From time to time I like to visit the funeral directors that I work with just to catch up and share experiences. That’s been difficult during the lockdown but now there’s more opportunity as long as we’re careful. So when I had to go to Cupar yesterday for some personal business, I asked if I could visit Steven Stewart and do a mini-interview with him for this blog.
I’ve worked a few times with Steven and his colleague Rhys Small but it’s nice to have the chance to chat more generally about our work. I started by asking how long Steven had been in the funeral world and how he had started out.
“I sort of fell into the business,” he replied. “About 23 years ago I got a job with William Jordan & Son, then one of the independent undertakers in Cupar. I started out cleaning cars, doing maintenance – helping out in all sorts of ways, but gradually I took on more responsibilities, started arranging funerals and at the same time, studied to become a funeral director and embalmer.”
Very much a mixture of learning on the job alongside formal study – and the evidence for the latter is an impressive set of diplomas on the wall of the family room in their modern premises.
Eventually, Steven decided to take the plunge and set up his own business some ten years ago. With national companies like Dignity and the Co-op dominating the market, as well as a new generation of “cut price” funeral suppliers, I wondered how an independent family business like Steven’s survives.
“Ultimately, it comes down to service. I’m from a big Cupar family and I’m a well-kent face here and throughout north Fife, St Andrews and further afield. So folk know us and know we offer the same service to them that we’d give to our own family. And they can be sure that the person they speak to first will be the same person that takes them through the whole process from that initial arrangement to the ceremony on the day and support afterwards.
“We also offer a very flexible service that’s tailored to people’s wishes. We’re open to some of the new trends – for example for natural, green burials. Or older traditions like home vigils. And we’re totally transparent on price. No hidden or unexpected costs.”
How has COVID affected the business? “Well, all the restrictions that everyone has had to deal with. Lots more remote working. Much smaller ceremonies.” Is that always negative? “No! One thing we’ve found is that people are often relieved not to be having the big funeral. They like a smaller family-centred service that is more intimate.”
Lots to think about and lots of changes that may prove lasting.
So thank you Steven for a great chat. It’s really good to see independent and family businesses thriving and delivering such important service to people just at the time when they need it most. And looking forward to your celebrating 25 years in the business!
Steven Stewart Funeral Directors Ltd
01334 655 323
Michael Hannah, Dundee, September 2020