Town's funeral director goes above and beyond for families during Covid
- Credit: Mark Skinner
He has been a councillor, community event organiser and cheerleader for Brandon for decades.
But Mark Skinner's biggest role in the last year has been in his work as a funeral director, offering comfort to families when they have needed it most during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Skinner, owner of Mark Skinner Funeral Service, based in Brandon and Thetford, said there have been more deaths in the community than they have experienced for a very long time.
And as the coronavirus has brought more heartache and loss, funeral directors across Norfolk have been the ones to ensure families get to say their final goodbyes – made even more difficult during lockdown.
But the 53-year-old has continued to go above and beyond for his customers, friends and the community, all while sticking to the guidelines.
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He said: “I can’t say it is all because of Covid but over the last year there has been a very high death rate - our work load has gone up by about 25pc. It has been hard work but we have coped.
“Everything takes a little longer and we have had to change the way work.
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“But there is also that emotional side to it and the fact we have lost a lot of people who we knew ourselves. It has been sad.
“We have to manage people's expectations, but we are trying to be inventive to give them something to remember and make sure families have the chance to say goodbye.
“One lady who died, from Brandon, had a daughter in America who watched the whole funeral online – it was only me and the vicar at the service.
“The daughter said her mum used to love sitting on Brandon Market square so I took her ashes to where she used to sit and watch the world go by.
“We also took a gentleman, from Weeting, back to Scotland to bury him with his wife. He wanted us to take him back and we did.
“But one which was really heartbreaking was a man from Thetford.
“He had cancer and passed away at home. But a couple of weeks later his wife died from Covid on the day of what should have been his funeral.
“We rescheduled and held their funerals together. It was very emotional for everyone involved.
“But some people have been cheated out of the send-off they wanted. So, it is hard sometimes.
“We don't always get it right, but we try to do our best for all our families, some of them have been through absolute hell.”
Mr Skinner has been working in the funeral industry for around 40 years, since he was 15-years-old.
After working for an undertaker in Brandon, the business was handed down to him in 1990 and they expanded into Thetford around 22 years ago.
Along with his co-owner and wife, Laine Skinner, 53, his son Sam Skinner, 30, and daughter Lauren Davies, 26, Mark Skinner Funeral Services is a well-known family-run business.
But as well as his job role, Mr Skinner has always been an active member of the community, formerly a Brandon Town Councillor and organiser of the town’s bonfire night with the rotary club.
“Anything that is going on in Brandon or Thetford, we will always try to support,” he said.
“There are some amazing people in these towns.
“I haven't been able to do lot within the community in the last 12 months because it has been so busy.
“We are currently trying to raise a massive amount money for a new playground at Brandon remembrance field in memory of Liam Hills.
"Last year we also gave a monthly prize to those within the community who went over and above to help others during lockdown.
“But one of the best things I have ever been involved in is the bereavement group, who met regularly before lockdown. That is organised by my wife, she is the brains. I couldn’t do it without her or our amazing staff.
“Most come to see us as a customer but they all end up as our friends, because we try to support them in whatever way we can.”