JOHN Pearce is the son of a church minister.

The Rev Canon Brian Pearce served Dorcan Church and the wider community in the 1980s, and John sees his work as a form of ministry, albeit one which serves people of all beliefs and none.

“My father was moving to Bristol in the late 80s and early 90s,” he recalled.

“Swindon is an area that I love, and I wanted to stay here.

“I heard of a funeral director at the time who was looking for somebody to train – to start as a funeral assistant. I took the position, obviously, because I wanted to remain in the area, but I very quickly realised the purpose and the meaning of what this profession is all about – the difference it makes to people’s lives.

“It was a very, very quick decision to say, ‘This is where I want my career and my life to be.’ The way I look at things is that my father had his own ministry through the church and this, for me, I feel, is my personal ministry for the bereaved of Swindon.

“I was working through until 2008 and then we started the service here. The Swindon community is a community I love and I just wanted to give of myself and serve the community in much the same way as my father did.”

By 2011 the firm had earned a mention in the Good Funeral Guide, an independent non-profit online service, and has remained there ever since.

Its approach to its clients is a simple one.

“First of all, we’re custodians of their loved ones.

“We’re providing a safe haven for their loved ones, where they know that their loved ones are being looked after. I instil in our staff here that we’re a family firm and that everybody who comes through our doors effectively is family.”

When John began working in the industry, traditional funerals with a religious aspect were very much the done thing, even when the deceased person had not been especially religious.

The funeral landscape has changed so much in the years since that John doubts a funeral director somehow transported from the 1980s to 2018 would recognise it – and he’s pleased by the changes, as they allow a more personal and meaningful experience for loved ones.

“Things were much more traditional. The concept of a civil celebrant was virtually unheard of. People would say as they were making funeral arrangements, ‘Well, we have to have a minister – we need someone to lead the service.’

“It was the done thing, but as time’s gone on we now have civil celebrants and humanist services. You could have a service tailored very much to your beliefs and values.

“That’s very much what we do with the services here. They can be tailored exactly around whatever you feel is most appropriate.

“You may not have a particular faith system, you may not assign yourself to any particular religion, but that doesn’t mean to say you have no belief or hope at all. So you may want to have some type of spiritual content or prayers or so forth, but without having a traditional religious service, and you’re able to do that.”

Religious services are still readily available, of course, but so are a wealth of other options, from woodland burials in biodegradable woollen cocoons to humanist services and services led by loved ones. Small portions of people’s ashes can be converted into jewellery or beautiful glass ornaments.

Music played at funerals, once limited to hymns or perhaps the odd classical selection, is limited only by the wishes of loved ones and the instructions of the deceased, although My Way, Time to Say Goodbye and My Heart Will Go On are perennial favourites.

The choice of ways in which to arrange and pay for funerals is expanding.

The award scheme for which the firm is shortlisted is run by an organisation called Golden Charter, which gives people the option of arranging and paying for their funeral at current prices, even if that funeral doesn’t take place for years or decades.

The method differs from the funeral insurance plans familiar from adverts on television. “When you’ve got a life assurance type of thing, that’s when you’ve got low monthly payments but the general rule there – and I stress that it’s a general rule – is that you would pay that monthly until you pass away or until you reach 90, whichever comes first.

This is a different thing. Families can just pay for the funeral, and once it’s paid it’s paid.”

Some things remain the same, though.

John readily admits that although he is composed when helping people, he has never been immune to emotion – and hopes he never shall be.

“We’re human. There are things that affect you.

“I’m not too proud to admit that there have been times when I’ve been brought to tears through situations, but I’m comfortable with that.

“If I was in a position where I felt there wasn’t anything that could come through the door which could affect me, then I’d feel I was not being true to the profession, not being true to the service we’re providing and not being true to the families.

“If I can’t bring myself to the service, there becomes a detachment, and if you’ve got that detachment you’re not truly providing that service where you’re supporting somebody who’s going through something so emotional.”