeral homes across the UK as well as from the public. The Co-operative Funeralcare, the UK’s largest funeral provider responsible for 100,000 funerals each year, conducted the research across its network of over 850 funeral homes.

Its findings have been backed by the country’s leading funeral historian, Dr Julian Litten, who says: “Funeral traditions are fundamentally changing and I would expect contemporary funerals to overtake the more traditional sombre events within the next ten years.

“The splendour and ceremony once favoured by the Victorians is returning, but with a modern twist. High-profile funerals, such as those of Princess Diana and, more recently, Jade Goody, have encouraged people to adopt a fresh approach.”

Funeral directors in the Co-operative Group’s funeral business report a significant shift-change in funeral preferences in the last five years; requests have included pink Cadillacs, a milk-float cortege, 

woodland burials and live jazz at the graveside. Mourners are watching firework displays, wearing bright colours, blowing bubbles and releasing balloons during funeral events.

The findings are backed by a new independent ICM survey, commissioned by The Co-operative Funeralcare, of 2,000 British adults. It revealed that more than half of the population (54 per cent) would prefer their send-off to be a celebration of life than a simple church service with hymns, and almost half of the population (48 per cent) are keen for their funeral to reflect their favourite hobby, colour, football team or music.

However, while funerals are becoming more contemporary, the subject remains taboo, as 55 per cent of people admit to never having discussed their wishes for their own funeral with friends and family.

The Co-operative Funeralcare’s study of funeral customs in the UK revealed:

• Half of today’s funerals are a celebration of life and more than one in ten includes no religion.

• One in three funerals now includes a favourite pop song, football theme or hobby.

• In 60 per cent of funerals the deceased is dressed in clothes that reflect their life, job or hobby. More unusual outfit requests have included a clown costume, cyclists’ lycra, fishermen’s waders and diver’s wet suits. Common requests include wedding dresses, football strips, military uniforms, kilts and biker’s leathers.

• Personalised floral tributes, such as to ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ are seen at around 35 per cent per cent of funerals. More unusual floral arrangements have included a pint of Guinness, a cricket bat and a pigeon.

• One in 20 coffins is bespoke; requests have included a Lancaster bomber, a tardis and a yacht. The choice of materials now includes wood, cardboard, wicker and even British wool.

• Religious music is declining with contemporary music, from love songs to favourite TV programme themes, increasing in popularity. 

• Requests for funeral ceremonies to be broadcasted live over the internet to allow friends and family to view at home or abroad are increasing.

Commenting on the research findings, David Collingwood, UK Operations Manager, The 

Co-operative Funeralcare, said: “Our research is the largest study of funeral customs ever carried out and reveals a significant shift in attitudes across the UK. Funeral directors are going to great lengths to accommodate a wide range of special requests, as funerals become more a celebration of life.

“Along with the rise in contemporary funerals, there is more interest in woodland burials and coffins made of cardboard or wicker.”

The Ways We Say Goodbye booklet has been produced by The Co-operative Funeralcare and will be available from its 850 funeral homes across the UK. A copy of the booklet can also be downloaded from

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