Five fantastic people who helped get Poppy’s off the ground

Four minute read

Founder and Chair Poppy Mardall pays tribute to some of her influences when starting Poppy's in 2012.

It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a whole community to build an ethical business. An incredible number of people gave their time, energy, passion and expertise to get Poppy’s to where it is today.

I can’t thank everyone personally here, but I would like to highlight a few individuals who supported Poppy’s so generously ten years ago, and continue to do so today.

There were the sector leaders who advised me; the frontline staff who showed me the ropes; the early team members who embraced the challenges alongside me; the first clients who trusted me with the care of their precious friends and relatives; and, of course, my family, who showed unending emotional and practical support. I am so grateful to you all.

Sector leaders: Charles Cowling, founder of The Good Funeral Guide

Charles Cowling, Good Funeral Guide, Poppy's funerals

I reached out to Charles, founder of the Good Funeral Guide, when the first inklings of Poppy’s were swirling in my consciousness. I admired his outspoken critical assessment of the bad and his championing of the good in the sector, as well as his fierce sense that grieving people and dead people deserved better.

I asked Charles — “Do you think I’m right that death care is all wrong?” and “Do you think I might have a role in changing that?” Anyone else in his shoes would have brushed me off with a “Why you?” or an “I’m busy, leave me alone.”

But he replied with such energy and support. It was a rallying cry to keep thinking, keep pushing, keep asking difficult questions. Charles has supported so many great, open-minded people to get into this beautiful work.

I found the same attitude from Rosie Inman Cook from the Natural Death Centre. She responded to my gabbing on about apps and funeral consultancy, by telling me people need good funeral directors. That’s how you’ll help people”. She was right.

Friends and family: Chris Pensa, my husband

Chris Pensa, Poppy's funerals

Back in 2011, I made a list of the things I might do next with my life. Considering my background in the arts, death and dying was by far the most absurd thing on that list. Chris never flinched.

He sat with me in the pub as I sketched out my initial ideas, posing questions, egging me on. He came out in the night to help collect people who had died, only stopping when our first baby was born and one of us needed to stay home with her.

Chris has painted walls, carried coffins and picked me up off the floor when my energies ebbed (often). He is one of Poppy’s most enduring cheerleaders.

Clients: Mariel Ramos

Mariel Ramos, Poppy's funerals

Mariel was a young woman looking for a flexible funeral director to support her plan to take charge of her young husband Oli’s funeral herself. She knew exactly what help she wanted.

Oli was dying at a hospice and they had agreed to care for him until the funeral. Mariel needed Poppy’s to collect Oli from the hospice and drive him to the crematorium where the family and friends would take over. She also wanted to ride in the vehicle with Oli.

She was asking for something so simple. Something so meaningful.

Many of Poppy’s clients live in the forefront of my consciousness, helping to ensure our direction stays true to our foundations, but none more so than Mariel. She was courageous, empowered, clear. We should be building a world where everyone gets the information and support they need when someone dies, just the way Mariel did.

Read Mariel's story in her own words

Frontline workers: Richard Putt, funeral director

Richard Puttman, Levertons, Poppy's funerals

Richard was one of a number of funeral directors open-minded enough to let me come behind the scenes in their mortuaries ‘to help out’. I had lots of ideas, a million questions and absolutely no experience with the dead. I must have been an odd sight and I imagine I was no help at all.

When we launched Poppy’s, Levertons were kind enough to let us use their mortuary space and infrastructure for the first six months as we got going. I will always be grateful to Richard and to Levertons for their help in the early days.

I also learnt so much from David Colvin and Lenny Browse, the mortuary technicians at Fulham Public Mortuary where we rented refrigeration in our early days.

They showed me a post mortem. They taught me how to take out a pacemaker (which is necessary before a cremation). They showed me what committing yourself to caring beautifully for the dead looks like, even when no one is watching.

Mortuary technicians do essential work that almost no one knows anything about.

Team members: Isabel Potter, our first employee

Isabel Potter, Poppy's funerals

Isabel read an interview with me in Stylist magazine in 2012 and immediately wrote to ask about joining Poppy’s. She was our first employee and she leapt in with both feet — believing in Poppy’s and all we might be capable of (despite the fact that we did not have an office at the time and she had to work from my spare bedroom).

Isabel stayed with Poppy’s for eight years and in that time her contribution was immense — serving clients, recruiting and leading teammates, building and enriching our culture and a whole lot else on the fly.

Like all first employees, Isabel gave a tremendous amount and put up with a lot of uncertainty and hair-raising antics. I am eternally grateful for the way she and others shaped Poppy’s to be all it is today.

Read about how Poppy’s has been pioneering great death care — and about our vision for the future

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