PASSING IN RURAL PEACE- TESSA GATES
JOHN ROWLATT used to be a dairy farmer milking 120 cows. Today, he contract rears beef calves and his dairy parlour and adjoining buildings are tastefully converted into an office and a chapel of rest and John has a new role – funeral director.
Greenfields Funeral Services was started 19 months ago at Shotts Farm, Staunton, on the Glos/Worcs border, but the idea had been geminating for some time. “My brother Bill runs Oaktree Funeral Services, Eardisley, Heredfordshire, and I have helped him and enjoyed it so much that I decided to open Greenfields here,” says John (pictured), who farms 24ha (60 acres).
“I have lived here for 32 years and there had been no changes in funeral directors in the area over the years and I thought there was room for choice,” he explains.
“The setting is so tranquil here – the background noise is just the sound of cattle and occasionally a cockerel. People like that and even urban families seem to want a rural funeral.”
John offers a bespoke service, reacting to whatever the bereaved families really want. “Death, by definition, is a sad situation and we try to lift that up. “We would like to emphasise the celebration of a life, and that is easier with older people. It is more difficult with the death of a baby or someone who has committed suicide.”
However, the right service can bring great comfort. Through Greenfields, the bereaved family of a baby arranged for 150 helium-filled balloons printed with her name to be released as she was buried. Another family marked the passing of a keen gardener by having him buried in his gardening clothes and the order of service pamphlet was printed with a photograph of him in his favourite spot in the garden.
“You do what people ask you to do,” says John, “and attention to detail is essential. It is important that people know you are caring for their loved ones properly.”
Part of the grieving process can be to view loved ones in the chapel of rest and John employs a lady to prepare the deceased for this. The coffin will lie in the chapel, with its candles and illuminated stained-glass internal window, for a week to 10 days.
He arranges all aspects of the funeral, right from answering the first phone call. “Really, Greenfields is me. I have lived here a long time and know lots of people. If local people call, they know it”s me answering and it makes it easier for them to say what they want.”
Everyone involved in the pall-bearing, hearse-driving and burial is local. “The graves are dug by Peter Morton, who digs each one by hand. That’s what I want when I die – a grave dug by hand with care,” says John, who says he loves his work as funeral director.
“My brother says I am a caring person and, in all modesty, being able to comfort people is something I seem able to do in all situations, even difficult ones.”
His greatest wish is to “unhurry” the process of burial and to this end he hopes to open a woodland burial ground on the farm soon.
Subject to planning permission, John intends to offer green burials in a 5 acre site in a 14 acre field. This will be planted with native trees and linked to a wildlife trust, in perpetuity.
“It will not be a commercial woodland – there will be no thinning and only light planting, managed traditionally,” says John. “There will be wild flowers and no headstones, just strategically-placed seats and name plaques.”
He intends to offer a bespoke service, which could include a religious or non-religious burial, unusual coffins and a wake on nearby premises.
“I just wish I was 30 years younger – I would have liked to do this earlier,” he says. Inquiries: 01452 840460