Father and daughter, Simon and Rebecca Welham, co-run their family funeral business Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials which has just celebrated its 30th anniversary has a number of sites in the South East – including one in Tunbridge Wells since 2014. Here they tell Eileen Leahy why they believe they have such a unique approach when it comes to ensuring clients have the perfect send off
Losing a family member or close friend can be one of the most devastating times of life but we’re here to ease that very difficult period,” says Simon Welham as he and his daughter Rebecca tell me about their funeral director business Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials.
It’s a freezing December day when we meet at their Tunbridge Wells premises on Crescent Road and the previous night’s snowfall is still thick on the ground but the Welham Jones welcome is incredibly warm.
“We like to think that our point of difference is that we are a genuine family-run firm which makes a big difference. With one exception we are the only other funeral directors in Tunbridge Wells which carries the family name and is also run by the family,” explains Simon who has been at the Welham Jones helm for the past 30 years.
“The other funeral director businesses in the town are run by companies and we feel that we do have the edge when it comes to providing that personal touch.”
Welham Jones was established in 1992 when Simon’s then father-in-law and he went into business together.
“I had been working in the city for thirty years and was suddenly asked by my company to ‘reconsider my future’,” he explains with a wry smile.
“That’s when I decided to go into business with my father in law Mac Jones, who had at that stage many decades of experience in the funeral business.”
They found the ‘ideal building’ in Sevenoaks, on the corner of St Botolph’s Road and Tubbs Hill near the station and set about establishing Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials.
“We can give clients the ability to say goodbye in a dignified and respectful manner and in a way that is personal to them”
Simon says that it was a ‘proud moment’ when he and his former father in law saw their name above the door. Thirty years on the firm now has seven offices in different parts of Kent including Chislehurst, Orpington, Swanley, and Tonbridge – with a main ‘hub’ to service them all in Dunton Green.
“Just because we have a number of different sites doesn’t deter from the fact that we are very personable,” states Simon.
“I always say that we’re big enough to rely on but small enough to care.”
The Welham Jones Tunbridge Wells branch opened in 2014 and since then Simon and his daughter, who came on board 12 years ago and is now Senior Funeral Director and also Business Development Manager, have serviced many hundreds of funerals for the people of Tunbridge Wells and beyond.
“Word of mouth is 90% of our business,” says Simon who is an active member of the local BNI networking group and has also been President, Treasurer and Chair of Fundraising for his local Rotary Club in Sevenoaks Amherst since 1992.
“Community is very important to me. I think this is especially vital if you are based in a town. You need to be seen. I am out and about here in Tunbridge Wells and a lot of people know who I am. The fact that we are a family running our business means that we really do care.
“We’re here to look after other families at one of the most vulnerable times of their life. And that’s not just applicable to myself and Rebecca as we are father and daughter. It extends to the staff we have too. I go to quite extraordinary lengths to choose team members who will reflect our values of respect, kindness and openness.”
Simon who worked as a banker for HSBC before he became a funeral director in 1992, says that despite his line of work being an emotionally charged one, he and his team will always be led by their clients.
“If they come in and it’s been a sudden death and people are distraught, we know how to behave. But similarly, if a death has been expected and the deceased has passed away peacefully then if their family want to celebrate their loved one then we can do that too.”
“I’d say around 40% of our customers will now go for an alternative to the traditional coffin and it’s gradually increasing”
The many thank you cards on display in the Welham Jones reception area are clearly testament to the quality of their service too. “If I were to be asked what makes the job for me it would be those thank you notes,” Simon reveals.
“Knowing you’ve managed to help a family through that difficult time of their lives when they need a trusted partner is priceless. So many of them come back to thank us.”
Apart from the pastoral side of things, which is clearly hugely valued by clients, what else would Simon cite as being key to Welham Jones’s ongoing success?
“There’s a number of things but I think it’s important to note that we are not greedy. I am not saying other family-run firms are as they are not but some of the bigger groups have been so over the years and this eventually came to the attention of the authorities and they were subsequently investigated.”
The firm’s ability to move with the times and embrace emerging technology advancements is also proving to be a useful USP adds Rebecca.
“We’re seeing a lot more web casting of funeral services so elderly family members can still be a part of it. We are also on all social media platforms and have our own You Tube channel which are gaining followers all the time. We want to be part of the changes in new tech otherwise you have got to go a long way to catch up!
“I think it’s important to see what the competition is doing so we can match it – or even better it! Locally I think we are the only funeral directors on Instagram for example.”
Simon adds that with more crematoria being built by companies who are independent from traditional councils this is quite literally changing the landscape of funerals.
“We’re starting to see new private money coming into the industry. Companies are building new crematorium chapels which are modern – cool in the summer and warm in the winter – with lovely views of the surrounding countryside or a garden. Generally they are less like a conveyor belt and boast a nicer general ambience. It’s interesting as they are starting to take a lot of the share from local councils like the one in Tunbridge Wells.”
Rebecca, who worked in marketing in London before coming joining Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials, adds that she has seen far more personalisation over the past few years.
“You can now customise a coffin for example. We had someone whose family put vinyl pictures of their life all over it. That was quite moving.”
One of the first things I noticed when I arrived at Welham Jones TW HQ was a picture of a coffin with a Union Jack on it – alongside other images of what looked like seagrass coffins.
“Oh there’s a huge variety nowadays,” smiles Simon. “You can order them not just in seagrass but in willow, wool, wicker, bamboo and cardboard too.”
More seismic difference is evident in the rising popularity of secular funerals.
“That’s definitely changing,” Simon tells me. “We’re seeing a dip in religious ceremonies. I imagine people want more of a celebration of someone’s life than of any religion.”
“I always say that you never become inured to death, you become accepting of it,”
Rebecca adds that a lot of people now take their lead from how the wedding market has opened up so much and some want to do the same for a loved one’s funeral.
“A lot of people will say ‘well if I can be married in a woodland then why can’t I have a service for my funeral in one’? So yes, things are definitely changing. The majority of our clients now go for celebrants as opposed to a priest or a vicar. But they will still have the ceremony done at the crematorium as there is no alternative venue available.”
“The need to use a chapel isn’t going to change any time soon,” Simon says.
Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials can also offer a range of different themes. In addition to the traditional hearse, clients can also opt for horse drawn carriages, flat bed lorries, VW Camper vans and even motor bikes to carry the coffin of a loved one.
And the father and daughter team reveal that nowadays you can have someone’s ashes scattered by drone, shot into space or even made into diamonds.
And when it comes to opting for an eco-friendly funeral are more and more people doing this?
“I’d say around 40% of our clients will now go for an alternative to the traditional coffin and it’s gradually increasing,” reveals Simon.
“It all started to change around the time I joined 12 years ago,” says Rebecca. “Funerals can be very different nowadays. I came to the family firm as a stop-gap to see what I wanted to do next. But I never left so I am obviously doing what I love!”
Did she find it easy to adapt from her marketing background given that bereavement and grief are the industry’s underlying hallmarks?
“Well in a sense I grew up around it all. I was seven when dad started in Sevenoaks so it’s kind of normal for me in a sense. But when I look back it was the best decision I ever made.
“What I love about my job is that I get to help families at a very difficult time. I can give them the ability to say goodbye in a dignified and respectful manner and in a way that is personal to them.”
Simon says that at the Tunbridge Wells branch of Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials they have all the necessary facilities apart from being able to store their cars there.
“It’s a deceptive building as it looks small from the outside but it actually goes right back. People can be laid out in our private chapel of rest and their loved ones can choose to spend as much time here as they need to.”
The pair reveal that children’s funerals are the worst as it’s just so sad for everyone involved. What, I wonder, are their coping mechanisms?
“I always say that you never become inured to it, you become accepting of it,” states Simon. “You have to learn how to compartmentalise your life. It’s essential to do that otherwise you would be consumed by it and wouldn’t be able to do your job.”
“It’s not your grief; it’s not your loss,” says Rebecca. “Of course you can offer empathy but it’s important to keep that boundary in place.”
Simon tells me that he employs approximately 20 people in a combination of full-time and casual staff across all the Welham Jones sites and that he is fully involved in every aspect of the business – apart from the embalming.
“I am very hands on but I have no interest in embalming,” he smiles as our time together comes to an end.
After spending an hour in Simon and Rebecca’s company it’s clear why their business is going from strength to strength: they genuinely care and are passionate about ensuring that someone’s final farewell is as perfectly tailored to their wishes – and that of their family and friends – as possible. What could be a more loving and eternal tribute than that?
A history of Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials:
Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials has been serving the communities of Kent and South East London for 30 years and has extensive knowledge of local customs and traditions.
Managed by the individuals and family members who own it, familial values carry through to customers. These values underpin the business and everything the company does making the relationship between the Welham Jones family and the families they serve extremely important.
Offering all the resources of a large company, whilst maintaining that small company feel, they are not members of a larger corporate group trading under a family name long gone.
At Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials, the team are genuinely committed to the community they serve. Responsive to you and your needs they take pride in the service they provide, putting customers first at all times.
Local funeral homes
There are sevne funeral homes branches covering areas from Chislehurst and Bromley to Orpington, Swanley to Borough Green, Sevenoaks to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.
Support when you need it
Welham Jones provide 24/7 support and for as long as you need it. Their specially trained staff members are always on hand with any emotional support you require.
Experienced team members
Their fully trained and experienced team respect and uphold the family values that underpin everything the company stands for.
They feel it is an honour to care for your loved one and want to do our very best to ensure they receive the service they deserve.
They always strive to go beyond what is required of, whilst keeping a respectful distance, where necessary.
Value for money
Welham Jones offer value for money at competitive prices, with full transparency.
With no hidden costs and no jargon, you can expect clear communication at all times.
They can tailor their bespoke service to meet your needs and requests.
Their pre-paid plans help to ease the worry and stress of organising a funeral
Providing a memorable funeral service
Welham Jones Funerals & Memorials will work with you, encouraging your thoughts and input, in order to get to know the deceased as much as possible. The team want the service to truly reflect a departed loved one and for the experience to be fulfilling and uplifting for everyone involved.