A guide to alternative funerals

Posted by AK Lander | On February 24, 2016 15:38

The inflating costs of funerals over the past several years has created a rise in people choosing to create their own alternative funerals and also for their loved ones.

A survey by Co-Operative Funeralcare found that one in six of UK adults would consider having their funeral at home or in their garden with a touching tribute in the form of a memorial stone.

Frances Glover at A Natural Undertaking, a Birmingham based company that specialises in celebrating the life of loved ones with simple, modern, traditional, green or completely bespoke funerals, believes funerals are beginning to reflect our changes in attitude in our day-to-day lives.

 Frances explains: “Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s feels like a different life from today and I can only imagine how someone who grew up in the 40’s and 50’s might feel. We’re still the same people but our culture, attitudes and expectations have changed. As a group we’re used to being less formal in our day-to-day lives; we call most people by their first name, many work dress-codes are casual, fewer people describe themselves as religious, and as consumers we’re able to buy virtually anything which will convey our unique qualities and interests to others as we go about our daily business.

“So it should be no surprise, as we become less formal and more creative, that our funerals are beginning to reflect our changes in attitude. What was once seen as the epitome of respect – the conventional, highly formal funeral, is fast being seen as outdated and at odds with the way we live our lives.”

Although the traditional funeral sector is worth an estimated at £1 billion, according to UK Funerals Online, it has been an undeniably successful time for the businesses that specialise in alternative celebrations, with niche specialities and themes being at the top of the list for those wishing to plan outside of the norm. Businesses have taken custom from those wanting to create a Star Wars themed funeral, all the way through to environmentally friendly funerals, and they are as popular as ever.

We have created a guide for those who are interested in turning to an alternative funeral, or who are curious to learn a bit more about them.




Custom-made coffins incorporating decoration and overall design are very much a personal and fitting tribute to the personality and theme that the deceased wants to be remembered by, such as those supplied by Crazy Coffins. Whether it’s a design inspired by a hobby, pet or a love of films, there are many coffin companies who will design and build for specific requirements, with no job too little or too large. From replica life-size Coca-Cola bottles, to life-size mobile phones, the ideas are endless when planning a personalised coffin.

Alternatively, a good idea for friends and family is to have a coffin-decoration party. There are independent coffin producers and companies who can supply you with the coffin, leaving you to decorate the product whichever way you choose, or, for something a little more special, a number of artists are willing to specialise in one-off bespoke coffin designs.

Image Credit: Emilio Labrador (flickr.com)

Cars and transport

Funeral transport accounts to a large percentage of the industry, with many different types of hearses and limousines attracting adults across the country. Just like personalised coffins, many seek transport that best represents them as an individual. Wallace Stuart funeral directors have a range of alternative hearses including VW camper vans, Land Rover and vintage trucks to make their last journey a little more special.

For those who are looking to arrange a natural funeral within designated burial grounds, can always use personal transport which can be decorated to the owner’s wishes. This helps to cut the cost of the funeral itself, but also gives family and friends the ability to celebrate their loves ones’ life the way they feel best.

Image Credit: clydehoadley (flickr.com)


 Image Credit: Noir (pixabay.com)

Natural and eco-friendly funerals can cover everything from natural burial grounds to chipboard and bio-degradable coffins. But like many taking the option to host an alternative funeral, the benefit of these types of products being cheaper than what is traditionally sold in the funeral industry releases the pressure that so many go through at this particular time.

SunLife Direct, a global financial company specialising in products such as funeral plans, Will writing services and life insurance, found an interesting shift within the industry, with funeral directors reporting a clear move away from traditional services and towards more modern ones including eco funerals. 

In their 2015 annual report SunLife Direct found that directors reported a 12 per cent increase in woodland burials and a further 40 per cent increase in eco- coffins, such as cardboard, wicker, bamboo and even papier mache. There were also some unsettling statistics when it came to the family unsure of the funeral wishes of the deceased, with 66 per cent uncertain as to whether they should be the ones to be organising and planning the service and wake. A further 53 per cent didn’t know if the deceased would have wanted a religious or non-religious service.

With the rising costs of traditional funerals, it’s no wonder that people are turning to natural alternatives. SunLife managing director Dean Lamble said: “It is clear from our report that many of us are still very uncomfortable talking about death. This is understandable, but means that in many cases those left to organise (and often pay for) a funeral are doing so without knowing what their loved one actually wanted.

“This is even more unsettling when you consider the amount spent on the send-off has risen to £2,000 – some of which could be down to the changing trends our report has highlighted - and that funeral poverty has reached £237 million.

“It’s really important to talk about and plan for our funeral. There are many different options out there, so if we don’t make plans we put a significant financial burden on the people we leave behind and an emotional one too.”


Image Credit: SunLife Direct.

In the case of those different options, natural and eco-friendly funerals are a great alternative. There are many natural burial grounds around the UK,  and although some don’t allow for memorials or grave stones to be placed, a good alternative would be to plant a tree to encourage life to prosper, or small wooden grave markers such as crosses or biodegradable boxes. Another idea would be a hand-made bouquet or wreath created by friends and family for colour and remembrance.

Francis adds: “Of course if you’re looking at green burials there are the environmental benefits. When you’re burying someone naturally you’re not putting formaldehyde in the ground from the embalming process, you can source environmentally and trade friendly coffins, you’re creating beautiful spaces that will be maintained for future generations. How can that not be good for us all?”

 Image Credit: A Natural Undertaking

Image Credit: Sojournstar (pixabay.com)