Working in a funeral directors may not be everyone’s idea of a nice career.
In fact, some may see it as rather morbid. But not the Searson family.
Andy and Debi have been in the funeral homes business for many years and branched out to open Searsons in 2007.
They put their enjoyment down to working with their nearest and dearest.
Andy, 49, says: ‘I think there’s a lot more flexibility working with family than there is with strangers.
‘It’s the Searson family people come to, it’s us, not the business.
‘There is a familiarity there.’
Since 1997, the firm has become so successful that there are now three funeral homes – in Winter Road, Southsea, Copnor Road, Portsmouth and Park Parade, Leigh Park.
They only employ family and, upon entering the Copnor branch, you are overwhelmed by their warmth, kindness and positivity.
There is a fire roaring, big comfy sofas and lots of smiles.
Debi, a 47-year-old mum-of-five, is bright and bubbly and balances being a mum with her demanding job.
Daughter Shannon Clow, 19, who is her mum’s assistant, explains: ‘Even though the reason people come in here is upsetting, we always try to put a smile on their faces.
‘My mum is always getting giggles out of them.’
Shannon and her sister Abby are joined by their step-grandmother Pauline Searson, step-brothers Matthew and James Searson and step-cousin Lily Coulson.
They all buzz about each other and have very defined roles.
Matthew helps in the mortuary, Lily helps plan the funerals, James is on logistics and Andy makes the coffins, embalms and takes the services.
But everyone mucks in. Shannon says: ‘I work with my mum.
‘My job is to do everything she tells me to do!
‘It mainly involves paperwork and cleaning, all the little jobs. I take telephone calls. People always ask me what it’s like working at a funeral directors but after all this time I’m used to it.
‘Working with my parents can be a bit challenging and demanding at times.
‘They ask more of you because they can get away with it. But it’s nice working with my mum and spending time with her.’
Pauline, 71, has been volunteering her time since she retired four years-ago.
She beams with pride when she talks about Andy’s success and is more than happy to muck in and greet people, make the tea and clean.
She says: ‘Andy has been in the industry a long time now. I’m very proud of how well he has done.
‘It’s not an easy profession. You’ve got to be a particular kind of person.
‘It’s not a job, it’s a way of life. You’ve got to have the right attitude about it. You’ve got to be a real people person – which Andy certainly is.
‘Because it’s a family business it’s not a 9am to 5pm job at all. Andy and Debi have to be prepared to do whatever it takes. In a normal job you can say, “It’s 5pm, I’m going home”.
‘But, if the place needs cleaning and I haven’t go round to it during normal working hours, I stay and do it.’
Debi and Andy have been married 10 years. They both previously worked in the industry and met and fell in love working for a funeral directors.
They decided to set up their business after their daughter Jasmin was still-born. Andy arranged the funeral and felt he wanted to help other families in his position.
They have since set up a fund to help families of still-born babies who cannot afford headstones.
Debi says: ‘It’s lovely that we can work together. We didn’t think we would have three (funeral) homes. There is demand for something different.
‘We concentrate on making the services unique and professional’.
When asked what it’s like working with his family, Andy jokes, ‘It’s a nightmare!’
‘Not really. We’ve each established niches. I suppose it’s quite unusual for the proprietors of a business to still work day to day, but I’m still very hands-on. I do the embalming, I make some of the coffins.
‘It’s 24/7. You concentrate all day on doing the funerals and at night, when you go home, you plan them.’
Andy and Debi have three boys at home too – Liam, 15, Alfie, 12, and Freddie, seven. And everyone takes turns looking after them.
Andy adds: ‘We’ll never get rich doing this. Our costs are low but we like the idea of being able to work for ourselves. We provide a unique and individual service. Other funeral directors charge a fortune but I’m still driving a clapped-out old van.
‘But I don’t care. It’s a job we enjoy.’
Lily, 30, echoes that sentiment, ‘We’re looking after families and we’re a family ourselves. We know how it feels.
‘We’ve made wonderful friends. Families we helped out in our first year come to our annual memorial service.
‘We’re not seen as funeral directors, we’re seen as friends.’
A Formula One coffin
Andy and Debi Searson pride themselves on being able to accommodate even the most extraordinary final requests.
Andy once made a coffin in the shape of a Formula One car – complete with wheels.
At the service there was a pit stop with sound effects.
For a former skipper of the Gosport ferry they arranged for a special one-off crossing for him.
His coffin was taken on board and the mourners were each given commemorative tickets.
A volunteer on the Hayling Seaside Railway was given a special service for his final goodbye – the coffin was put on the train for a last journey.
Top 15 funeral songs
1. Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life - Eric Idle
2. The Lord Is My Shepherd
3. Abide With Me
4. Match Of The Day theme
5. My Way - Frank Sinatra
6. All Things Bright And Beautiful
7. Robbie Williams - Angels
8. Enigma Variations (Nimrod) - Elgar
9. You’ll Never Walk Alone - Gerry and the Pacemakers
10. Cricket Theme/Soul Limbo - Booker T & the MGs
11. Canon In D - Pachelbel
12. My Heart Will Go On - Celine Dion
13= Last Of The Summer Wine theme
13= Only Fools And Horses theme
14. Time To Say Goodbye - Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli
15. Four Seasons - Vivaldi