Building membership for the future
The FFMA’s higher profile and energy stems from the October 2018 appointment of Alun Tucker as Chief Executive – the first time in the FFMA’s 81-year history that the association had employed a permanent officer, having previously operated through the efforts of member volunteers.
On arrival, Alun took the reins of the then newly-launched Coffin & Casket Testing Protocol, which had been developed by FFMA members in response to problems with the cremation of certain types of coffins and caskets – and built it into the respected programme that it is today. The scheme has now certified 170 different coffins and there is a system of random checks and annual permits to ensure quality standards remain high at a time of increased Government scrutiny on standards in the sector.
Prior to the pandemic, having established key services to support core members, Alun began to investigate what support the wider supplier sector might need from a trade association. Although the plans were interrupted by COVID-19, the expansion of FFMA membership has actually continued – as a result of the unprecedented impact of the pandemic on suppliers and manufacturers.
“It’s been such a difficult year for suppliers,” says Alun, “and the FFMA has an opportunity to help them going forward. “There’s a real need for a trade association focused on delivering for suppliers to the sector and the FFMA has the experience and opportunity to support them in their growth and development in the way we’ve always supported coffin and casket manufacturers.”
In this ambition, the FFMA has arguably come full circle. When it was first created, in 1939, as well as coffin furniture manufacturers, there were also members representing soft goods, hearse and limousine manufacturers and insurance brokers too. After several decades where the association has focused mainly on those firms supplying or making coffins, caskets – or their furnishings – the FFMA is once again providing services to a wider range of supplier firms.
For Jade Wilcox, Managing Director of Wilcox Limousines, collaboration and representation is key: “The pandemic highlighted the need for a voice for suppliers to the funeral sector,” she said. “I come from nursing background, where there is a lot of professional collaboration and teamwork between different professions – and that’s what I’d like to see among supplies to the funeral sector. Suppliers need someone to advocate for them and that’s what I’d like to see FFMA doing going forward.”
“The creation of DMAG has been brilliant. We are still learning how to make it really work for suppliers. It’s about helping them to understand that this is a more strategic benefit to them; It’s not about sales this week or next, it’s about a healthy sector and representation for their needs for the long term.
“Political representation is key to avoid detriment and to help us tackle big issues like climate change, by providing a forum to discuss these longer term, strategic issues – so the fact that the FFMA now attends the Westminster All Party Group for Funerals and Bereavement is a huge step forwards.”
Another new member, Martin Wilson, Chief Executive of Rose House Funeral Supplies, would also like to see the FFMA become the guardian of product standards in the sector: “We would like to see the FFMA replicate the standards work it’s done with coffins and caskets across other areas of the supply,” says Martin.
“We joined the FFMA because we are keen to make sure standards are high in the sector across all products supplied and it concerns me that some suppliers are new to the funeral profession, don’t particularly understand the equipment requirements and that some products may not actually be fit for purpose. During COVID, lots of new suppliers popped up and there was questionable quality and supply standards from some of them.
“We need quality checks across all aspects of the profession as well as suppliers to make sure that what is being supplied to funeral directors to use with families is appropriate and can be trusted.”
Reflecting on a very turbulent year, Alun is optimistic for the FFMA’s future: “I am delighted that the FFMA has actually increased the size of the membership during the pandemic, despite me being unable to go out and
visit suppliers or participate in events with them,” he adds. ”We now have fleet manufacturers, insurance brokers, mortuary suppliers, celebrants and others within the membership – all of whom are attracted by the idea of a single voice and an opportunity to collaborate.
“While we will always be there to support coffin and casket manufacturers with whatever they need, I am pleased that the FFMA is also able to stretch its wings wider, to provide shelter and support to other types of firms that provide essential services to funeral directors too. I want them to all feel it’s their association- and that we are there for them all.”