How direct cremation pioneer Pure Cremation has disrupted the UK’s funeral industry

*Re-printed with permission from Pure Cremation.

Before 2015 the funeral industry in Great Britain still looked and felt very Victorian. Most ceremonies were still rooted in 200-year old traditions and any deviation from the norm was frowned upon by both funeral directors and mourners.

However, this was set to change when veteran undertaker Bryan Powell along with his wife Catherine encountered a few people unwilling to accept the default format because it did not suit the deceased’s worldview and lifestyle or offer friends and family the freedom to mourn their beloved in a personalised way.

This, coupled with consumer frustration around relentless increases in funeral prices, provided the perfect opportunity to test whether there was untapped demand for something rather different.

Convinced that there was a modest audience just waiting to be offered a radical alternative, Bryan & Catherine Powell set up Pure Cremation in 2015 – the first dedicated direct cremation provider in the UK to offer grieving families an affordable, and liberating alternative.

Since then Pure Cremation has grown exponentially and is proud to be disrupting the UK’s staid and conventional funeral sector.

Catherine said: “The traditional funeral format has many beautiful qualities and there will always be a demand for it.

Catherine and Bryan Powell

“But now the industry is facing the first consumer-driven change in its history as the bereaved seek bespoke and meaningful goodbyes for their loved ones where they are in charge of proceedings.

“Direct cremation is attractive to families who want a memorial event that genuinely reflects the identity, lifestyle and desires of the deceased.

“A BBQ at a beloved beach, a toast at a favourite pub, or a family party at a beauty spot may be far more appropriate than a procession of limousines, mourners clad in black and a 30-minute ceremony led by strangers.

“Our lives, beliefs and spirit are magnificently diverse, yet funeral services are so formulaic and can often feel rushed. Thankfully, this is changing – and Pure Cremation is a major catalyst in this nationwide upheaval.”

Much of Pure Cremation’s success comes from its commitment to integrated care with its own staff performing all of the collections of the deceased and hand delivery of the ashes, across the whole of the UK.

The company invested £6.5m  (US$ 8.5m) in the construction of its state-of-the-art venue, Charlton Park Crematorium, in the south coast county of Hampshire, making Pure Cremation the first dedicated direct cremation provider to have its own crematorium.

Another key component of its success is healthy sales of its industry-first pre-paid plan – a low cost, 100% guaranteed plan to cover the cost of a direct cremation.

Charlton Park Crematorium

Pure Cremation was the first to recognise the demand for a truly affordable funeral plan that gives the plan owner complete peace of mind thanks to the ‘Pure Promise’ that there is nothing more to pay when the time for the cremation comes. Traditional plan sales continue to fall, year on year, but Pure Cremation has sold nearly 20,000 plans since launching its Trust-based plan in 2016, adding an Over-50’s style insurance-based option in 2018 to encourage even more people to plan for the inevitable.

The price of a Pure Cremation funeral is £1,195 ($1,572), far lower than the average cost for a UK cremation using a funeral director at £3,247 ($4,272), rising to £4,267 ($5,614) for burial, according to figures from life insurer Royal London.

While cost is often a secondary consideration for those choosing direct cremation, these families still greatly value being able to control how they spend their money and have the freedom to invest in the elements of a farewell that mean most to them – such as the gathering together to share memories, often over good food.

Maintaining service during the pandemic

The Coronavirus epidemic has sadly brought into stark relief the importance and effectiveness of direct cremation.

People who had never even heard of direct cremation before COVID-19 have been able to secure a dignified and timely cremation and their reviews express gratitude for the support and kindness that staff at Pure Cremation offer. Catherine predicts word-of-mouth will spread about Pure’s high standard of care, post-epidemic.

She added: “We have also, heartbreakingly, seen a small number of families having to contend with a number of funerals in quick succession, and direct cremation has reduced the financial burden in these circumstances.”

Technology and innovation

Pure recognises the importance of investing in technology. For example, it allows mourners from around the world to feel part of the farewell via a webcasting and recording service provided to their crematorium by a leading supplier, Obitus.

As it is likely to be some time before large gatherings are permitted, the use of technology is vital for family members who wish to ‘attend’ services via the internet, particularly useful for nursing and care homes as the service can be broadcast into the lounge, allowing all residents to say goodbye too.

Pure Cremation’s Charlton Park facilities make it easy for families to embrace creative and technological solutions to the Government-imposed social distancing restrictions, such as including pre-recorded video tributes.

Demand has reached such a level that, only 18 months since the crematorium opened, the company has ordered a third cremator in order to increase capacity from November. It is also considering a fourth that could be up and running by March 2021 and expects to make a final decision later this year.

The future

Unattended cremations are estimated to account for between 4% and 6% of the total cremation market – an astonishing amount considering the short time they have been actively offered to the public.

Catherine says the change has been driven by a combination of cost considerations and the flexibility that direct cremation allows. Research by the University of York showed that families place great importance on being involved in the farewell, and direct cremation allows the bereaved to move from the position of passive guests to active participants in the goodbye event.

The success of Pure Cremation has, naturally, attracted new entrants into the direct cremation arena who mistakenly see this as a simple logistics and online administration exercise.

However, many of those firms have simply faded away when confronted with the huge challenges of making a profit from this very low-cost service while maintaining the service levels that bereaved families deserve.

“Our growth so far has been based on superb customer care, extremely efficient delivery and bold marketing investment that generates a healthy ROI – a combination that will maintain our market-leading position in the years ahead,” she added.

She explained: “Uncoupling the respectful unattended cremation from the farewell event lets friends and family create a personal celebration of life that suits the deceased. We’re proud to set the standard of care and price transparency for this sector and to profoundly change the wider funeral market forever.”


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