Historic funeral directors say work has almost doubled
Services screened over videocast during coronavirus crisis
09 April, 2020 — By Dan Carrier
Levertons dates back more than 200 years
CAMDEN’S oldest funeral directors has already seen the number of cases almost double amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Levertons, founded in 1789 by carpenter John Leverton, are working in full protective gear as the crisis changes the way the historic firm has to operate. And attendances at funerals, meanwhile, are limited with mourners asked to watch via a web camera, while services have been reduced in length.
Director Andrew Leverton, whose firm is still based in Eversholt Street, said: “We are getting busier. Previously, we may be conducting 25 funerals a week. At the moment, it is 40 to 50. The sobering fact is hospital mortuaries are full and temporary mortuaries are being established. Funeral directors are also lacking space.”
If somebody dies after testing positive for the virus, the company wear full PPE (personal protection equipment) when they collect the body.
“If we know the size of the person in advance, we may now take a coffin with us and and place the person directly in it,” said Mr Leverton. “And with all visits to homes, we wear full PPE, whether we know the deceased is associated with Covid-19 or otherwise.”
Camden is among the local authorities working with the London Mortality Management Group which is dealing with the establishment of temporary mortuaries. For people who die at home with a suspected infection, the council said a Pandemic Multi-Agency Response Team (PMART) would arrive, consisting of a driver, two police officers and a clinician. Undertakers arrive later.
It is understood there have been a handful of cases in north London where distressed family members have been left waiting at home for some time with the bodies of relatives.
Residents are being asked to call 111 or 999 to report a death.
Mr Leverton said new guidance for his company, which has passed through eight generations of his family, had come through from Public Health England in the past fortnight to help the operation.
He said: “We have years of experience working with crematoriums – now we call in advance to check what we can and can’t do. The length of services is being curtailed. They will still be conducted by a celebrant or minister, but the time is reduced partly because of the number of mourners allowed and because the crematorium chapels are cleaned between each service.”
Mourners who are not allowed to attend can watch the service online, Mr Leverton confirmed, adding: “Nowadays chapels are set up to do live webcasts. They are equipped with cameras.” The tradition of pallbearers has been stopped in some cases, with trolleys used instead. Levertons have cut the cost of services by around 15 per cent. A statement on their website said: “We also want to help as much as we can in terms of costs as we understand so many people will be facing financial difficulty through this period.”
A council spokesperson said: “Our wonderful NHS is doing all they can to treat people badly affected by coronavirus – but we know that very sadly some residents in the borough will lose loved ones in the coming months. “Camden Council is doing everything it can to support residents through these difficult times.”
They added that work on mortuaries was aimed at making sure London “has enough space to cope with an increase in deaths and that the processes around this remain as dignified to different beliefs and practices as they can be”.
Bereavement support is available at www.camden.gov.uk/bereavement-support