Rosie Inman-Cook – The Natural Death Centre

Rosie Inman-Cook from The Natural Death Centre

This week on WHITEBALLOON INSIGHTS Rosie Inman-Cook from the Natural Death Centre talks about the importance of sharing knowledge about natural death and burial, and encouraging best practice in natural burial grounds throughout the UK.

Q: The Natural Death Centre was founded 25 years ago and has very much pioneered the natural death movement across the World. Can you tell us about the ethos behind it and your involvement in it?

I did not create the Natural Death Centre, I have just held the baton since 2007.  The founders Nicholas Albery, his partner Josefine and others set up the charity in 1991.  Josefine is still a patron, Nicholas died in a car crash in 2001.  They felt a need for empowerment and knowledge, at the end of life, mirroring the natural childbirth movement at the opposite end of life’s cycle.  A movement that would embolden families and individuals to take back control from an overly medicalised and formulaic pattern.

Q: You also run the Association of Natural Burial Grounds. Tell us more about natural burials and the changes you have seen in the last few years.

In 1993 the first natural burial ground opened in the UK.  The NDC created the Association of Natural Burial Grounds that year, in order to set standards and provide support and encouragement to landowners looking to expand the network of such burial sites across the UK.  My role is one of both guidance and scrutiny, sitting in between the public and the operators.  The charity receives feedback on customer service, rarely complaints and occasionally arbitrates.  We remove membership from any site that fails to uphold standards but most work involves information and support to provisional sites who we help to ‘hit the ground running’.  No need to make the mistakes that early pioneers stumbled into.

Most of the 300+ sites are now what we call hybrids.  Operated be local authorities in corners of their regular cemeteries.  Few of these feel the need for membership as they have been operating cemeteries for years. Around 130 other sites are privately owned, around half of these are ANBG members.  The other half either don’t meet our standards, have been expelled or choose to plough their own furrow, without any external monitoring or accountability.

I love it when contacted by ‘young blood’ often a farmer’s daughter inspired and looking to create a beneficial diversification.  They are the future and I support them with know how and documentation wherever possible. I hate being approached by developers or financial speculators looking for a cash cow or quick buck.  Identifying them is key and it makes me sad that they dilute the ethos of the movement.  Sacrificing service and care of the environment for corporate greed.  Again it is the unsuspecting and bereaved public who can fall for their speculative and deceptive offerings.

Q: De Utrecht Natural Burial Ground in the Netherlands and Return to Nature in Japan are both a part of The Association. Do you have plans to extend Association membership throughout the World?

Our foreign friends in the Netherlands and Japan, by their distant existence are not full blown associate members, they are simply affiliated with us and share our ethos and ideals.  We absolutely welcome this cross pollination and are excited to see natural burial spread out across the planet.

Q: The Natural Death Centre is a charity, so you rely on the support and donations from people who share your values and ethos. Have you seen a change in legacy giving over the years? And what steps does someone need to take if they wish to make a bequeath to The Natural Death Centre?

As an independent and unfunded charity we are cash poor.  However, as we are truly independent we can speak freely about abusive practices in the wider funeral industry.  We are not beholden to anyone, I love that, but it does mean that I work mostly on a voluntary basis.  But as the old saying goes, ‘you can’t take it with you’, or is that, ‘there are no pockets in shrouds’?   Basically I take pleasure in making a difference.

We do rely on donations to pay the bills – keeping the helpline going for example.

Sometimes families who have gained valuable insight into funeral planning, often saving thousands of pounds, will name our charity as their chosen ‘in lieu of flowers’ recipient.

Q: You are an advocate of DIY (as you call it, ‘Direct it Yourself’!) Family led funerals. Can you tell us about Home funerals and why you feel this may be a choice that works for some families?

Direct it yourself funerals, DIY are the best.  This is the only style of funeral I would allow for my family.  It is so straightforward, personal and saves a fortune.  Obviously not everybody has somebody able and willing, but if families can, I recommend they do.

My mum died, expectedly aged 93 during lockdown.  She died in her own bed, certified by her GP, on a Monday. She rested in her own bed, cooled with ice packs until Wednesday.  Her carers returned to help me dress her and place her in the coffin I had collected.  We drove her to the cemetery on the Thursday, meeting our extended bubble and her vicar along with sunshine and whisky in the woods.  It couldn’t have been better.  And a timely 3 day turn around not like the  month’s delay so many families face – that is another story!

Families can collect direct from hospital mortuaries, book crematoria and cemeteries direct and buy coffins themselves.  You can even be buried on private land without encountering interference from the authorities if, and this is important, you have done your research and are prepared.  Communication is key so that bereaved family are not misguided by ignorant or interfering gatekeepers with vested interests.

Q: You must have seen many developments in the funeral sector over the years. What are some of the more significant changes and where do you see it going in the future?

I suppose the most significant change over the last quarter of a century has been the inception, promotion and uptake in direct, unattended cremations.  This suits many people for different reasons.  However, it might not serve a family’s bereavement well and as we are seeing, can be open to abusive and criminal acts.

It is interesting to see how the impact of cremation on climate change is still not understood by most people.  The funeral directors, as a whole, prefer this type of funeral as the regimented time slots help them maximise their use of vehicles and staff throughout the day.  Inconvenient burials that take more time and soil their shoes are such a pain!

I hope that this co2 penny continues to drop and we greatly expand not only new woodland across the UK but utilise the ground under this with a greater uptake in natural burials.

Oh and by the way….. the myth about burials taking all our land is nonsense.  A quick calculation of death rates and UK acreage, that anyone can do, will show that we have 60 thousand years worth of space! A three hundred year reuse on a small fraction of land would keep us going indefinitely.  Silly cremationists.

Q: Finally, do you have a particular hobby or project that you enjoy and that helps you to unwind at the end of the day?

Hobbies? Well I haven’t had much time for that. Childcare responsibilities are only just winding down after 38 years – I was both a youngish mum and a geriatric one.  For the last 6 years I have been building my own grand design, so I suppose that is a hobby of sorts.  When I do retire I would like to sing again, I was a head chorister back in the 70s.  Garden and maybe paint.

Thank you Rosie for your insights.

To find out more about The Natural Death Centre and the wonderful work that they do, please visit the Natural Death Centre.

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