Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Female-led funeral directors out to buck several trends in male-dominated industry

In the male-dominated industry of funeral directing, it’s unusual to see a team led almost exclusively by women.

But Poppy’s Funerals in south west London is doing just that - though not on purpose, according to owner Poppy Mardall.

"We have a team of 10 women and one man. Genuinely 10-1," she says.

Poppy Mardall left auctioneering to become a funeral director seven years ago. Credit: ITV News

"If anything we would like more men to apply for the jobs we post. We want our team to reflect the people that we care for so we want it to be as diverse as possible."

Poppy, who quit her role at Sotheby's in 2012 to set up the business, says "dealing with dead bodies is definitely quite different from working in an auction house".

Many of the staff have adapted to dealing with death after joining the company. Credit: ITV News

Despite the career change bringing a new set of emotions, she insists the worst part of her job is not the sadness of working with dead people and their loved ones, but operating in an industry "not working wholeheartedly on behalf of the bereaved".

Poppy's colourful wardrobe defies the stereotypes often associated with black-attired funeral directors.

Poppy's Funerals employs one man and 10 women. Credit: ITV News

She says she also works hard to emotionally connect to her customers, unlike some in the industry who keep their distance.

"I think there is a kind of issue with laddy, macho culture, whereby emotions are shut down," she says.

"You hear funeral directors all the time saying, 'the work we do is so painful that I just have to kind of shut down and switch off and use black humour'."

The funeral staff have catered for a range of requests, including a few services in pubs. Credit: ITV News

Poppy believes nothing is unusual when it comes to planning a funeral.

"We’ve had cats in the chapel, we’ve had funerals in pubs, we’ve had people cremated with the remains of their pets. We’ve had so much wonderful stuff," she says.

She adds: "We really do treat every single person who comes to us - whether they’re living or whether they’re dead - as an individual."

Working with the dead has made the staff reconsider their own mortality. Credit: ITV News

Kate Brewer, a former florist and now head of governance and projects at Poppy’s, recalls the first time she saw a dead body.

"I thought - oh that’s what happens," she says, adding: "It was a realisation of a thing I knew happened. I processed that and dealt with what that means."

Kate says working around death has inevitably made her "aware of the fragility of life", while Poppy says it has changed her own priorities.

"This work teaches you to do the things you need to do as soon as you can," she says.

"It’s worth planning for the future but I think getting on with your life is also really, really great."