The push to provide affordable community-based funeral services in the Canberra region is ramping up with organisers set to launch a fundraising drive and meet with the ACT Government in a bid to be operational by the end of the year.
Based on the Tender Funerals model in Port Kembla, which is now being exported across the country, the not-for-profit service would ensure those experiencing financial hardship or distress can access personalised, meaningful and affordable funerals.
It would also provide community education on the dying process and after-death care.
After a pause in campaigning due to the pandemic, Tender Funerals Canberra was incorporated late last year and is now organising community events and preparing to launch a crowdfunding campaign in mid-April.
It has also linked up with the Snow Foundation, which will unlock a grant to help fit out a funeral home, community hub and mortuary if the group can raise $150,000.
Social Enterprise Finance Australia (SEFA) has also approved a loan to purchase premises and start operations.
The Canberra Environment Centre’s Green Shed has already donated $10,000 and named Tenders Funerals Canberra its Charity of the Month.
Organisers believe there is strong demand for its model of care, with Tender Funerals Illawarra, which has doubled in size, already fielding enquiries from the Canberra region.
The Canberra operation would service Cooma and Goulburn, as well as the ACT.
The main thrust of the fundraising effort will be to acquire land, premises or both, a challenge in Canberra with its hot real estate market, but Tender Canberra will soon meet with City Services Minister Chris Steel to discuss how the government could assist.
Director Catherine Bell says the movement in Canberra had attracted broad community support and the response has been amazing.
“Everyone’s got a story about a funeral that’s cost too much or was really stressful,” she said.
“They say, ‘I really wish you’d been around; it would have been so less stressful for us to have had that model of care and been able to know the options’.”
ACT people were particularly keen to know about natural or green burial options, concerned at the environmental impacts of cremation.
Ms Bell said people were also keen to discuss what new approaches could be introduced, such as aquamation – decomposition in liquid – and even composting, that would not require land for burial.
“We do know that once we are operational, we will be providing a service that people are definitely seeking, not just because it’s more affordable but because it allows that time to process what’s going on and understand what options are available,” she said.
“In that community environment, it’s a lot less confronting for a lot of people because we build relationships up in advance. It can be like visiting old friends.”
A big part of the Tender model is demystifying death and making it a less confronting experience.
Ms Bell said many continue to be nervous and in denial about the subject, as if it will never happen to them.
“It’s one of the guarantees in life,” she said.
“What Tender does is to try to make those conversations possible and less confronting, and at least allow people to know what their options are in advance.
“It’s easier to be prepared when we know a little more in advanced what our options are.”
Ms Bell said that despite Canberra’s affluence, there were people in the community who would be grateful for a more affordable option that still provided ritual and meaning.
“Tender has done some beautiful services without having to cost a lot of money and people having to go into debt,” she said.
Tender Canberra is holding a number of events, including a planned screening of the Tender documentary by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Lynette Wallworth at Electric Palace cinemas on 19 April.
On 17 March at 10:00 am, its Walking the Talk event at the Black Mountain Forest Loop walk will give people the opportunity to discuss death in a less confronting environment.
On 24 March it will hold one of its “death cafes” at As Nature Intended on Dairy Road from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm as part of Advanced Care Planning Week.