National Funeral Exhibition

We attended the National Funeral Exhibition at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire last June. The event is held every 2 years and it attracts thousands of visitors over 3 days.

We exhibited at the National Funeral Exhibition in 2017, so we knew the event provided a great opportunity to meet new customers and further cement relationships with the many Funeral Directors who we have previously supplied willow coffins to.

Setting our stall out

During the National Funeral Exhibition (NFE), our main aims were to showcase the amazing willow that we grow on our farm and to display the incredible skills of our weaving team. Opting for a willow coffin isn’t just an environmentally friendly choice. A well made willow coffin is very robust, beautiful to look at and can be personalised to an enormous degree.

In the weeks running up to the show we made three gigantic willow rings. These not only looked stunning, but made our stand relatively easy to spot in a vast hall! While these proved a real hit, it was our live demonstration of willow coffin weaving which really caught visitors’ attention.

Making willow arches for the National Funeral Exhibition 2019

Sarhan is one of our most experienced weavers. Name an object and he can probably weave if from willow! He spent time showing visitors how technically challenging it is to weave a willow coffin and why the quality of willow makes such a difference to the end product. (Imported, ‘cheap’ willow coffins bear no comparison to our high quality willow caskets.) On more than one occasion a visitor commented that they thought our willow coffins had to be machine made!

National Funeral Exhibition 2019
Weaving a willow coffin at the National Funeral Exhibition in 2019

Changing times at the National Funeral Exhibition

Some of the main differences we noticed between the National Funeral Exhibition in 2019 and its 2017 predecessor, were the heightened environmental concerns (willow is such an eco-friendly choice) and the increase in coffin choices. The strong growth in more environmentally friendly options is to be applauded.

While Funeral Directors are often interested in the technical aspects of how a coffin ‘performs’, for the families we met, it was about laying their loved one (or themselves) to rest in a coffin which reflected their life, loves and personality.

National Funeral Exhibition
Our willow coffins at the National Funeral Exhibition 2019

We took the opportunity to exhibit different colour willow coffins (we only use natural dyes) and numerous willow sculptures. These helped to emphasise the flexibility of willow and show how our willow coffins can be personalised. (We auctioned off our willow birds during the show, raising £180 for charity.

A very personal touch

We have experienced a sharp increase in the number of families who are keen to participate in weaving the willow coffin that they have chosen for a loved one. People of all ages come to us to play a part in making their willow coffin. It can be an incredibly cathartic experience. Weaving the coffin (under expert guidance) and adding personal touches – such as a willow boat for a keen sailor – can really help to reflect and celebrate a life.

The weaving experience provides a unique opportunity to swap stories and relive moments of a life well lived. There has been more laughter than tears in our coffin workshop. This is a service we provide at no charge.

There were plenty of other exhibitors showcasing innovative ways of providing lasting mementos. Fingerprint jewellery was something that we certainly hadn’t seen before.

Providing bereaved families with more burial choices has to be a good thing. And it appears that this trend is set to continue. The National Funeral Exhibition in 2021 (which we have committed to attending with JC Atkinson) is already forecast to be the biggest yet.

We are fortunate to live in an incredibly diverse society and, here in the UK, we can live our lives in many different ways. We believe that it’s really important the funeral service (including the coffin) reflect that.