International Women’s Day
Today, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate our managing director Helen Wathall MBE, the fifth generation of her family to run Wathall’s – Derby’s longest established funeral directors – and a leading figure in the industry nationally.
Helen Wathall has worked in the family business since she was 18. She started at the bottom and has done every aspect of the business during that time.
She has been Managing Director since she was just 29 – taking over the reins of the company on the death of her father Bill.
To be a woman running a funeral business in a traditionally male dominated profession continues to be rare.
In 2003, Helen was elected the first female president of the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) which represents more than 1,000 family-owned firms. During this time, she represented SAIF nationally, dealing with government policy and profession issues.
In 2016, she also became the first female board member of Golden Charter – a pre-paid funeral planning company owned by a group of independent funeral directors. Golden Charter is the UK’s largest funeral plan provider, working with over 3000 funeral directors nationally, and with over 500,000 customers.
More locally in Derby, Helen is the Board Chair of the St Peters Quarter Business Improvement District.
As a voluntary board member, she has been particularly involved in initiatives to improve the safety, cleanliness, and sense of community in the area. She was instrumental in setting up the Business Watch Scheme in the Macklin Street area, which involves businesses working together to report any crime and anti-social behaviour issues.
Her commitment to the local business community was recognised with the award of an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list 2019.
Helen Wathall has brought a fresh and innovative approach to the funeral industry, both locally and nationally, whilst upholding the values of a long-established family business.
Wathall’s own local community has recently expanded through the addition of branches most recently in Allestree and Chaddesden, which have joined the existing network in Derby, Ashbourne, Alvaston, Borrowash and Burton-on-Trent.
Services have also expanded in line with changing needs and Helen is at the forefront of these developments.
She introduced the free Funeral Wishes service – enabling people of all ages to register their own wishes. This was prompted by her own family not knowing what her father Bill wanted at his own funeral. She has also developed an extended pre-need service to better support families.
A particular initiative, and Helen’s proudest achievement, close to her heart is the company’s bereavement support programme. This has been invaluable to her personally since she lost her fiancé Paul who died suddenly of a heart attack in 2016 at the age of just 50.
Dandelions was originally set up as free support groups meeting in Derby and Ashbourne – supported by Grief Journey programmes throughout the year. The feedback from members and Wathall’s customers has been so positive that the bereavement support has been expanded to better support the local community.
The funeral industry has changed in line with changing social behaviours, and Helen is committed to adapting to keep pace with the desire to have a more bespoke and individual stamp on such an occasion. This includes stylised coffins, video and photographic tributes as part of the service, and ‘eco’ burials. Support and guidance is also in place for families who wish to hold a more simple, low cost, funeral service.
A key innovation and recognition that a funeral should be a celebration of an individual’s life, has been the launch of the partnership with Derby County Football Club to offer supporters the opportunity of unique funeral services and is already having a positive effect on turnover.
Wathall’s has created a bespoke range of funeral options which can include dedicated memorial bricks for ashes, a special floral tribute, coffin sprays featuring the Ram mascot or team shirts, and a unique coffin depicting the main stand at the stadium.
Helen has now been joined in the business by her daughters Bec and Charlotte.