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Today’s Times features our second generation memorials team at work, providing lasting legacies for loved ones at a time when funeral attendance is so restricted.


By Marc Horne, Saturday January 30 2021, 12.01am, The Times

Mourners who have been prevented from having large funerals or hosting wakes are investing in ever more elaborate and expensive memorials to their loved ones.  Under Covid restrictions no more than 20 people can attend funerals in Scotland, including children. Churches and other places of worship remain closed and post-service gatherings are banned.

To make amends people are spending thousands of pounds on bespoke memorial headstones. Unconventional tributes featuring images of the deceased and representations of their beloved pets, hobbies and football clubs are becoming increasingly common.

Andrew Purves, of William Purves funeral directors in Edinburgh, said that people were keen to make the most of the options available to them. “It is hard for people to have their loved ones’ funerals under these restrictions and, understandably, they can be annoyed, frustrated and upset,” he said. “So much of our job in the past was helping people to do whatever they wanted, but now we have to say no to so many things.

“We are seeing more people looking to have memorials and headstones produced. They maybe couldn’t have the funeral that they wanted but they can have a memorial that will be lasting tribute to their loved one.”

Mr Purves said that his company’s team of stonemasons was receiving an growing number of requests for unconventional headstones. “Often people are not just choosing something out of a brochure,” he said. “They want to go for something different, something bespoke and particular to them. You can have designs painted on the stone, you can have a plaque with a photograph on, you can choose the size, the shape, the colour.”

He added: “We are seeing a definite trend for more intricate designs that are hand painted by artists. One that was being done yesterday featured a locomotive — an old steam train — while there was another one with a blue budgerigar on it because the person really loved their pet.

“Somebody else commissioned cubes of granite with letters on the side of them that were the initials of the person’s name. We also have a teddy bear headstone which is usually, but not exclusively, for children.”

The firm has also seen a revival of a tradition that was more popular in the Victorian era, in which people buy double headstones that stretch across two grave plots at a cost of about £6,000. The insurance firm SunLife confirmed the trend for opting for lasting tributes. A spokeswoman said: “While many of us consider a proper send-off to be an important part of any funeral the pandemic has made it difficult for us to give our loved ones a celebratory funeral. “Despite this, we have seen a 9.8 per cent rise in overall send-off costs since 2019. At an average of £1,016, a rise of 12 per cent, the memorial has seen the biggest rise in price, making up 40 per cent of the costs.”

Frontline funeral workers and mortuary technicians have been given priority status for vaccinations, alongside other healthcare staff. The government advises funeral directors to have a single point of contact with families, preferably not a close contact of the deceased if they had Covid-19.

“We were delighted because we felt forgotten during the first wave of the pandemic,” Mr Purves said. “There are times when we visit several care homes and private homes in a day or night. You are constantly going for one place to another and there is a constant worry that you might catch Covid and pass it on to your colleagues and family members.”