West & Coe 110th anniversary: The modern day funeral directors
- Credit: Archant
As West & Coe turn 110 years old we look at how the Dagenham company has changed in recent years.
“I don’t know what my grandfather would have thought of it,” says director Jeremy West with a smile as we flick through a catalogue of personalised coffins at West & Coe’s head office in Rainham Road South, Dagenham.
The designs range from subtle floral patterns and rainbows to the more wacky – including a portion of fish and chips, a portrait of Cleopatra and a big Mr Whippy.
“These type of coffins are becoming more and more popular,” he adds.
“One of the best I’ve seen was at a funeral we did where a lady’s casket was covered with photos of all her family. Another I remember was decorated in pictures of Jack Daniels bottles.”
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During the time Jeremy’s grandfather Edward ran the company, and even when he joined the firm as a teenager in the 1970s, funerals were generally religious and did not reflect the person who died.
“This has changed a great deal,” the 57-year-old explains. “Many funerals today are not religious at all and most families want them to be very much about their loved one, including the eulogy and the music.
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“I think it’s great and we do our best to help them achieve this.”
Asked what his most unusual request has been, Jeremy replies: “Well, a lady whose father died said: ‘This might offend some people, but I’d like the song Living Next Door to Alice played.’
“If you know the song you’ll know a swear word gets repeated quite a few times. She wanted it because her dad lived next door to a woman called Alice, who was at the funeral, and he used to sing that song to her.
“We played it and there were certainly a few chuckles from those gathered. It’s lovely when something like that can lift people’s spirits at a difficult time.”
Though religious funerals have declined among the white population, West & Coe conducts faith-led services for people of other ethnicities.
“We do a lot of African, Sikh and Hindu funerals these days,” he tells me.
“These often happen more quickly after someone’s death than the traditional western funeral. There are sometimes rituals involved as well. Before a Sikh funeral, for example, the family will wash the body, which they can do here at the chapel of rest.”
Amidst all the changes at West & Coe over the past 110 years, one thing has stayed the same, says Jeremy: “The level of customer service we offer hasn’t changed since my grandfather and his business partner Henry Coe started the company.
“The business has always worked hard to ensure the experience of arranging the funeral is as positive as it can be under the circumstances.
“We have had many people come to us afterwards to say thank you. We’re helping them at their very lowest and to know we have made a difference means an awful lot.”
To read about the firm’s beginnings click on the link below.