When Paul Yarwood’s beloved mum Mary died, the family struggled to decide what should happen with her ashes and so trusted the funeral director to take care of them.
Instead, Mr Yarwood was horrified to discover her remains had in fact been stored in a cupboard among dozens of others.
The 50-year-old, of Chelmsford, said: “When I went to collect my mum’s ashes, I didn’t know what to expect. But, I didn’t expect what I saw.
“I was walked through the back of the shop, through the staff kitchen area and into the back of the building to a cupboard. My initial reaction was if my dad had seen where mum had been left, he would have been heartbroken. He thought, as we did, mum was being taken care of. Stored among all the other uncollected ashes, it felt as though mum was a burden to them. Their idea of ‘care’ was very different to mine.”
The family immediately took the ashes back and felt the only option was to “hide” the urn at home until their mother could be put to rest with her husband when he passed.
Feeling heartbroken his mum had been “disrespected” in this way, Mr Yarwood set about unearthing the scale of the problem of uncollected ashes and their storage.
He found the only place in the world with a system for the storage of ashes is Hong Kong. After the discovery, through a YouGov survey he commissioned, that 10% of ashes are also never collected – but must be kept for at least five years while efforts are made to find relatives – Mr Yarwood realised the enormity of the problem. With 300,000 cremations nationwide per year and 10% of ashes never collected, it means there are 30,000 uncollected ashes being stored in funeral directors’ cupboards.
And so, Secure Haven was born. Based in a converted barn in the Margaretting countryside, lockable individual oak niches enable families to safely store their loved one’s ashes in a peaceful environment where they can visit however often they wish.
Mr Yarwood, who left his 30-year city career to launch the business with wife Cheryl, said: “When someone passes, emotions are high and it’s not always possible to make a long-term decision over a loved one’s ashes. As a family, we struggled to talk about it when mum died and so her ashes were left with the funeral director while we let our emotions settle. I felt there had to be another way.
“When I visited funeral directors to look into the issue, I found one where the ashes are being stored in a cellar which regularly floods. Name labels, which should legally be in place, are long gone as a result. Another has more than 200 sets of uncollected ashes because the work involved in finding relatives– is time-consuming so they don’t bother.”
Families using Secure Haven give several points of contact plus their final wishes for the ashes, cutting out the need for future searches after years of storage.
Mr Yarwood said: “We see the look of relief on families’ faces when we show them how we will care for their loved one.”
Last year, the business was developed further with the launch of a unique, complete funeral director service. Secure Haven Cremations, based in Coptfold Hall Farm, not only offers traditional funeral director services, but it provides a modern life celebration room, a homely visitation room, grief counselling and a range of keepsakes for ashes.