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All About Alternative Funerals in the UK

Attitudes towards funerals are slowly changing. Not so long ago, everyone would have wanted a traditional religious ceremony, with a standard order of service and a set dress code. Nowadays, people consider different types of funeral services as they look for something more personal and unique. 

Alternative funerals are increasingly popular in the UK today. More unconventional send-offs are becoming accepted alternatives to a traditional burial or cremation.

What is an alternative funeral?

An alternative funeral is a term used to encompass anything that is not a typical traditional funeral. It doesn't have to be out of the ordinary or anything extreme. Quite often, it’s the smallest of details that make a difference. 

It could mean the mourners attend the funeral wearing bright colours. The funeral ceremony could be conducted without an officiant or minister. There might be no strict order of service, or it could be more family-led.

What is most important is that an alternative funeral and cremation service allows you to do things your own way. You’re able to take the time to consider the elements of the funeral that are most important to you and create a send-off that suits you and your loved one best. 

With alternative funerals in the UK, every detail can be personalised to truly reflect the life of your loved one.

Elements of an alternative funeral service

With a much wider choice available, it’s possible to choose everything from coffins and caskets, locations, transport options to the funeral service, and make sure it’s personalised to the finest degree. 

  • Alternative funeral transport: Examples include tandem bicycles, VW Camper, Rolls Royce, or Victorian horse-drawn carriages
  • Alternative funeral clothes: Mourners might attend the ceremony wearing fancy dress, brightly coloured clothing, or the team shirts from a favourite football team 
  • Alternative funeral music: Perhaps your loved one had a favourite TV programme, and you could play the theme tune. They may have been a fan of a particular musical   
  • Alternative funeral coffins: Eco-conscious families would often search for alternative materials when ordering a coffin. There are biodegradable coffins made from wicker, wool, bamboo, or cardboard. Other unusual types of caskets include personalised prints and designs

Alternative funeral ideas

There are many alternative funeral services you can have in the UK. Let’s look at some ideas for planning such an event. 

DIY Funeral

A DIY funeral is one which the family organises themselves without the assistance of a funeral director.

It tends to be a lot cheaper than a traditional funeral. DIY funerals tend to be less formal, and many people believe it’s a way of doing one last thing for their loved one, thereby providing a sense of closure.

Direct Cremation

A direct cremation is a funeral with no frills. It doesn’t involve a service, and generally, mourners are not present.

Once the cremation has taken place, the ashes are given to the family so they can scatter them in a meaningful location, keep them, or make them into memorial jewellery.  

Body Donation

Body donation is not typical in the UK, but it is an option. Donating your body to a medical school is a valuable gift. The donation will become an important resource for training healthcare professionals or research. 

Organisations that accept body donations remove, store, and use brains, bodies, and tissues in an appropriate, respectful, and well-managed way, ensuring individuals' and their families’ wishes are respected.  

Celebration of Life

A celebration of life funeral is all about remembering the deceased and the good times shared instead of grieving and mourning. The service is an opportunity to look back on fond memories with a joyful perspective. 

It’s an excellent way of putting a positive spin on what is typically a sad day. It also makes the grieving process a little easier. 

Common elements of a celebration of life include playing favourite songs, happy or upbeat music, or wearing colourful clothes rather than black. The body doesn’t need to be present during the ceremony.  

Humanist Funeral

A humanist funeral is a non-religious service and can be very meaningful and personal. It usually follows a similar format to a traditional ceremony, including a tribute or eulogy, music, alternative funeral readings from a loved one, and time for reflection with music or silence. 

The ceremony is often led by a friend, family member, or humanist celebrant and could be held at a crematorium. It could also take place anywhere that is happy to accommodate such a service, or you could have it outdoors.

Woodland Burial

Also called green burial, this is a popular eco-friendly funeral option. You lay the deceased body to rest in its natural state, in a biodegradable casket or coffin. There is no headstone, making it difficult to know the exact location of a person’s resting place. Therefore, the whole woodland tends to be considered a memorial site if people want to visit and remember their loved ones. 

There are many approved woodland burial sites across the UK

Burial at Home

There aren’t many restrictions with home burials, but they’re only an option for people who own their freehold. You also have to follow government guidelines. 

You must also register a home burial on the property deeds, which might be off-putting to potential buyers and reduce the property’s value. 

Green Funeral

This type of funeral is generally held outdoors. The body is buried in the soil, where it can be naturally recycled. No chemicals or embalming fluids are used, and the coffin has to be made from natural, biodegradable materials. 

Burial at Sea

A sea burial is extremely rare nowadays but tends to be more common for anyone who has a deep connection with the ocean. You have to apply for a licence and meet the official requirements to have a sea burial in England. 

There are several designated locations where you can be buried at sea in the UK. They include off The Needles near the Isle of Wight, off Tynemouth in North Tyneside, and between Hastings and Newhaven. 

The person being buried at sea must be wearing biodegradable clothing, have a specific coffin, and not be embalmed. 

Themed Funerals

Themed funerals are very personal occasions, often chosen by the deceased to reflect themselves. The funeral might be themed around an impressive achievement, a much-loved place, a personal passion, or a favourite colour. 

Football Funerals

For some people, football is more than just a game. It’s a way of life and therefore only natural to incorporate a football theme into a football fan’s funeral service. Many football clubs now offer their hospitality facilities to fans who want to use them as a wake and memorial service venue. 

If the deceased loved to play football and was part of a five-a-side or full football team, you might be able to organise a match in honour of their memory.  

Arranging an alternative funeral

When it comes to alternative funeral options, the little details matter just as much. There are conventions and traditions, but you don’t have to conform to them.  

  1. Decide on cremation or burial

The first step is to decide whether you want to arrange an alternative cremation or an alternative burial. When it comes to cremation vs. burial, there’s no right or wrong answer, and each has its pros and cons.

You need to consider several factors, such as the cost, religious or family traditions, and personal preference. 

  1. Explore family-led options and professional services

Families often choose a family-led funeral because it allows you to have a service that truly reflects your loved one. You’re able to select funeral proceedings in whatever way suits you best. Decisions such as alternative funeral arrangements and the service are for the family to decide, together with arrangements for a memorial. 

Another option is to turn to a cremation provider for cremation only and then plan a celebration of life after.

  1. Plan the alternative funeral ceremony

It is becoming more and more popular for people to plan for two halves of a funeral. For example, direct cremation is a simple, no-frills option that does away with the traditional send-off. It offers much more flexibility and more options if you want to personalise the ceremony that follows after. 

Such a ceremony allows you and your family to create a farewell party that’s unique to you, in a place and at a time that suits everyone. Compared to traditional funerals, direct cremation allows family and friends to grieve in their own way. It also leaves plenty of time for making the arrangements for a public or private event.  

Plan an alternative memorial service

When it comes to saying goodbye to a loved one, there are many ways you can do it, for example, a memorial service. They are all beneficial for the healing process, and if you plan an alternative memorial service, it opens up some beautiful possibilities for creating a very personal goodbye. 

With a memorial service, you’re giving yourself the time to think about what to do and you’ll be able to express what made the loved one so special.

If you need some advice or want to make your plans with us, get in touch today.