Review from the Good Funeral Guide - goodfuneralguide.co.uk
Simon Helliar-Moore. Born and brought up in the town, Simon is well known in Taunton from his ten years working for a local independent funeral director.
When that company was taken over by one of the large corporate funeral companies two years ago, Simon found it increasingly difficult to give families the dedicated and personal service that he valued so highly. He fulfilled his contract, doing the best that he could, but began looking for premises where he could create his own business.
Simon’s passion for funeral directing had begun when he was just 15. One of his friends died, and he sang at her funeral. Her death made a lasting impression on him, and he consequently took a work experience placement with a local undertaker. From that point onwards, he knew he had found his vocation, and his career took him to London and Bath covering every aspect of the role before he came back to Taunton in 2006.
The prospect of being trapped by another corporate take-over with all the associated rigidity of practice and inflexibility of working was sufficient to make Simon take the plunge into setting up his own company, but he needed to find the right place to do so. He scoured the area and looked at various premises, but the ideal property eluded him until a Georgian coach house in the heart of Taunton came on the market.
The Coach House had been used as a tyre fitters for the last fifty years, and at first glance must have seemed an unlikely setting for a funeral director’s premises, but the location was perfect, at the rear of the beautiful Georgian houses in The Crescent. With the support of those closest to him, Simon was able to acquire the building and set about restoring it to its former beauty. In October 2016, the builders began their work, and in January 2017, with the final touches still not quite finished, Crescent Funerals carried out their first funeral.
Since then, Taunton’s newest funeral directors have quickly become established. Simon is joined in the business by his husband Robert, a former head teacher who worked with children with special needs and achieved an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted before leaving his role as a teacher for new challenges. Robert is a systems whizz, and he has taken on the role of office manager, ensuring everything runs smoothly behind the scenes and freeing Simon to do what he does best. The third member of the team is Jason Wood, the assistant funeral director who has a background in the care profession where he worked while trying to get an opportunity to become a funeral director.
The team of three are supported by a loyal and dedicated group of part time staff who come and help as required – Simon’s years as a Taunton funeral director introduced him to many of the best part time funeral staff and they have been swift to offer their help. Other assistance comes from friends or family members if needed - it is evident that many people are willing Crescent Funerals to be a success.
The newly finished premises are beautiful. All traces of the building’s previous occupants have disappeared, and the tyre-fitters are a distant memory. On the wall outside, the pretty logo of a crescent moon on a lacework background proudly proclaims the new owners, and Simon reluctantly agreed to having his name also displayed beneath that of the company (he was strongly advised to do this, as so many families of the town would ask for him by name at the company he formerly worked for. Crescent Funerals overlooks Boots car park where hundreds of shoppers park every day, and is a cut through to the shops for local council and office workers, so having his name on the wall was an obvious way of letting people know that he can now be found in a new place).
The lacework of the logo is echoed in the vinyl frosting on the doors and windows, allowing natural light to flood in while giving some privacy for people inside. Simon’s eye for detail is everywhere – tranquil colours and comfortable, stylish furnishing invite you to settle into the sofas in the room used for arranging funerals – there is a real feeling of relaxation as soon as you walk in the door. “I don’t do desks,” says Simon, “I can’t stand them. I want people to feel comfortable, as if they were in a sitting room. It’s the hardest thing to do, talking about funeral arrangements, so I wanted to make this room as welcoming as possible”.
Further along the building is the room where you can spend time with the person who has died – again, beautifully decorated and simple, but an extension of the public space, carefully designed and thought through. Artwork on the walls is by a local artist, and adds to the tasteful sense of style that imbues this building. A fully disabled accessible toilet is available for clients and visitors alike – Simon has an open door policy and is always happy when people drop in for a coffee or a chat.
Behind the scenes, the practical working area has been planned carefully. One of the original garage doors has been retained, although replaced with a new version, allowing a vehicle to bring people in to the building without curious onlookers. A cold room provides space for around ten people to be looked after, and an ingenious trapdoor allows coffins to be passed upstairs for storage until needed. There is space for an embalmer to work if needed, although as Simon says “we only do this when required, we try to keep things natural with little invasive contact.”
The office is upstairs, so phone calls and paperwork are kept away from the public area, along with a kitchen and ample storage space. The beams and rafters have been exposed and there is a sense of light and air throughout. The rafters had concealed a secret for years – a secret that some might say was also a good portent for the new use of the building - when the builders removed the suspended ceiling that had been in place for years, a top hat tumbled down from above. Worn by a coachman centuries ago, the hat is now displayed in a glass case in the arranging room. Symbolically, one couldn’t think of a better endorsement for a funeral director making the old coach house his home.
There was another strange echo from the past when Simon purchased his vehicles – he chose a classic Daimler hearse and matching limousine rather than spending a fortune on a new fleet (vehicles are necessary but not all-important to Simon). When the cars arrived, he noticed that the log books showed ‘Taunton Funeral Service’ as a former owner – unbeknown to Simon when he found them, the cars had come home to the town where they had originally been used for Taunton families years ago.
The family is always completely in charge. Simon and his team are there to do whatever you need them to do to help you achieve the funeral you want.
Nothing is off limits, whatever you feel is right for you will be what Simon aims to provide. You and the person who has died will be cared for by exceptionally nice, thoughtful and genuine people from the day you first contact them.
Every detail. Simon has a wealth of experience and knowledge, he keeps abreast of new developments and his years of working in the funeral industry has only strengthened his determination to do the best he possibly can for every family who entrusts him with the funeral of a person they loved.
This is a classy business – you feel that immediately you walk in the door, but the prices are fair and simple to understand. Crescent Funerals offer all-inclusive prices, so there are no hidden costs, although of course they’ll create a tailored funeral if what you want doesn’t fall in line with these.
There’s a generosity about Crescent Funerals too - Simon’s reputation in Taunton and the surrounding area is such that he has already had a client decide to change her funeral plan so that he would conduct her funeral when the time comes, and Crescent Funerals paid the cancellation fee imposed on her behalf. They will help in other ways too if they feel you need them too. These are bright, warm and thoughtful people who are dedicated to doing the best they can for every family who engages them.
Simon is keen to encourage people to talk about funerals before the need arises, and will welcome you if you just want to ask some questions, whether or not you need to organise a funeral now. The door to Crescent Funerals is always open to everyone.
Your first call will be answered Simon, Robert or Jason.
Home visits – yes if that’s what you want. No problem.
Same sex person to wash and dress? Yes, just ask. Crescent call upon a local nurse to help if families prefer to have a female look after their relative.
Embalming? Not unless it is required for repatriation or in cases where restorative work is needed. Simon believes in caring for people naturally with little invasive contact.
Ethnic specialism? Currently there is limited demand in Taunton but Simon’s years working elsewhere have given him experience of looking after both Muslim and Ghanaian families
Home arranged funerals – absolutely, you can have as much or as little help as you need.
Local celebrants – excellent local celebrants, both male and female can be suggested, but ultimately it will be your choice.
Website – Good, informative website with details of the staff and the ethos of the company. Prices are online.
Client support – This is fundamental to Crescent Funerals, before, during and after the funeral. Former clients are welcome to drop in at any time, and do so.
Money matters – Good value for money – you will receive exceptional personal service from very kind and dedicated people and know exactly what you are paying for.
Parking – Plenty of space for parking, either on the forecourt in front of the building, or, if the spaces are taken, there is a vast pay and display car park a few steps away.
When we visited in February 2017, we had no idea that Crescent Funerals was such a young business. Since opening a few weeks before, six families had already chosen Simon and his team to carry out their funerals, and we instantly understood why. This company is founded on the belief that families always come first, and that there are no rules to play by - but there is no sense of uncertainty or lack of structure here.
Underpinning the soft aspect of support and gentle guidance provided by Simon, there is Robert’s steady hand ensuring that processes, procedures and systems are all in place to make everything happen as you want it to.
There is a fresh energy and stylish look to Crescent Funerals which is unusual in a funeral directing business. The only old fashioned thing about it is the treasured top hat – a nod of approval from time gone by for a forward thinking, modern and honest new funeral directors for the people of Taunton and the area around. We wish them the very best of luck.