Richard Whittle photoThis week Richard Whittle, the owner of Bungard Funeral Directors, answers my Ask The Expert questions.
  • How did you get into your current profession?

In March I will be celebrating my fourteenth year at the family firm. I cannot believe how fast it has gone and how much we have achieved personally and as a business.  I am the great, great grandson of the founder Oliver Bungard and even though I never intended to join the family firm or indeed become a funeral director, it does feel inevitable that I am here now.   My degree from Lancaster University was in Operations Management and my career ended up with me being Operations Manager for a Consultancy that encouraged Best Practice and Customer Service Skills in the Hospitality and Tourism Industry. My education and career choices all helped me develop skills to run and develop a small business. When I was younger, I was always imagining myself in a caring role which is perfect for a Funeral Director. The closer my dad came to retiring the more I wanted to join the firm and one day I invited Dad to the pub and present him with a Business Plan to develop the business over the next five years with me joining the business. I am pleased to say that he agreed and here I am twelve years later. A story I often tell clients is that I am a Whittle and not a Bungard because my great grandfather had twin daughters and no sons. His two daughters ended up marry Whittle brothers John and Leonard. Leonard Whittle joined the family firm and became a company director, and my grandmother took his place during the war. My own father James has just celebrated 54 years with the company, now retired but still Company Director.

  • Do you envisage ever changing your role?

Yes and no. We are a five-generation family business and I believe it is important that I am seen by the families we look after and that they feel looked after. However, Ben has been with us now over 9 years and is our principal funeral director, and Zoe is soon to be celebrating her seventh year. As we work together and grow together, I feel that both of them and their families are now part of the Bungard umbrella with us all meeting up for a Bungard BBQ each year. I do however see the business developing or diversifying and my role may also develop to accommodate the new business needs but I do not think I would ever be able to step away from the core role of looking after the families we serve.

  • Are there any myths can you dispel about your profession?

There are lots of myths about funerals but the industry is changing as the industry becomes more open and transparent and people’s attitudes on death and dying evolve. Some examples are:

  • bodies have to be transported in hearses.
  • bodies have to be embalmed if viewing is requested.
  • you have to employ a funeral director.
  • the crematoria reuse the coffins.
  • it is not the person’s individual ashes that you get back.
  • you can’t keep a body at home.

All of these are false. And we would encourage people to come and meet us and talk about any worries or myths that trouble them. In fact we might organise some open days to encourage people to do just that!

  • What do you think you’d be doing instead if you weren’t doing this?

I think I would have re-skilled perhaps and added Project Management to my list of skills.  I was thinking of doing PRINCE 2 at one point and I would probably not enjoy my work as much as I do now. Moving to Bungards was a big change for me and my wife Amie. We lived in West Molesey at the time and my wife is from Yorkshire, so it meant us moving further south away from her friends and family. In the same year I changed job, got married and sold our flat to move to Sussex. The house-move ended up being a nightmare so at the age of 31 and recently married I found myself living with Mum and Dad in my childhood bedroom!

  • What do your friends and family think about what you do?

I think a lot of them were surprised when I first started but everyone has been encouraging and supportive. They know that I enjoy both roles. The caring role as a funeral director but also the business side of it. I am very lucky to have such a dual purpose. From time to time I am quizzed but I am careful to be delicate but it’s also important to be honest to promote the transparency needed of a historically taboo subject.

  • Do you want to be buried or cremated? What kind of funeral do you want for yourself?

For years I told my wife I want to be cremated. Dispose of my ashes simply and do not mourn me but remember me fondly. I never previously wanted a burial as I was worried that having a place to visit would make her sadder. But in recent years after a very touching funeral I arranged I like the idea of a burial more and more. The family at this service all stood around their loved one’s grave sharing jokes and stories. They stood there a long time talking about their loved one and nibbled on snacks and drinks. I loved the informality of it and how relaxed and easy going it was. The same situation could be achieved at a crematorium too but being in the open air made a big difference.  I am also known for having little or no interest in music. I think to make people roll their eyes and hopefully laugh I would want cheesy music like the Spice Girls to be played.

  • Tell me what your perfect day looks like!

With two little monsters aged 7 and 5 and a lovely wife the perfect day is spent with them. However when I have some spare time I enjoy using our home gym, reading, seeing friends and extended family. As the boys get older my wife and I have both said we need to renew old hobbies such as amateur drama, going to shows and musicals and exploring brand new hobbies such as hiking and camping. Running a business and starting a family can take you away from doing things you previously enjoyed.