Briefing: How Covid-19 changed the rituals and practice of cremation in Britain

A report into the work of cremation and crematorium staff during Covid and how it changed the industry has described their common feeling that they were taken for granted or ignored. Not regarded as key workers, they nevertheless felt a responsibility to ensure the death care system didn’t fall apart as the number of bodies for cremation increased by 23 per cent in 2020.

In this Religion Media Centre briefing, the panel discussed lessons learned and changing rituals which have continued. Live transmission of funeral services is one, alongside invitation-only funerals and an acknowledgement of the role of cremation staff in bereavement processes.

But the biggest legacy is the drive towards direct cremation, where the body is cremated without a funeral service. These increased from 5 to 15 per cent of the total during Covid and are still as popular today. There is concern that people nearing death opt for this to save the family from expense and turmoil, whereas there is general agreement that the funeral arrangements are for the benefit of the bereaved not the deceased. It’s feared that the absence of a ritual send-off leads to a failure to grieve properly, storing up mental health issues in the future.

Ruth Peacock hosted this discussion on the report “British Crematorium Managers and Covid19”, with its authors Rev Prof Douglas Davies, Director of the Centre for Death and Life Studies at the University of Durham; and Dr Georgina Robinson. They were joined by Alan Jose, who has spent his entire career in the industry and is now ambassador for the Westerleigh Group; and Julie Dunk, CEO of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management.

To join future RMC briefings, join our mailing list here >>

Full Briefing Video

Podcast Episode

We live tweet all of our briefings – find us at @relmedcentre




Hannah Scott Joynt


Voice-over artist, award winning radio and TV presenter and BBC continuity announcer


Leo Devine

Leo's Local

Media and Training Consultant at Devine Media. Former BBC Journalist, Editor and Senior Leader


Rosie Dawson

Journo's Notebook

Freelance religion journalist, documentary maker and radio producer with 20+ years of experience in the BBC’s Religion and Ethics department

Join our Newsletter