Making coffins during a pandemic

The past few months have been incredibly testing for anyone associated with the funeral industry – coffin makers included. A constantly changing raft of rules and regulations has made it extremely difficult for bereaved families and Funeral Directors.

Celebrating the life of a loved one with family and friends has been easier said than done. Restrictions on the number of mourners and on social gatherings in general have left many mourners feeling marginalised. Social distancing and the furlough scheme have adversely affected many coffin manufacturers – but not Musgrove Willows.

Coffin makers here to help

Our team has been doing all that we can to help. Since restrictions were first put in place, our business has remained open and we have continued to supply customers with any coffin in our range. We have been particularly busy making customised and bespoke designs. Adding a favourite colour into the coffin design or choosing a coloured lining makes the coffin unique and highly personal.

Coffin manufacturers
A bespoke West Ham United coffin

Helping to design a loved one’s coffin is a fantastic way to be involved in a funeral service where attendee numbers might be severely restricted. It gives the family member an opportunity to play a really significant part in the service even if they aren’t able to physically attend.

A major coffin manufacturer

Musgrove Willows has come a long way since the first willow coffin left our workshop a dozen years ago. Then, we employed a couple of weavers who made coffins for a handful of independent Somerset Funeral Directors. Word spread, now thanks to the support of Funeral Directors around the UK, 2020 is set to be our most successful year to date.  We are proud to have grown to become one of the biggest willow coffin manufacturers in the UK. More importantly, every coffin is handmade here with willow grown on our farm. Our willow coffins (or wicker coffins as they are often referred to) are sustainable, eco-friendly and beautiful.

Willow growing on our farm

The nature of willow coffin weaving means that our weavers work more than 2 metres apart. (You don’t want to be getting a willow rod in your eye.) Those who need to can weave from home. Being based on a large, working family farm certainly has its benefits (and we’re not just talking about the views and fresh air!).

Making willow coffins during COVID-19

Our workshops are extremely spacious and we have the vast majority of resources onsite. The obvious key component of a willow coffin is, you guessed it, willow. We grow hundreds and hundreds of tonnes of willow on 180+ acres of Somerset Farmland. Willow can be harvested every year, so we aren’t going to run out. The coloured willow is produced here (exactly how it’s done is a trade secret) using natural dyes. Again, we can keep supplying ourselves with exactly what we need. (Since 2015, 5% of the cost of every coffin containing natural dyed pink willow has been donated to Macmillan Cancer Support.)

Coffin makers
A pink striped willow coffin

Hay is grown in some of our fields and this is used to fill the coffin pillows and mattresses, so that’s another potential supply issue taken care of. In a separate workshop you’ll find our fantastic seamstress, Jennie. She makes all our liners, pillows, shrouds, gowns and mattresses from calico. Again, this allows families to customise specific items to make a one-off piece.

Coffins are lined, by hand in another workshop. Customers can choose from a wide range of colours many of which are hand dyed here using natural dyes to produce striking results. Controlling all these aspects is crucial. It allows us to make and dispatch coffins in just 48 hours.

Coffin manufacturers
Lining a coffin by hand

Not all coffin makers are equal

Some companies make willow coffins with imported willow, others grow willow and have their coffins made outside Somerset – Musgrove Willows grow, process and weave willow into stunning willow coffins and it all takes place in Somerset. Coffin makers with these credentials are few and far between. These factors enable us to maintain incredibly high standards of workmanship, adhere to government guidelines and keep turnaround times to a minimum.

In 2017, Musgrove Willows received accreditation from the Funeral Furnishing Manufacturers’ Association. It means that our coffins have passed rigorous testing for weight, strength and environmental impact and are suitable for burial, cremation, woodland and green burial sites (whether there’s a COVID-19 pandemic or not).

Having to adapt

While many of our processes have remained unchanged, one area in which we have been forced to adapt is our unique ‘Help to Weave‘ service. As the first lockdown was implemented modern technology found a place alongside traditional weaving skills. As family and friends could no longer visit our farm to help to weave their loved one’s coffin, we offered a live streaming service. (At the time of writing small groups can still come here to weave in a separate workshop. Masks need to be worn and hands frequently sanitized. This will change to reflect the latest Government guidelines.) This streaming service will remain in place long after COVID-19 has (hopefully) left these shores.

Being appreciated

Our weavers take enormous pride in their work and it is lovely when their efforts are recognised by families and Funeral Directors. Positive feedback has been particularly prevalent since the pandemic started. Our customers really appreciate the efforts that we go to.

“Just wanted to say a huge thanks for the GORGEOUS coffin that arrived today. Most importantly the family are delighted with it. Our poor families are having to design funerals around very strict restrictions at the moment, and therefore the meaning of being allowed to do something like this is magnified. You are gorgeous people, wonderful craftspeople and we are very proud to work with you. “ Hannah at Poppy’s Funerals

Let us hope that more positive times lie ahead.