Austin's Blog


Butterfly volunteers: Making a difference to every last minute of life

February 4th, 2019    Author:

Butterfly Choir

“You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life”. We all know February is the month of love, but with Time to Talk Day on the 7th, it’s also about opening up about mental health – anxiety, depression, perhaps even loneliness. We all know how important relationships are at all stages of our lives, and feeling close to those that we love.

How would you feel about being alone in the last chapter of your life? What would you do if you couldn’t get to a family member or close friend in their last few days?

Charity of the year

With this in mind, we’re delighted that our charity of the year for 2019 is the Butterfly Volunteers Service. This incredible team of specially trained volunteers are based at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage where they provide support and companionship to dying adult patients and their families.

The quote above is from Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the Hospice Movement. It’s hugely poignant and synonymous with the Butterfly Service, which creates a ‘hospice in hospital’ environment.

The Butterfly volunteers, or ‘Butterflies’ for short, say: “It is recognised that in the final days and hours of a person’s life, it is not always possible for staff or family members to sit with dying patients; factors determining this include busy workloads and geographical proximity of relatives.”

Happiness is love

We love these words from one of the Butterflies: “For me happiness is love, not just receiving it but also being able to give it, share it. Being with a person at the end of life is a privilege and I hope it makes a difference to their lives, as little as it may be.”

Helping in numbers

Did you know that, before the Service was set up in 2016, an estimated 15-20 patients a month were dying alone at the Lister Hospital, either waiting for relatives to arrive or because they didn’t have any relatives?

As heartbreaking as that number is, it’s wonderful to hear that last year the hospital’s 30 Butterflies sat with 650 patients, made over 2,000 visits and provided over 1,000 hours of emotional support. Now they’re some numbers to be proud of, and there’s no doubt the Service has made a fundamental difference to the way the Lister provides end of life care.

Working as a team

The work these volunteers do really is priceless. If you’re at the Lister Hospital and see people in purple polo shirts with butterfly logos, you’ll know what amazing work they’re doing.

The Butterflies work with:

● Patients nearing the end of their life, who may feel lonely and frightened. They might read to them, sit with them or just hold their hand
● Friends and family of the patients who may need someone to talk to, someone to give them a break from sitting by the bedside, or simply to make hot drinks or run errands to the hospital shop
● The ward staff to help free up their time to care for other patients, safe in the knowledge that there is someone providing support to patients who are dying

One person helped by the Butterflies said: “To leave Dad with a Butterfly Volunteer, who we knew would sit with him in our absence, was a great comfort to us. You helped to make a difficult time a little easier. Thank you.”

Austin’s charitable work
The Butterflies need £25,000 a year to continue their work and we aim to help them towards that target throughout 2019. Our charitable fund was set up in 2002 and it has raised over £125,000 for community-based and local charities including the Samaritans, Stevenage Haven, Cancer Hair Care and Tracks Autism. We’re very grateful to everyone who has helped to raise money for these brilliant charities so far.

To find out more about the Butterfly Volunteers Service, visit:

We’ll also be posting updates about the work they do throughout the year on the website and on our social media channels.

Gone But Not Forgotten

December 4th, 2018    Author:

The funeral of a loved one is overwhelming. For many, the service passes in a blur of grief and afterwards it can be difficult to recall many details. You may not remember all the people who were there or have only hazy memories of the floral tributes – yet those memories can bring solace in the days, and years, to come.

That’s why Austin’s offer a tribute service to capture all the special moments of a funeral or memorial. We discreetly film the service, taking in everything from the music and eulogies to the poems, tribute cards and messages. All the little details are then there for you to replay when you feel ready. It can be a great comfort to be reminded of all the people who cherished your loved one and came to pay their respects.

A tribute film also allows family and friends who couldn’t be there to share the commemoration. And for children who were too young to attend or understand what was happening, the film is a wonderful keepsake to show them when they are older.

Your tribute film can be of the service alone or we can personalise it by adding location footage – perhaps a walk you both loved or your favourite picnic spot – and family photos and videos. Whichever you choose, we’ll give you the gift of an everlasting memory.

* To discuss our tribute film service, please contact us on 01438 815555.

A Guide to Winter Funerals

November 13th, 2018    Author:

With the weather turning chilly, we’ve put together some tips on dealing with a winter funeral

Keeping warm will be a key factor in your choice of outfit as you’re likely to be spending time outside viewing the flowers and chatting to mourners after the service. You might want to layer your outfit with a cardigan or jumper that can be removed if you get too hot. Likewise, a thick coat will keep out the chill and be easy to slip off when you’re inside. If you particularly feel the cold you may want to wear some thermal underwear. And don’t forget winter accessories such as hats, scarves and gloves – as well as keeping you toasty, these can be used to add a little bit of colour, if that’s what your loved one would have liked.

There are plenty of winter flowers available for wreaths and floral arrangements. For something different, you could include pine cones, fresh spruce and eucalyptus, or perhaps go with a white and red theme for a December funeral. If, on the other hand, you want a more warm and colourful arrangement, think about including tropical flowers, many of which are available all year round. If you need help with your floral display, our florist (Daizy flowers] will be pleased to advise you.

Tissues are always useful to have to hand – but with winter sniffles you might want to take an extra supply, for you as well as other mourners. If it’s raining take an umbrella plus a spare one just in case yours breaks or you lose it. When the weather’s really cold, you could take a hand warmer, which will easily fit into a pocket or handbag. And finally, remember that wintery weather can cause problems driving so have de-icer on standby and a spade in your car in case of heavy snow.

A cold buffet is usually the simplest way to cater for mourners after a funeral, but when the weather is cold you may want to offer a hot option such as soup or stew. You could use your loved one’s own recipe it and personalise it with a menu card, like ‘Nan’s hearty vegetable soup’. As well as tea and coffee, you could offer a fun option such as hot chocolate with marshmallows and sprinkles.

* Austin’s are here to help you with funeral planning. Please get in touch with us on 01438 316623.

Why It’s Good to Talk About Death

October 5th, 2018    Author:

It may sound strange but discussing death can help us to appreciate our life and remind us to cherish and enjoy it.

That’s the concept of Death Cafes, which allow people to meet up in a relaxed setting to talk about what’s often viewed as a taboo subject. Over tea and cake, it’s an opportunity to share your thoughts, learn about other people’s experiences and to talk about your own.

The first Death Cafe was opened in London in 2011 by Jon Underwood, who got the idea after reading about ‘Café Mortal’ events in Switzerland where people gathered in public to talk about death. Since then, 5,000 Death Cafes have been held in over 50 countries.

It’s not just cafes where people can meet up – Death Cafes are held in restaurants, tents, parks, community spaces and people’s homes. They’re usually small gatherings of around six to twelve people and last for one or two hours. At some cafes, groups meet up each month, while others may run several sessions then take a break or get together a few times a year.

The most important thing about the cafes is that they are welcoming and informal. Everyone gets the chance to introduce themselves and explain what’s brought them there – though if you feel more comfortable not talking, particularly if it’s your first time, that’s perfectly fine. There are no set questions or topics, so each group can discuss whatever comes up as they get to know each other.

A discussion might be about end-of-life care, how to talk to someone who’s been bereaved or perhaps a more philosophical theme. Death Cafes aren’t designed for grief support or counselling sessions but exist to bring people together who want to discuss death and dying without being viewed as morbid.

For those who go to a Death Cafe, it’s a way of coming to terms with the inevitable, understanding and preparing for it – and embracing their life and being inspired to live it fully. You can find out more about Death Cafes at

* Austin’s are here to help you with funeral planning. Please get in touch with us on 01438 815555.