Austin's Blog

 

Claire’s Arctic Survival Challenge

February 24th, 2020    Author:

During the last week of January, our MD Claire was a long way from Hertfordshire – she was 150km south of the Arctic Circle in Ostersund, Sweden. Not content with the typical wet British winter, Claire was getting ready to take on an Arctic Survival Challenge, heading off into the wilderness to live off the grid, test her survival instinct and learn all about life in this challenging environment.

‘But why’, we hear you ask?! Well, despite Sweden being a very beautiful country with fantastic stargazing opportunities and miles of open space, a few miles closer to home is an amazing charity called Home-Start Hertfordshire.

All for a good cause

They help families in difficulty by putting volunteers into homes for a few hours a week to act as mentors, helping to prevent issues from becoming bigger problems. Claire’s mission was to raise much-needed funds for Home-Start Hertfordshire, setting herself a target of £5,000 to donate to the charity. Thanks to the generous support of friends, family, colleagues and total strangers, she has, to date, raised a whopping £4,665.00, just shy of her target.

One thing’s for sure, Claire never shies away from a challenge. She completed a trek in India back in 2010 and Vietnam in 2015, raising funds for local causes on both occasions and with the same company as her Arctic Challenge, ‘Different Travel’. She’s very grateful to her team of colleagues who continue to “keep the Austin’s ship on course” in her absence, enabling her to embark on these adventures and help so many in the process. In fact, Home-Start Stevenage (as it was called) was Austin’s first ever Charity of the Year back in 2002.

Ready for the off

With an emergency whistle, camping mat, toilet tissue and her “very expensive but very worthwhile” duck-down jacket all safely packed, Claire flew out to Sweden ready for her challenge to start. She met with her fellow adventurers on arrival and had a few days adjusting to life in this environment, from learning how to get around on cross-country skis, to finding food, lighting fires and building shelters.

“There was a real mix of ages,” says Claire, “from 23-67. It was a test of personality because you quickly worked out who you would work well with and who you probably wouldn’t!”

Given the harsh environment, with temperatures dipping to -11 degrees, teamwork was going to be key once the three day survival challenge got underway.

Settling in

“We spent the first few days in a log cabin,” says Claire. “There was no electricity so everything was by torch or candlelight and we spent our time lighting fires and keeping warm!”

“I hadn’t realised how inhibiting the darkness would be,” she says. “It was only light between 9.30am and 3.30pm everyday. Although the skies at night were just spectacular.”

Let the challenge commence

The ‘luxuries’ of the log cabin were soon a distant memory as the team set out into the wilderness with their bare essentials, camping mats and sleeping bags, which would keep them warm down to around -50 degrees!

Day 1

The first night was spent in a traditional Scandi tent with a log burner in the middle. “We had to keep the log burner going, so took it in turns to get up through the night. We also had to melt the snow for water,” explains Claire.

“It was cold that night but I did sleep. I’m lucky that I can sleep anywhere!” And it was a good job Claire did sleep, as the team had spent some of the day starting construction on the ‘quinzee’, or snow hole, that would be the final night’s accommodation.

“We had to start building it two days before to allow the snow structure to freeze solid,” she explains.

Day 2

The second night’s accommodation was a little more rustic than the tent – and took the whole day to build. It was an A-frame shelter made out of the surrounding trees, complete with a trench in the middle for a fire.

“We spent the day collecting, sawing and chopping wood. We had an open fire and a window to the stars!

“This was my best night’s sleep – I got 10 hours and had to be woken up! We didn’t have to keep the fire going that night so we all got a good rest.”

By now, all that fresh air and hard work was starting to take its toll. Claire and the team were living on sachets of food that they just added hot water to. Each one provided around 600-700 calories per person. “They weren’t too bad!” says Claire, “we had all sorts including pasta dishes!”

Day 3

As Friday night came around the snow hole was ready for occupation.

The team had been tunnelling the hole with spades and ice axes to carve a domed ceiling. They then made a couple of entrances and put a ski pole up into the roof for ventilation.

Once inside they had to light a candle to ensure there was enough oxygen present for all eight of them sleeping inside. Of course this meant it was back to ‘candle watch’ with Claire on the 4.30am shift!

Homeward bound

On Saturday morning the team returned to the log cabin where the sauna, hot tub and a proper meal were ready to greet them. And by Monday morning Claire was back in the Austin’s office!

If you’d like to make a donation to Home-Start Hertfordshire you can still do so via Claire’s Virgin Money Giving page at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ClaireAustinHope

Thank you so much to everyone who has already donated and offered Claire so many words of support.

 

 

The Order of Service – the little part of a funeral with the big impact

January 29th, 2020    Author:

The Order of Service is a small booklet that is given out to all attendees at a funeral. While many would be forgiven for assuming that it is simply an ‘itinerary’ of the service, complete with words to the chosen hymns and prayers, an Order of Service is in fact so much more than this.

It’s something that can be made very special and indeed personal to the deceased – and it’s something that will last for many years to come. In a few years’ time when you’ve cleared out a lot of your loved one’s possessions, this little booklet will no doubt be something you keep. It will also be a unique keepsake for many of the people who attend the funeral, as well as those who are unable to. So, try and take your time over it even when it may seem that the rest of the funeral planning is more urgent.

Emma Freud once wrote in a very frank, yet inspirational, article for the Guardian, ‘How to do a funeral’: “This [the Order of Service] invariably becomes the emotional focus of the week [during funeral planning]. It needs to be a collective effort and is probably the moment when family tensions emerge in that lovely dysfunctional way that only a close death can inspire…”

This is, in many ways, true, for there are lots of elements to consider in an Order of Service, which we’ll go through in this blog. But it’s also a chance for you to come together with your family to search through old photos and retell stories of your loved one whilst you create something that really reflects who they were.

 

Order of Service

What does an Order of Service include?

As a general rule, Order of Service booklets are about eight pages long, but they can of course be longer if you wish.

They include, but are not limited to:

  • Details about the person who has deceased
  • A schedule of the ceremony
  • Details of the wake or gathering afterwards, if there is one
  • Complete words for any hymns, readings or poems
  • Any photos of your loved one which you wish to share
  • Any music you played at the start or end of the ceremony which you wish to name

Make sure when you are putting your Order of Service together that you liaise with the person conducting the service about the schedule of the day. You don’t want to print any incorrect details and cause confusion.

The front cover

  • A photo of the remembered person along with their full name
  • Their birth date and the date of their death
  • An optional short message, quotation or sentiment
  • The location, date and time of the service

 The back cover

  • A closing photo, which could be one of them in a group or showing a different side to their personality compared to the one on the front cover
  • Details of any preferred charities for donations should people wish to give
  • Your thanks to everyone for their support and kindness during this time

Adding personal touches to an Order of Service

Going back to the article in the Guardian, Emma explains how each Order of Service she has created for a loved one has reflected their personalities: “For my mother-in-law, we had photographs. For my father-in-law, we kept it formal. For my hippie friend, it was a party on a page…. For my dad, we had a few jokes (the front page said: “Clement Freud. Born 24.04.24. Best Before 15.04.09”).

Don’t be afraid to create something very personal to your loved one. Use colour to express their personality, devote a whole page to a collage of photos, or include a drawing of them by a younger member of the family. Add in somewhere a phrase they always used to say, or match the design of the booklet to their favourite pastime, such as gardening or baking.

Designing and printing an Order of Service

Once you’ve added your personal touches to the essentials, just make sure that the design is still accessible for all readers and that fonts are clear and at a good size. Here at Austin’s we provide service sheets in a variety of designs, but of course you are welcome to design and print your own. There are plenty of templates available online for inspiration.

If you decide to print your own booklets then there is the option of online printers or local printers. Using a local printer will mean you can go and get a feel for the stock and how your font and text size looks on a physical proof rather than just on screen.

If you need a little more assistance with your booklets, there are people who will write, design and print them while working closely with you to get the desired outcome.

Clearing the Possessions of a Loved One

December 29th, 2019    Author:

When a loved one dies, one of the most difficult tasks you may have to take on is clearing out their home. It can be a difficult and emotional time, but it’s also an important step in the grieving process and there are ways to make it easier to handle. 

 

The art of death cleaning

The first way is to do what you can now to make it easier for your loved ones. In Sweden, there’s a tradition called ‘doestaedning’ or ‘death cleaning’, which involves getting rid of unwanted possessions while you’re still alive.

Decluttering has become big business here in the UK, as many of us strive to live more sustainable and minimalist lives. But decluttering also has a much bigger impact on our families when we pass away, as they will inevitably have less ‘stuff’ to clear.

Death cleaning is described as a ‘gentle art’; it can be very empowering and there is no need to rush the process.

There will be things you realise you don’t need and can donate to a local charity – anything from clothes to excess vases (things you don’t even think about that take up space) – and then items you want to keep in the family and can offer out to people now rather than leaving them to have the discussion after you’ve passed; this could be a piece of furniture, or even jewellery.

You should of course make a will, but can also really help your family out by talking to beneficiaries about the items in your possession. It’s a sad fact that many family feuds stem from arguments over items going missing, or indecision over who should get what. For anything not specifically mentioned in your will, think about having those conversations now with the relevant people to save stress for them later down the line.

 

Emotional attachment

The second way to make this process easier is to consider timing. We all have emotional attachment to inanimate objects; some of us struggle to let anything go, while others are happy to keep one or two things that remind them of the person they have lost.

It’s strange to think that a teacup or everyday watch can embody a loved one once they pass; but items like this can, and do. By waiting until you are emotionally ready, parting with a loved one’s possessions will feel like the right thing to do, rather than a secondary loss.

 

Doing it by the book

The next way is all about making sure everything is kept clear between family members. When someone dies, the distribution of their estate is placed in the hands of the executor.

Assets are distributed in accordance with the terms of the will, but when it comes to all of the smaller items that aren’t in the will, it’s sensible for the executor to put measures in place to ensure each family member can agree what is happening to each item.

The best way to do this is to go around the property and make an inventory of everything inside. Then you can sort items into categories such as; throw away, donate to charity and keep, ready for everyone to get together and make the final decisions.

If you jointly decide to sell some items, it’s sensible to keep a receipt book of all of the proceeds so that you can refer to it if questions are later raised.

 

The perfect keepsake

Finally, there are some lovely ways of making your loved one’s possessions into perfect keepsakes. For example, you may have a selection of their ties, which can be made into a cushion cover, or a shirt into a teddy bear.

You may want to create a memory box of possessions that you wish to keep, such as photos, certificates, newspaper cuttings and birthday cards.

Sometimes it can be as simple as keeping their old watch on your bedside table next to a photo. Do whatever works for you and, most importantly, take your time.

Attending a Winter Funeral

November 13th, 2019    Author:

The clocks have gone back, Halloween is over for another year and Christmas is just a few short weeks away. Yes, winter is here!

A few months ago, back during that wonderful heat wave, we blogged about attending funerals in the height of summer. Now, we thought it would be helpful to write a few tips on winter funerals and some of the things you might want to think about; whether it’s a funeral you’re planning for a loved one, or attending to pay your respects.

Your outfit

Unfortunately, winter always sees a spike in deaths – and funerals don’t often come with much advance notice. It’s a good idea to keep a few items of more formal winter wear in your wardrobe, which may come in handy during the colder months.

A smart, dark-coloured winter coat will keep you warm and go over any outfit you decide to wear. Wool coats are very smart, although not the best in wet weather, so make sure you always have an umbrella handy.

Keeping warm will be a key factor in your choice of outfit for a funeral, as you will probably spend a fair bit of time outside viewing the flowers and talking to people after the service. Layers are really important as you will be moving from inside for the service (which might not be a particularly warm church), to the outside and then back inside for the wake.

Accessories, such as jewellery, which would normally add a little colour to your outfit, don’t really get seen when you’re wearing a coat, but your winter accessories – hats, scarves, and gloves, can still bring the colour if that’s what you want.

Make sure you have smart dress shoes that will stand up to walking across wet or frozen grass. If it’s really cold, the little reusable hand warmers, which you can buy online or from many shops, are a great idea to slip inside your gloves.

The flowers

While you may think there is not as big a choice of flowers available in the winter months, as opposed to summer, winter flowers can bring all sorts of colour and texture to help your arrangements reflect the personality of your loved one.

Evergreens are your typical winter flowers. These are plants that have leaves throughout the year – and you can do so much with them. Branches and twigs can add texture, while bright red berries add a splash of uplifting colour. Leaves add both texture and colour and some types, such as pine, also give a lovely scent to an arrangement.

Carnations, roses and tulips are in season throughout the winter, so you’ll have no trouble getting hold of these. And, of course, they come in a variety of colours to suit your arrangements. Lilies also bloom throughout winter and are the most iconic funeral flower. They’re stunning to look at.

If you’re working with a florist, they will also be able to source some more exotic blooms for you to bring in even more colour, should you wish to.

The wake

No one expects to be fed a whole meal after the funeral. A wake is a time to catch up with friends or family, have a drink and perhaps a small bite to eat, and share memories of the deceased.

It can be tricky to know what to serve at a wake, but in cold weather, soup and a roll is likely to be more appreciated than the traditional cold buffet – or even just a hot option such as warmed sausage rolls.

You could even add a personal touch if your loved one had their own recipe that you can easily recreate. Make sure there are plenty of hot drinks available too.

It’s a well known fact that food can comfort us in times of need; it’s often something people naturally bring to the home of a family when someone passes away. The practice of feasting after a funeral dates back to Egyptian times and the Jewish custom of Seudat Havra’ah actually translates to ‘meal of consolation’, a meal that is prepared for the mourners by their community.

Winter memorials

Winter weather often makes things more challenging. After the funeral or memorial service is over, it might be too cold or wet to spend time at your loved one’s grave or memorial having a ‘chat’ with them or just sitting quietly.

The weather can also make it trickier to visit their grave as regularly, but there are plants and flowers that will be hardier in harsher weather, and can be left for longer. Your local garden centre will have plenty of options that will keep the grave looking vibrant no matter how bad the weather gets.

As well as its challenges, winter also brings lots of opportunities for memorial ideas. You could:

  • Have a special bauble made to go on your Christmas tree in memory of your loved one.
  • Plant a memorial rose – winter is the best time to do it.
  • Spend the long winter nights sorting photos and putting together a memory box for yourself or for members of your family to remember your loved one.