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Keith Newman

Elvis to Star Wars for the final frontier

A woman whose mum was denied the kind of send off she wanted has started a funeral business to cater for the type of alternative departures more and more people are asking for.

Linda Blakelock’s mother Elizabeth died on Christmas Eve six years ago when she was 86.

“Shortly before she died, Mam was looking at a funeral brochure and she said, ‘I don’t like anything that the funeral directors can offer me. I’ve worked all my life, brought five bairns up and I deserve better that this. I don’t want those four tatty bits of wood, I want something better’,” said Linda.

“I didn’t know there was anything else available and we weren’t offered anything differed t actually broke my heart when I found out there were lots of alternatives out there to the standard coffin and she could have had something more fitting”

Her mother’s words returned to inspire her when she was made redundant from her job as a Culture and tourism specialist advisor to the now defunct regional development agency One North East.

While in a temporary jobs, Linda began to research alternative funerals. She teamed up with Phil Beach, who previously ran a funeral business in Blaydon, and together they launched Divine Departures in Gateshead.

Linda said: “What we do is new, bright and different. I want people to realise they have options and lots of choice

“If you want a picture, wicker, or cardboard coffin and pallbearers dressed as Elvis Presley or as characters from Star Wars, we can arrange that for you.

“As one of my friends says: ‘I love going on holiday, I want my funeral to reflect this. I want a coffin painted with sand, sea and palm trees. I want to wear a bikini, have my sunglasses on and have my favourite sun hat in my hand. I want everyone to wear Hawaii shirts and summer clothes. Afterwards, I want everyone to drink cocktails with umbrellas and have a beach party’.

“This is the sort of thing we do – we provide you with the send-off you want that reflect the way you lived your life

Divine Departures caters for traditional, religious , non religious/humanist send-offs, and also provides pet funerals and cremation and memorial products . It specialises in providing, bespoke, unusual, themed and traditional funerals, eco -friendly coffins and natural burials

The business is a year-round supplier of Royal British Legion poppies and wreaths, and enjoys strong links with the Armed Forces and the charities that support them.

Its Sunset Poppies wing provides a variety of keepsakes for people, such as tea lights, vases and jewellery made from their loved ones ashes.

Linda said: “The whole philosophy of Divine Departures is to try to provide whatever the customer wants. We’re not like a traditional funeral director.”

The business, which caters for the whole of the North East from its base in Saltwell Road, Gateshead holds regular open days where people from care homes, family, friends and the general public can pop in and find out more about what is available.

“Nothing is impossible with Divine Departures,” said Linda. “People are moving away from traditional funerals there are hundreds of people out there who want something different, a celebration of life, they want their funeral to represent a well lived life and we will make sure they get the send off they deserve.

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