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A Year Since Lockdown - Rebecca Hillier

Today we're talking to Rebecca Hillier, office manager and funeral director for Hillier Funeral Service which has three Swindon branches in Old Town, Rodbourne Cheney and Highworth.

This week marks a year since lockdown began and the reality of the pandemic hit the UK. What are your memories of that first day? 

Our first priority was thinking of ways to protect our families and staff. We needed to ensure we called every family to advise them of changes to the funeral restrictions.

The conversations to tell families they could only have up to ten people attend the service was incredibly difficult. The families were very accepting of the restrictions and were grateful for our help but with only ten people attending and no wakes allowed it felt very strange. 

Thinking back, how did you anticipate the way forward for your business over those first few days? 

In line with government guidelines and advice from our associations, we moved all our face to face arrangements to telephone and Zoom meetings. 

We had to suspend use of our limousines and ensure we had hand sanitiser readily available for anyone needing to visit our premises. We put comprehensive risk assessments in place. 

What actions did you take to save/change/pivot/support your business? 

It was incredibly important to procure the correct personal protection equipment to protect our staff, especially for when they were removing or preparing someone who had passed away from Covid19. 

It was a real worry for us that we would have multiple members of staff self isolating at one time and we therefore put contingency measures in place to ensure staff members from different branches didn't mix. 

As lockdown happened across Europe, our florist found they were unable to source flowers from the markets in the Netherlands. We made a decision to offer families the opportunity to hire silk flower sprays. 

Flowers have a spiritual significance and have always been used to symbolise the life cycle from birth through to death so we felt it was important families had the opportunity to place something on top of the coffin.

Name any positive outcomes of the last year for your business? 

It's given us the opportunity to review the information/ services on our website. As most of our arrangements over the past year have been carried out remotely, we have looked to update areas which we believed would be helpful to the families. 

We have created online brochures for all our flowers, service sheets, urns and coffins. This has enabled families to look online to make important decisions.  

The pandemic has led to improvements in terms of paperwork, everything was paper based a year ago and the process of registering a death could be quite cumbersome, with families needing to collect the physical copy of the medical certificate from the GP surgery or hospital and take it to the registry office in order to register. 

If someone passed away outside of Swindon, the family would have been required to travel to that area to register. 

Now families are able to register a death over the phone with all the necessary paperwork being e-mailed in advance. The doctor's certificates for crematorium and application for cremations are now all digital forms making the process a lot quicker and more streamlined. 

We have an outstanding team of staff who have shown real flexibility in adapting to the ever changing circumstances that we found ourselves in. It has led to improvements in our day to day work which we will carry forward post Covid19. 

Name any positive outcomes for you personally over the last year?

Before lockdown every weekend consisted of running the kids around to swimming, gymnastics and other activities. Lockdown has enabled us to spend more time as family. 

Despite being unable to meet up with friends and family, we have enjoyed getting out in the garden and had a bumper crop of strawberries last summer. 

What do you most look forward to doing IN BUSINESS as we slowly move out of lockdown? 

I think the most important thing is being able to welcome families back into our premises to make face to face funeral arrangements. 

Last year we were unable to hold our annual service of remembrance but with the gradual easing of restrictions, we hope to be able to hold our 24th annual service this October. 

We have so many families wishing to hold memorial services for their loved ones and I hope this may be possible for them this summer/ autumn. 

What do you most look forward to doing IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE as we slowly move out of lockdown?

The last year has been a real struggle for everyone and I look forward to catching up with friends and family. As we move into the summer we hope to be able to take the kids to the beach and on holiday if possible.  

For more information visit

Hillier Funeral Service

Hillier Funeral Service

Hillier Funeral Service has been providing funeral care to the families of Swindon and the surrounding areas for four generations.

Kingshill House, Kent Road, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN1 4NH

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