The annual Ideal Death Show and Good Funeral Awards weekend has come of age. It has found its niche, its feet and its raison d’etre. It knows what it’s about, which is why it now occupies a glittering place in the social calendar of forward-looking deathies everywhere.

The formula is simple. This is an inclusive, unstuffy event that brings the liveliest minds in the funerals business together under a non-sectarian umbrella, then stands back and watches them talk and… talk. The free and uninhibited sharing of ideas, insights and experience that characterises this event is a rare and beautiful thing in an industry where people tend to keep their cards close to their chest and their competitors in the dark. What’s more, delegates go on supporting and encouraging each other long after they’ve gone home. This is good for businesses – often new businesses finding their feet – and good for bereaved people. The Ideal Death Show seeks, above all, to be useful.

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It is also good for people who feel drawn to the death business and want to find out more. This is a where to research, make friends and get connected. There are several pioneering startups out there that owe their conception to the Ideal Death Show. So if you’re contemplating trying your hand at undertaking or celebrancy, come along in 2016. You’ll be knocked out by the warmth of the welcome and the openhearted generosity of spirit you’ll be shown.

Many of those who come to the Ideal Death Show identify themselves as progressives. They reject the staid stuffiness of the old farts in black; they want to do things differently, more meaningfully, more in tune with modern life , which is why the Good Funeral Awards are staged on the same weekend, to bring the best of the old guard together with the young turks, let them learn from each other and develop mutual respect. I spoke to three siblings from a heritage business in Essex who were lit up by the conversations they’d been having with bright-eyed newbies: they were full of ideas for brightening up their business. It does no harm to remind reformers that, if set in their ways, the best of the old farts are open-minded, capable and have good things to share. This weekend is all about symbiosis.

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Because the ineluctable fact remains that the arguably outworn, trad funeral is still very much with us. Because it’s what most clients still ask for. Yes, the chilly winds of change are whistling. Increasingly, bereaved people are wanting something different. But, and here’s the point , because they don’t start thinking about this stuff until somebody dies they often don’t know what precisely it is that they do want. It’s for this reason that, if thinking people in the death business want to enrich the experiential value of funerals, they need to get inside the minds, not of fellow undertakers, but the general public.

Because you can’t change the business from the inside. You’ve got to work your socks off to make your case, philosophically and persuasively, to consumers. Message to young turks: you are not the change, they are.

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And even though it’s difficult, obviously, to divert ordinary people from pleasurable Saturday retail recreation and come instead to contemplate mortality and commemorative rituals to accompany the disposal of a corpse, this is what the Ideal Death Show pluckily tries to do — reach out to the public. The good news: this year a record number came to the exhibition, death cafes and talks. Factors working in favour, besides the quality of exhibitors, were the town-centre location, excellent speakers and the indefatigable cajolery, streetside, of Paul Sinclair with his motorcycle hearse, and Rosie Inman-Cook of the Natural Death Centre.

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Does this all sound mind-numbingly worthy? You wouldn’t think so if you met the delegates. Sure, they’re deadly serious folk, every one of them. But, like all deadly serious people, they have a well-developed sense of humour and a perfectly proper appetite for fun. So the Good Funeral Awards provide a fitting climax to the weekend: good food, a bit of booze and all the suspense you get with any well-run awards event culminating in the coronation of the best in the business, many of them unsung heroes. These awards mean a lot. They recognise personal achievement and endorse professional attainment. Winners feel individually validated, as they deserve, and they also reap a rich commercial and reputational harvest. The interest shown in the awards by print and broadcast media adds immensely to their value and does an excellent job of raising public awareness.

The Ideal Death Show has morphed over its short life in response to the suggestions, wishes and needs of those who come. The organisers work hard to make it affordable. They listen to criticisms and good ideas. For all this year’s shortcomings and hiccups (there really weren’t that many), everyone left happy and enriched, leaving the organising committee to recalibrate where necessary. Next year’s event, to be held at a venue yet to be announced, will be better than all the rest. If you’ve never been, come. The Ideal Death Show belongs to everybody.

 

Article by Charles Cowling

Find out more about the Ideal Death Show here