Why I work at Poppy’s

Poppy's staff at open door welcoming clients | Poppy's funerals | London funeral director

Five minute read

Emma, Sarah and Amy come from different backgrounds and work at Poppy’s in different roles. They got together to chat about their experiences as women in the funeral sector, what drew them to Poppy’s and the values which underpin their working lives.

Sarah is a client support adviser, the first person you’re likely to speak to when you get in touch with Poppy’s. Emma is one of our practical leads, covering everything from collections, working in our mortuary and assisting with funerals. And Amy is a funeral director, accompanying clients in arranging the funeral they want and need.

Q. Working in the funeral sector is still seen as quite an unusual choice. What inspired you to get into this work?

Emma (practical lead): My father died 13 years ago in Sweden, my home country. He was a non-religious, feminist, environmentalist. We went to a high street chain funeral home where they presented us with the classic choices, like heavy, fancy lacquered coffins and traditional funeral food. When we asked for a simple cardboard or plywood coffin and a sushi buffet, they did not even pretend interest in researching this for us. We ended up planning the reception ourselves exactly how we wanted it.

I didn't realise it then, but this planted the seed that led to my desire to work in this field and to be able to present people with choice. My background in the event business is very helpful. A funeral is an event, just a different context.

Amy (funeral director): Like you, Emma, I have been to family funerals which didn’t suit us as a family. They just felt like something you ‘had’ to do.

I’ve worked for charities before, and Poppy’s is exactly the type of place I like to be — somewhere with a strong moral compass. I find it really exciting, refreshing and challenging that Poppy’s is trying to make changes from within the funeral sector.

Sarah (client support adviser): Same here. It was the company’s human and down-to-earth approach, towards the living and the dead, that appealed to me. It felt fresh, pioneering and important.

Q. How have your family and friends responded to your career choice?

Amy: Most people seem surprised when I tell them what I do, because I’m younger than they might expect a funeral director to be and I don’t fit the stereotypical picture in their minds. It’s still considered a niche job.

Emma: I've had all kinds of reactions. Those who think they know me have been very surprised and asked “why?”. But those who do know me well think it's the perfect job for me.

Sarah: They’ve certainly asked lots of questions about what I do at Poppy’s! It's been a mix of intrigue, deep support and the occasional raised eyebrow. But, like Emma said, those who know me well understand why I'm drawn to this work.

Q. What images or role models of funeral directors did you have before you worked in this area?

Amy: Plenty of traditional images, but certainly no role models! I think most people still have a very morbid image of a funeral director: someone with a top hat and cane and fake sense of sympathy. I was totally blown away with Poppy’s modern approach. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t more common!

My actual experience has been more balanced — some meet that stereotype and some are as fresh and helpful as you’d hope. Just to clarify that ‘traditional’ garb is not ‘bad’ in itself, it’s the attitude that matters.

Sarah: The images I had before working at Poppy’s were also fairly stereotypical: hushed tones, slightly forced formality, kind people, dimmed lights, muzak, family-run businesses.

Emma: I came with no expectations — except that I knew I didn’t want to work with a traditional funeral director. I’m glad I ended up at Poppy’s since they have their own mortuary, so we can care for the client all the way.

Q. Do you think clients value having a female funeral director — or does it make little difference?

Sarah: For some people, having all-female care or a female-led funeral is very important. I’m very proud to be part of a team who can provide this.

Some clients have been surprised to hear that women carry coffins. Talking this through with them has sometimes resulted in female family members or friends who were previously unsure, deciding that they can carry their person’s coffin. Find out more about how to carry a coffin.

Amy: I’ve actually only had one client who expressed any doubts about a female funeral director. He said that his wife (whose funeral he was arranging) might have thought it was unusual, but that he was okay with it.

Like Sarah says, some people do specifically request female-only care. Maybe they feel more empowered to do so because we are a female frontline team. But I wonder, if we asked them to explain why, our ‘new’ approach might be a more significant factor than gender.

Emma: Since I have only worked at Poppy’s I don’t think I was aware at first that funeral directing was traditionally a male-dominated job. To be honest, I don't think I've ever worked with a male funeral director in the UK!

Q. Do you think it’s important to have people of all genders working within the funeral sector?

Emma: Yes I do. But it's more about the type of person you hire, not their gender. Diversity of all kinds is the key.

Amy: Absolutely right! We, as funeral directors, have a duty to serve our community. We can all learn from people who are different from ourselves. Everyone brings a different perspective, so the more diverse our team is, the stronger our delivery to our clients can be.

Just to add one more thing, I think it’s important to celebrate men as excellent care-givers just as much as women. My male colleagues who have stepped in as funeral directors have been excellent and received really positive feedback. I think it’s more about our approach than the gender of the staff.

Sarah: That’s right, those stereotypical ‘female’ attributes, such as care, kindness and emotional intelligence, exist across our whole team of women and men. All of our clients feel this at each point of contact with us — each and every one of us really cares. That’s the difference.

Read more: find out what it’s really like working in a mortuary and what inspired our founder, Poppy Mardall, became a funeral director

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