Kent Natural Burials offers do-it-yourself funerals for families at Riverview Burial Ground, Lower Halstow, Sittingbourne
As if the heartache of losing a loved one wasn’t difficult enough, grieving relatives often face a struggle to be able to afford a proper funeral, with the average cost of celebrations now standing at around £4,000.
But one Kent family took a different path when their mother died, leaving them doing everything from making the casket to conducting the service themselves. Joe Crossley reports on why more people are turning to DIY funerals…
When retired English lecturer Faith Chantler died at St Brilades Nursing Home in Herne Bay, aged 74, her family faced a dilemma.
One of her daughters, Ellen, had flown in from New Zealand and wanted to be there with her loved ones to comfort her beloved mother.
But when the family received quotes from funeral directors, they were told it would take at least three weeks before they could arrange a burial, meaning they were likely to miss the service.
Then they learned another way, which they could do themselves.
By choosing a natural burial, they can arrange the transport of the body, the making of the coffin, the burial itself and the service, all without a funeral director.
Elaine’s sister, Rowena Evans, explains they settled at Riverview Natural Cemetery in Lower Halstow, near Sittingbourne, run by award-winning Kent Natural Burials.
Her mother, an English lecturer at the University of Kent, wanted her to be buried in Wickambro churchyard and told her daughter that she “fed in life” and wanted her body to go “and feed in death; even if they were just worms”.
They decided a natural burial would be entirely appropriate, and Rowena says, had her mother not suffered from dementia near the end, she would have agreed it was “much more appropriate”.
The Al Houthi resident had previously assumed that there were laws prohibiting people from conducting burials themselves, but this is not the case.
After contacting Kent Natural Burials director Sian Muir, the family were told that all they needed was a death certificate to release the body from A Welch and Sons funeral directors – who were holding the body – as well as transport for their mother. To Riverview.
After receiving the papers four days later, the family arrived to collect them in their camper van, and Faith was buried within a week.
The coffin was made of wooden planks and was built by a carpenter friend, who made sure the materials were completely recycled.
After being moved to the plot and dropped off by her family, Faith was buried on March 15, 2022, in a 3-foot shallow grave, much closer to the surface than a normal 6-foot grave to allow her to return more quickly to nature.
While the average cost of a funeral is around £4,000 in the UK, Rowena’s family paid just £1,655 for her bespoke service, which included digging the grave and the plot itself.
Funeral directors paid them £170 to hold the body for a week, plus a further £50 to view the body.
Rowena says the DIY funeral was perfect for her family’s needs, and she now “highly recommends” a natural burial.
She added: “At first, the DIY funeral was all about speeding up so my sister could take part in the funeral, but as it turned out, it was absolutely perfect.
“We couldn’t have wanted a better burial with 11 of her closest family members attending and conducting the service ourselves.
“It wasn’t tough guys in black suits, it was my brother in the campervan that my mother was so into. It seemed more appropriate.”
“We weren’t on a conveyor belt and we showed up when we wanted to and we could take our time at the burial without being rushed. We were the only people there the whole time.
“We were the ones who carried and lowered the coffin which took away all the stiffness of the funeral. We had never carried a coffin from a truck before, so it was very funny.
“By doing it ourselves, we took the formality out of the situation and made it a really beautiful day without adhering to any of the usual norms, as my brother and sister said a few words during the burial.
“The burial can be done exactly the way you want.
“I convinced my husband, who always said he wanted to be cremated because he didn’t like the idea of being gnawed into a grave, to say he would like to be buried in a natural burial site.”
The Riverview location, which opened four years ago, is the second location opened by Kent Natural Burials.
The company began operations in 2007 on a built site in Derton, near Tyneham.
In less than two decades, more than 650 people were buried at the site, which was transformed from an empty field into a forest.
This is part of the appeal of natural burial, because it is a more environmentally friendly way to bury a loved one thanks to the planted trees that create more of the environment in the form of animals and birds.
Because there are no cremations on site, no fumes are released into the atmosphere.
Thanks to the environmentally friendly nature, flexibility and cost-cutting potential of burials, about 300 people have pre-purchased plots of land at both sites for use upon their death.
The success of Kent Natural Burials is linked to the growth of the practice over the past three decades after Carlisle City Council opened the first site in 1993.
Since then, there are now more than 270 natural burial sites in the UK.
Despite the growth in the industry, Sian says the “gentle and personalized” practice is still “relatively unknown”.
Right now, Sian says there are about one burial a week at the Riverview site, which she says will be full in 12 years.
She added: “People are given the choice of what coffin they want, what the service will be like, what tree they want, and of course they are given the choice to do everything themselves.
“Being buried here you’re very environmentally friendly and you’re giving back to the earth, and you’re also providing a habitat for the animals that come here.”
(Tags for translation)Herne Bay