Moves are under way to establish a not-for-profit, community-based funeral service in the Canberra region that would offer more choice at a fraction of the cost.
The service would be based on the Tender Funerals model established in Port Kembla two years ago, which has conducted hundreds of funerals designed by families and loved ones, and is now being exported to other centres such as Albury/Wodonga, Alice Springs and Canberra.
An initial meeting at the Belconnen Community Centre last Friday night screened a film showing the story of how Port Kembla Community Project became involved in the movement for a more personalised approach to the way death is marked, and its eventual venture into the funeral business.
One of the Canberra organisers, Shane McWhinney, said a series of working groups would now be set up to pursue fundraising, including grant applications, approach the ACT Government and Queanbeyan and Palerang Council and to seek a building to lease or buy to host the service.
The Tender model would offer an array of services that could be customised to create a more meaningful and affordable experience.
It would offer pre-funeral planning; post-death body care at home or at the Tender premises; transporting a loved one to the place of preparation, celebration and burial; personalised vigils, ceremonies, funerals and celebrations; low-cost environmentally friendly coffins; and cremation and burial advice.
Mr McWhinney said that for many the passing of a loved one can be all over before they had a chance to integrate the experience or even say goodbye.
“What Tender is saying its actually taking your time with this kind of thing that’s part of the healing process, part of coming to terms with a loss,” he said.
“There is simply no need to rush it and psychologically there is a lot of advice and information that taking your time is a really good thing.”
He said the for-profit model encouraged rushing the process as well as the idea that it was best to just get it over with.
“Tender has all the same core services a standard funeral home would offer but the style and nature of the services would be quite different, in the sense that we’re not trying to maximise profit,” he said.
“We can work with families over an extended period. We can spend four to five hours at a funeral service in the local scout hall or anywhere we book to hold a private service. It’s quite fundamentally different to what the normal funeral homes offer. At Norwood Park you have 45 minutes if you’re lucky.”
When it came to death, often a taboo subject, many people were unaware of what was possible, such as holding on to a body for reflection, washing and laying it out, or the importance of a meaningful rite of passage making death a part of life.
“We will be genuinely providing people with more options. It’s not in the for-profit model’s interests to be saying would you like to have a natural burial. It’s not really their thing. Our approach is to talk to them about their options and make sure that they are fully aware of them,” Mr McWhinney said.
On average, a non-burial funeral in the ACT can cost $8000, and much more if a grave or headstone is involved. Tender would only be covering its costs, bringing the bill back to $3000-4000 but a service could be as great or small as desired.
The move comes as the ACT and Queanbeyan look to expand their cemeteries and crematoria services as grave space dwindles and population grows.
Mr McWhinney said Tender would not be building a new crematorium or chapel yet and would have to use whatever facilities were available in the region.
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