This week on WHITEBALLOON INSIGHTS Jo tells us about the service she provides lovingly tending and maintaining graves, and how this led her to create and launch The Association of Grave Tenders.
Q: You provide a wonderful service looking after graves and memorials for families in and around Suffolk. Can you tell us a bit about why and how you started your business?
After 36 years in the Corporate world I was in a position of looking at a career change. I have always loved flowers so decided I wanted to start a business working with flowers. I did some additional training and started doing wedding flowers. This was very enjoyable, albeit I didn’t feel comfortable that this was an industry I wanted to work in. My Aunt & Uncle lived in Yorkshire many years ago and had family graves in Hampshire that they travelled down to tend every 3 weeks. They had looked for someone to care for them but couldn’t find anyone. This has always stuck in my mind and seemed the perfect way to use my passion for flowers, whilst offering a service that would help families or friends look after graves if they were not able for any reason to do it themselves.
I did lots of research looking for similar businesses. There was one guy locally who said he gave up the business many years ago but recently had been getting lots of enquiries. Everyone I spoke with said ‘what a great idea, never heard of anyone doing Grave Tending’. There were some businesses around the UK offering grave tending but not many, so I created Grave Tending & Flowers by Jo. I could see that this was more than offering a maintenance service, it was about creating a business that opened up the conversations about death, their loved one that had died, and about being the person that visits and tends their graves as if it were them going themselves.
Q: As well as lovingly maintaining the graves you also place floral displays, from beautiful wreaths and bouquets to plants and other arrangements. Do you create these yourself?
I do create them all myself. Mostly my clients are very happy for me to choose seasonal flowers and create designs on their behalf, which is an honour and very enjoyable. Sometimes I design around flowers available locally or sometimes I decide I want to use particular flowers or colour pallets. I am lucky enough to live near Wholesale Florist Direct so am able to buy stunning blooms, as well as using local markets for locally grown flowers.
Q: It must be such a comfort knowing that their loved ones’ graves are being beautifully maintained. I imagine that you build quite a close relationship with some of the families. Do you keep in touch with them and let them know about the work that you are doing on their behalf?
Tending the grave and laying flowers is only a small part of the service myself and all fellow Tenders in the Association of Grave Tenders do, that is why our service is different. We provide a managed service which cares for our clients as much as we care for the graves. Clients become friends and confidants, telling their stories and always sharing their gratitude for the work we do. Before any work on the grave, I spend time getting to know my client and the person who has died – what are the significant dates they would like to mark, what flowers they liked and disliked? I have clients overseas I correspond with monthly and I have been invited to services around the graves and read books written by my clients. Every client is different and has a story. Once the grave is tended I email my client, and their family or friendship group if they would like to share photos of before and after, and I let them know of anything important to do with the grave.
Q: It’s very exciting that you have recently launched the Association of Grave Tenders. Can you tell us a bit about the Association, what it is, its purpose and its aims?
It is very exciting. I was aware that not many people know that Grave Tending as a service exists and was keen to spread the word. I contacted Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and was lucky enough to be selected to be interviewed by Jane Garvey. After the show, I was contacted by lots of people in a similar position as myself looking for a change of career and inspired to start a Grave Tending business themselves. I had already recognised that advertising locally was not going to be enough to reach clients that needed graves tending in Suffolk, on top of spreading the awareness that such as service existed. Plus, being a sole trader of a small business can be a lonely place, so it made complete sense to start the Association of Grave Tenders for all those good reasons. I asked everyone if they would be interested and they were all keen. We had our first zoom meeting and a year down the line the Association launched and membership is growing fast.
The Association is a network of independent Grave Tending businesses based across the UK for the mutual benefit of both Grave Tenders and our clients. We are a ‘Not for Profit’ Association and passionate about providing a professional service to help our clients by tending their loved one’s grave when they can’t be there in person.
The Association’s purpose is to provide clients with confidence and reassurance by promoting and upholding high standards amongst members. This is achieved through best practices and encouraging responsible, ethical and environmentally aware methods of working. Each member has Public Liability Insurance.
Our aims are to promote awareness of Grave Tending as a service and to provide quality referrals to members of the Association where a client requires Grave Tending services in an area that our business doesn’t cover.
We would love to hear from anyone needing their grave tended or tenders that would like to join the Association. Visit the Association of Grave Tenders to learn more about us, to connect to a business in your area, or to send a message.
Q: What is your longer-term vision for the Association of Grave Tenders?
Long term we would like to have businesses covering the entire UK, businesses that share our values and passions, and to be a hub for clients to find a businesses local to their grave. We also want to continue to provide a place for businesses starting out to join us and to help get them up and running, sharing knowledge, support and motivation when needed.
We would like to work with larger organisations who could benefit from our services, for example, care homes so they can offer the families of residents our services. It must be very distressing for residents not to be able to get out to tend loved ones’ graves. If family live away, when they do visit they most likely wouldn’t have time to tend the grave themselves, so are pleased that this has been taken care of.
Q: With Covid, there have been restrictions around travel. Over the past two years, have you noticed an increasing awareness of, and demand for, grave tending as a service for families who are unable to be there in person?
Yes, Covid has been difficult for lots of people and demand has definitely increased in response to marketing and increasing awareness, especially with overseas travel banned. Asking for someone to tend a grave doesn’t mean you can’t visit yourself when possible, but knowing that when you can’t visit it is still being cared for is such a comfort to lots of people. People can carry a lot of guilt, even when it is impossible for them to look after the grave themselves. We take that away from them.
Q: What is your favourite aspect of your work?
Walking away from a grave that was looking overgrown, dirty and untidy and seeing it cared for, alive with beautiful flowers, tidy, clean and knowing it will make my client feel better.
Q: And finally, is there a person or a particular book that has inspired you?
For my flowers it is Jane Packer and Paula Pryke, for support and encouragement my husband Paul, and on a day to day basis the members of the Association of Grave Tenders.