From the magical wooded dell to the pop-art painted coffin and leopard print hearse, award-winning celebrants Kate and Kate are putting the choice into end-of-life celebrations

Stuart Baillie first met ‘The Kates’ in 2018 shortly after they’d set up a local Coffin Club, he caught up with them recently to find out all about their mission to change the face of funerals forever!

When you meet Kate Tym and Kate Dyer it’s never anything other than an uplifting experience. As a team they have a real rapport and true chemistry between them that sees them finish each other’s sentences and you can almost see the ideas firing back and forward between them.

Collecting their Good Funeral Award, Celebrant of the Year awards in 2019.

They have been conducting ceremonies locally for over 20 years – first as employees of East Sussex Registration Service and then as Independent Celebrants and in that time they’ve come to realise there’s still a lot of confusion among people about just what they are allowed to do for their end-of-life celebration. So to clear all that up they say they’re now on a mission to change the face of funerals forever!

The Kates are Independent Funeral Celebrants based in Hastings and Battle and they are never afraid to innovate. They brought the first ever Coffin Club to the UK and are the proud winners of The Good Funeral Award, Celebrant of the Year 2019: “We were a bit lucky with our timing,” Kate T says, “as the awards usually run yearly, but because of Covid they didn’t happen in 2020, so we got to keep the title for another year. Hopefully the awards won’t run in 2021 and then we get to say we’ve held the title for three years running!”

…we want to respect people in a way that reflects them as an individual…

“I think it’s our uniqueness that landed us the title Celebrant of the Year,’ Kate D adds, “We have completely turned our back on the one-size-fits-all approach to funerals. We really want every funeral to be as unique as the person whose life we are celebrating.” 

The duo see it as their mission to give some control back to families: “We’re guided by them how much they can do, or want to do themselves, but we find that most people feel very empowered when they’re given some degree of choice and autonomy,” says Kate T.

The Kates launched the UK’s first Coffin Club right here in Hastings.

The women are determined that we should look beyond what is seen as the norm: “In the UK, we’re very used to funerals that consist of a short crematorium service, or a graveside committal, followed by a ‘do’ at the local pub or social club afterwards. In nearly all cases, there is the assumption that our first port-of-call is the funeral director and that most of the organising and decision making will be taken out of our hands,” Kate D says.

“Funeral Directors absolutely have their place and 99.9 per cent of the funerals we conduct will have a funeral director involved. But we also want families to know that there’s much of the organising they can do themselves and that 20 minutes ‘up the crem’ is certainly not all that’s available to them.” 

The Kates have conducted funeral ceremonies in many different settings, from barns, to back gardens to village halls, with each setting giving the service a very different feel to what they describe as the austerity of the crematorium.

“I love a barn!” says Kate T, “usually the coffin is very central to proceedings. It becomes something integral to the event rather than something scary and unapproachable. Swallows Oast, a local barn venue at Ticehurst has a lovely woodland dell, ceremonies held there are absolutely magical.

“We’ve hosted a funeral at The Printworks, a bar in Hastings, which was just perfect for the person who had died – Terry de Havilland, who was a very famous shoe-designer and bit of a maverick – a crematorium service would have been perfectly adequate, but the service he had was just perfect. It lasted over an hour, had video and audio footage, loads of personal tributes, his coffin was a pop-art extravaganza lovingly painted by his wife Liz and some of her friends. The hearse was leopard print – it was just brilliant – totally rock ‘n’ roll, just like him!”.

It’s your end of life celebration so what not make sure it’s done the way you’d want it to be done!

“It’s not that we want to put the fun in funerals,” Kate D tells me, “we understand the gravity of the task in hand, we really do. It’s just that we want to respect people in a way that reflects them as an individual. For some people a conventional service at the crematorium with a chap dressed in Victorian garb, is absolutely the right path to take. It is what they feel is respectful and a traditional approach is what’s meaningful to them. But if that’s not for you … the world is your oyster!”

Kate and Kate founded Coffin Club UK – starting with Coffin Club Hastings – in 2017: “We’re just obsessed with educating people around their end-of-life choices.” It is clear by the way they talk about Coffin Club just how passionate they are: “When you first tell people that they can separate the cremation or burial from the celebration-of-life you can see the cogs turning and then they’re completely blown away by the idea that they can have anything at all!

“We’ve helped someone to be buried on his own land – he fully expected to have a half-hour crematorium service and ended up with over an hour of music and poetry and personal tributes in his local village hall. He was then drummed across to the burial site, with everyone in welly boots and raincoats before they headed back to the hall for curry and chat and a lot of laughter. It was just wonderful,” recalls Kate T.

“The last year has been really tough,” Kate D says, “Although the other Kate did manage to squeeze in a Desert-Island-Discs-style funeral at The Powdermills Hotel between the lockdowns! But we’re hoping, now that things are looking to open up again, that we can start getting back out and about and offering services that have a different depth of personalisation.”

“We’re very happy to conduct a service at the crematorium, if that’s what’s right for the family,” Kate T explains. “But we want people to be going there knowing all the options available to them, not just because they don’t know there’s anything else they can do.”

Unlike most celebrants Kate and Kate usually get their bookings directly from families, rather than through the funeral director: “It’s mostly families coming directly to us and we love that, as then we can give them a full insight into what’s available. 

“We’ve got fantastic local Funeral Directors and we love working along with them to give families the send-off that’s perfect for them.”

And what about Kate and Kate themselves? Well, Kate D wants to be cremated, she wants the B52s on her playlist and a life-size picture of Kevin Bacon on the inside of her coffin lid… and as for Kate T, “I keep changing my mind,” she tells me, “every time I do another amazing a funeral there’ll be some little additional touch that I think… ooo that’s a nice idea… at this rate my funeral service will be about four hours long!”

Well, let’s hope, whatever send-off they end up with, that it’s a long way off for both of them!

If you’d like to get in touch with Kate and Kate you can find them via www.kateandkatecelebrants.co.uk or email at kateandkatecelebrants@gmail.com phone Kate Tym 07985295373 or Kate Dyer 07790128592

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