Coconuts, cake and care: My first month at Poppy’s

Poppy's culture day (Clare, back row, centre)
Poppy's culture day (Clare, back row, centre)

Three minute read

Clare Montagu, Poppy's new Chief Operating Officer, reflects on her first few weeks in the job.

“How’s the death business going?!” asked an excitable text from a friend, after a fortnight in my new role as Chief Operating Officer at Poppy’s.

I thoroughly researched Poppy’s when applying for the job and spent seven years in a related field — a hospice — but, despite that, I really don’t think I knew what to expect when I started.

My first day was Poppy’s first ever culture day. It was an opportunity for all team members to get together in one place — to reflect on the past, look forward to the future and to have fun. Unlike many away days I have attended, sessions were led by all members of the team, not just the senior leaders.

Members of the Poppy’s team provided the catering too — lunch was bhuna and dhal, onion bhajis and rice cooked by some team members. Others contributed home baked cakes for tea. It was a wonderful induction into the uniquely Poppy’s approach to staff development — everyone gets stuck in and we have a lot of fun along the way.

Unexpected induction

The unexpected approach to induction continued into my first week at Poppy’s HQ. No sitting down with policies and long corporate tracts. We started with breakfast. This is traditional at Poppy’s — all members of the team come together to welcome a new starter and talk about the values and what they mean to them.

On my first day, I was called upon to help the mortuary team in taking someone, who had specified before he died that he wanted to donate his brain to medical research, to St Mary's hospital’s brain bank.

Back in the mortuary, we went about preparing a gentleman for his funeral the following day. His family had asked that we wash, shave, and dress him, and it was a privilege to get him ready in the clothes that his family had chosen for him.

The following day, I joined one of our funeral directors to help at the funeral of the gentleman we had washed and dressed the previous day. I helped Manish Pandya, a Hindu pandit officiating at the ceremony, with the pre-cremation rituals, including placing food items into the coffin to go with the person who has died. We had to make sure we'd cracked the coconuts first, so that they did not explode in the cremator.

It was lovely to be able to prepare someone for a funeral, and then see what a difference the care and support of our team made to the family.

Clare Montagu cracking coconuts, Poppy's, London funeral directors

Doing things differently

I had experienced the fantastic Poppy’s care first-hand, but it was wonderful to hear another family express their gratitude for the amazing service that our team provide. Over my first three weeks, I heard this time and again. I am so lucky to lead a team that take such care and attention in all aspects of looking after someone who has died, and their family and friends.

Find out more about why people choose to work at Poppy's

Doing things differently remained a theme during my first few weeks at Poppy’s. Meetings are often held as walks around the cemetery — an opportunity to be outside, to take some exercise and to think creatively. I find this so refreshing after many years of office work where leg-stretching consists only of movement from room to room within a confined space.

What next?

I am so excited about what lies ahead for Poppy’s. We are working to get B Corp accreditation — a rigorous international stamp of approval for the amazing work we do to steward the families we support, to care consciously for the environment and to reach out to our community.

We are hoping to remodel our HQ so that it becomes more flexible for our staff, especially as we grow, and even more welcoming to our clients. And we want to reach more people, so we have a stretching growth plan.

So, in answer to my friend’s text: “it’s exciting, exhilarating and a real challenge —I’m loving getting stuck in!”

Don't miss our other behind-the-scenes blogs — find out what it means to be a modern funeral director and what it's really like working in a mortuary.

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