The Bun Fight

Mar 29, 2016
The Bun Fight “What do you call the bit after the funeral when refreshments are laid on for the mourners?” is a question families often ask.  

I always suggest that if they need to call it anything then call it a ‘gathering’. Or just say that after the service everyone is warmly invited to join them for refreshments at so-and-so venue.   

You can’t really call it a ‘wake’ because in the strict sense of the word a wake is a ritual gathering around the corpse to ensure the person really is dead and that any evil spirits in the vicinity are warded off by a noisy gathering of friends & family. Believe me, if you’ve got a big Irish family in full chorus around the food & drink, no evil spirit will want to try its luck.   

You can’t call it a ‘reception’ either, because that’s a term synonymous with weddings. Mind you, I can think of one family wedding where we really did all feel like mourners; not to mention the fact the bride’s mother would’ve looked right at home in a coffin…   

So, you’ve got yourself a gathering. The next problem is where to hold it. If you’ve got a house that’s big enough, or you’re only catering for a small number of people, then Chez Nous might be as good as anywhere, especially if you live fairly close by. But if your local crematorium is at least half an hour’s drive away then you’ve got a dilemma.   

But not any more.    

About four years ago my nearest crematorium at Gloucester opened an on-site catering suite & tea room and I’ll be the first to admit that I was one of the nay-sayers when the idea was originally mooted. I was firmly of the opinion that the majority of families would be only too keen to get away from the crematorium after the funeral; that retiring to a local pub/hotel or the family home would be a welcome change of scenery for all concerned.   

However, I have no shame in admitting I was proved completely wrong and that in actual fact Gloucester’s catering suite has proved enormously popular. For one thing it’s located separately within the grounds and as such once you’re inside there are no awkward reminders of being at a crematorium. But more importantly, with such a mobile population nowadays people often travel significant distances to attend funerals and the last thing they want after driving for an hour or two to attend the funeral is to get back in the car and find their way to another venue.         

Gloucester’s pioneering experience is now being imitated at other crematoria and ironically it was my other ‘local’ crematorium that not only took up the idea but then took it one step further.   

You might have noticed in the newspapers how Westerleigh Crematorium in South Gloucestershire has opened a catering suite complete with licensed bar. Inevitably the media over-egged the pudding in pursuit of a good story, making it sound like the next thing would be pub quizzes and beer & skittles evenings; but it’s undoubtedly a concept you will see more and more of at crematoria nationally, where space and finances allow.   

Westerleigh also recognises that families often specifically choose to hold funerals there because of its proximity to the M4 motorway and as a result a separate café has also been provided for travelling mourners to gather informally before or after funerals.  

Myself and my colleague, as ‘regulars’ at both Gloucester & Westerleigh, were asked to provide detailed suggestions for the new catering suite on the basis of our experience with Gloucester’s pioneering set-up. We were then invited to a funeral directors’ open evening in the newly-built facility and ironically we found ourselves cornered by a Bristol funeral director who was absolutely convinced the idea wouldn’t take off.   

“It will,” I said.   

 “No it won’t,” he replied, clearly not placated by the sample buffet on offer that evening.  

“Mark my words…it will,” I repeated, not wanting to waste time arguing the matter. I had more pressing concerns to address; like abandoning the canapés in favour of moving down the table to answer the seductive call of the sponge cake. 

James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.   He is the author of “A Life In Death – Memoirs Of A Cotswold Funeral Director”

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