The Searson Family Story
The Searson Family Funeral Service is a relatively new business that has grown from very humble beginnings. Andy Searson started in funeral service soon after leaving school in 1981. After a short spell at college, he decided that Architectural Design wasn’t necessarily going to be for him, so wanted something completely different. Being an Undertaker offered an interesting opportunity, and having been provided a six month training scheme with A G Stapleford and Son, his career began. he was one of the very first ‘Youth Opportunities Programme’ candidates to take training in Funeral Service, earning a staggering £12.50 a week. After six months he signed up for a further two years training with the same company under the governments ‘Youth Training Scheme’, things were improving, the wage had jumped to £32.00 per week!
Andy was lucky to have been under the guidance of a gentleman by the name of Harry Bodenham, an experienced and rather down to earth Funeral Director who, in reality, helped Andy to be the Funeral Director he is today. The following two years would see him do all the mundane tasks, he perfected the art of making tea, cleaning cars, washing floors and, as time went on, learned the skills to be a coffin maker. After the two years were up the company took him on full time and became a Trainee Assistant Funeral Director. He began to show interest in Embalming and started a journey in learning the art, attending Embalming School once a week in London, something that continued for the following three years. Through a lot of hard work and with much enthusiasm, Andy became A G Stapleford’s full time Embalmer and enjoyed five years with the company.
As time went by he felt that he wanted to explore the field of Mortuary Science further and decided to embark on a new job opportunity. He took employment with G T Embalming Service in London, working at some very large funeral establishments around the city. His skills and knowledge were advancing, becoming an accomplished technician; his interests were very much in the areas of Mortuary Cosmetology. With a lot of experience under his belt Andy stayed with G T Embalming Services and went to work in Bristol and Bath, staying with the company for a couple of years. Throughout all this time he had only ever been dedicated to what went on behind the scenes and felt it was time to explore the more visual aspects of the funeral profession.
Eventually he secured a full time job as a General Operative with the Co-operative Funeral Directors in Portsmouth. Starting at the bottom, once again, Andy worked hard, devoted time and effort to building up his credibility and soon got promoted from Mortuary to Office. The following years would see his career escalate, he qualified as an Embalmer, Funeral Director and Funeral Service Manager. In just a few short years he went from Operative to Senior Manager, constantly at college, always looking at ways to develop his career, he was in a very strong position and one which proved to be a worthwhile position.
As time went on he progressed further, moving into Funeral Service Marketing and Education. Soon he saw himself away from the office, on the move, visiting branch after branch, enforcing Policy, procedures, ‘SALES’ requirements, his career had become more and more administrative and rarely did he arrange funerals or work in the mortuary. It wasn’t what he had hoped for, this wasn’t what he wanted to be.
In 1998 Andy decided that his career wasn’t providing any fulfilment at all, it had lost direction and decided to leave. So from being in a very high position with a large corporate organisation with company car, he went back to his roots and became an Embalmer once again. This time though he was working for himself and this new venture gave him the opportunity to provide a service he felt was appropriate. All he had was his tools of the trade, a left hand drive car which was falling apart and his ambition. So off he went, working away from home most weeks, driving around the south of England, obtaining work, even sleeping in his car most nights as he had little money for hotel rooms. The following few years he built up a wide range of clients, his skills and techniques were becoming very much in demand, and it got to a stage when he was turning down more work than he was actually doing. From working in the south, he found himself working all over the country; his reputation for being a highly credible Embalmer and Mortuary Cosmetologist was widespread.
Andy continued in his education in Mortuary Science, learning new skills, it got to a point where he was teaching his skills to others, mainly cosmetology for two American manufacturers. To make time for his educational commitments, he gave up a lot of his client base and concentrated his Embalming business along the south coast. Portsmouth to Brighton, he had himself a dedicated and loyal collection of clients. But it was on one particular day that he got called by a Funeral Director to clean a death scene for him, and this would be the start of a new venture, the specialist cleaning business. Embalming and Cleaning, an unusual combination but it worked and helped supplement the income. Working from a small industrial unit in Portsmouth, the cleaning business escalated, his sons soon joined, he had already met Debi and they became husband and wife. Life was busy to say the least but in February 2006 they lost their daughter Jasmine.
A devastating time, but out of such a terrible loss came the desire to start their own Funeral Home. Having done so much themselves in putting Jasmine’s funeral day together, it was decided that they should be doing this for others. So they started looking around for an empty shop and found one in Winter Road. Met the Landlord, had a look around and it was the perfect location. Unfortunately you can’t start a Funeral Home without any money but Andy and Debi didn’t think about that too much. They took the tenancy and went about converting it, spending hour after hour, day after day, trying to make it look nice. Having given up the embalming business, all they had was the cleaning and this helped pay to convert the shop. Money was extremely tight but managed to open the doors without borrowing a single penny. Andy may have exercised his mum’s credit card on a few occasions but the day came when the sign went up, and their new venture began.
After a while they took their first funeral, and then the reality set in. They had little money, could just about afford to buy the required coffin, he had no suit, no hearse, the Embalming Room was incomplete, couldn’t afford much else but they made it through and one funeral becomes two, then three and in a short period of time local people began to recognise their local Funeral Director. The main thing that attracted families was the sense of real people doing a wonderful, caring job. They started to get a reputation for quality, the small details that get noticed, there was nothing corporate about this family and things just grew from strength to strength.
As funerals were conducted money was put straight back into the business, Winter Road was completed, improved upon and investment enabled the Searson family to create an additional Funeral Home in Copnor Road. Today the business is where Andy and Debi want it to be, small, dedicated and with their feet firmly on the ground. No visions of grandeur, they don’t have expensive cars of their own, still have little money but they are doing what they love, and that is just being ordinary people doing something rewarding that fills their lives with a sense of achievement. Today more and more people look to the Searson family for their funeral requirements and as one family put it so well, ‘you certainly don’t come over as Undertakers, we consider you as very good friends’.
During Andy’s career which has spanned nearly thirty years, he has accomplished many achievements. He was asked to appear on the BBC National News, explaining the intricacies of embalming and maintaining Lenin’s body. Has been guest speaker on countless national and regional radio shows talking about his career, and has appeared in many national and regional newspapers. Andy has demonstrated his skills in Mortuary Science on a national and international level, written numerous technical articles for trade publications and has even taught the Americans a thing or two. Throughout his career, Andy has been committed to the advancement of Mortuary Science and continues to develop his skills and interests to the benefit of those he serves today. In an ever changing profession which is fast becoming a ‘industry’, Andy firmly believes that his fundamental role, above all else, is the care and well being of those who come into his care.