Life Ledger’s series of conversations with people that are shaping today’s bereavement sector continues with John Plumb, founder of Ecological Coffins.
LL: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to find yourself in the death/bereavement sector?
JP: Although my degree is in printing, woodwork has been my profession for over 20 years. I started as a furniture maker working out of an old mill on the Stanway Estate in Gloucestershire before moving to Wales in 2001 to my own workshop.
In January 2020, an environmentalist friend of mine died quite suddenly and my wife volunteered me to make his coffin. Because of my friend’s care and concern of the environment, I knew I had to use reclaimed timber to make it. Fortunately, the funeral director was very supportive of me making the coffin and advised me with proportions and dimensions.
So, it was this experience that drew me into the funerary sector.
LL: How did Ecological Coffins start?
JP: When I learned the price of some of the coffins available, I wanted to make an affordable ecological alternative and as quickly as that, Ecological Coffins was born.
Of course, I soon learned that not all funeral directors or crematoria were prepared to accept my coffins. Many would not handle coffins that did not have FFMA accreditation, and some will not deal with a coffin maker who also deals with the public.
After about a year, I knew that to be taken more seriously in the sector I needed to get accredited. For a sole trader, it’s an expensive process but the investment is worth it as my coffins have the technical proof preferred by the industry/funeral directors and crematoria.
LL: What is the main aim of Ecological Coffins?
JP: The manufacture of my coffins is an answer to the need for an environmentally friendly coffin so I guess that is the part of the sector I feel I can help with. The sourcing of reclaimed wood keeps the business local, and community based.
LL: What have been the biggest challenges Ecological Coffins have faced to date?
JP: Getting certified and being accepted as supplier of coffins has been tough, but so has finding regular reliable suppliers of the reclaimed wood that I use.
Making the coffin is only part of the process, sourcing and processing the raw materials is time spent that most people do not see.
LL: What do you feel have been Ecological Coffins biggest successes to date?
JP: I think it is the product itself. I believe there is an honesty in my coffins, and I understand the importance of making a beautiful product at an affordable price. I regularly hear stories of how much the family and the mourners admired the coffin or that it was just what the deceased would have wanted. That has to be the biggest success.
LL: Where would you ideally like to see Ecological Coffins in ten years’ time?
JP: I think it’s too early for me to look too far ahead, but already I’m halfway to where I’d set my goals in terms of orders placed and I feel confident that things are progressing in the right direction.
LL: What do you feel is the single biggest issue currently facing the death/bereavement sector?
JP: When I’m out delivering, I’m saddened by the number of coffins I see that are made of mdf, chipboard and plastic. It really is time to wake up and stop burning or burying these materials when it is not necessary to do so.
LL: Which other organisation/s or people really impress you in the death/bereavement sector?
JP: I am impressed by such companies as Leedam Natural Burials as they represent a partnership way of working. I am also impressed by businesses with integrity and honest transparent working practices whose motivation is so much more than just profit.
Over the last two years, I’ve called in to a lot of funeral directors across England and Wales. The ones that impress me the most are those who are open to what is meaningful and appropriate for their customers and on seeing my product are prepared to share it with their clients because they can see it is perhaps appropriate for their final rite of passage.
They see the significance and respect of using reclaimed wood and having something that is handmade.