Laurel Funerals (now acquired) was the third largest collective of funeral directors in the UK. Our mission was to raise awareness of their fresh, modern approach; encourage people to interact with their branches for reasons other than arranging a funeral; and get locals to connect with the community-spirited ethos of the brand.
During a tour of Laurel Funerals' William H Painter branch in Birmingham, a member of our team enquired about the contents of a particularly imposing cupboard. It turned out that the cupboard was home to 150 sets of ashes that had, sadly, never been collected by the deceased’s next of kin – one set dated back as far as 1948.
From talking to the funeral directors at William H Painter, it quickly became apparent that ashes being left behind was a growing problem for funeral directors up and down the country. They are required by law to keep ashes for at least five years, yet with an increasingly transient and time-poor society, the number of people moving out of the area or forgetting to collect ashes is on the increase.
We saw this as an opportunity to launch an unprecedented campaign to reunite the ashes with the families they belong to, and so The Birmingham Ashes Appeal was born. The campaign had the full support of the William H Painter team, who, having been family-run and based in Birmingham for over 100 years, were keen to ensure as many sets of ashes as possible were returned to the local families they had worked on behalf of.
The empathetically crafted appeal was launched to local media and quickly gathered momentum, with coverage on Heart FM, Free Radio, ITV Central and BBC Midlands Today. We then launched the story nationally, and it was run by the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, BBC Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 5 live and the flagship Radio 4 news programme PM.
As a result, more than 100 people contacted William H Painter’s hotline and many were reunited with forgotten ashes – some from previous generations of their family. Awareness of the branch increased greatly in the local area and beyond, with people stopping funeral director Phil Painter in the street to applaud the initiative, and positive emails received from as far afield as New Zealand. There was a 12% increase in funeral enquiries to the branch in the three months following the campaign.
Such was the success of the initiative, it was then rolled out to another Laurel Funerals branch, B Matthews in Southampton. Blanket print, radio and TV coverage was achieved across the south coast, as well as national coverage in The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mirror, and BBC Radio 2, Radio 4 and Radio 5 live.