“From Schoolgirl to Top Hat and Cane” – Introducing Hayley Spencer

Who would have thought that a simple two-week work placement with a local funeral director would have such a far-reaching effect for a young Hayley Richmond, from Huntington School? It left Hayley knowing exactly what she wanted to do.

True to her ambition, at only 17 she secured her first admin role with Co-op Funeral Services. Within 6 months Hayley was asked if she would like to become a trainee funeral director and mortuary assistant.  She has never looked back since.

Darley Funerals – A Family Affair

Having successfully built her career and getting’ married along the way Hayley – now Spencer – opened her first funeral home in 2018. Darley Funerals is very much a family affair.  Indeed, the name “Darley” comes from Hayley’s grandparents.

A totally independent Funeral Director, Hayley’s service is very personalised to the individuals she serves, and it is, as she says, “From our family to yours”.  There is, I think, something very comforting about those words.  Very reassuring.

I caught up with Hayley earlier this week and got the chance to have a little insight into her and her business.

In what way, if any, is it different being a lady in this Profession?

“As a young female, I had to work extra hard to prove I was capable and could be trusted.” Explains Hayley, “an “undertaker” was traditionally male, with many years’ experience in the profession before they were handed a top hat and cane.  The requirement to have a lot of strength was seen to be better suited to a man than a woman. Over time this has changed; and we see more female funeral operatives, bearers, embalmers and directors.”

What are your principal responsibilities within your role?

“As a small, independent business I personally look after every part of a funeral, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” Hayley states “From the arrangements and ensuing paperwork to bringing the deceased into our care. I prepare them for the chapel of rest so family and friends can come and visit.” Hayley continues “On the day of the funeral I look after the family and lead the funeral team.”

It’s not only on the day of a funeral that Hayley is supported by, in her own words, “an amazing team – a lot of my time is spent ensuring the business runs smoothly and I couldn’t do it without the support of the Darley team.”

I find interesting Hayley’s frequent use of the term “team” when she speaks about her staff and family. She may be “Independent” but her support network is phenomenal both from those surrounding her in her work environment and also the professionals she crosses paths with through her work such as cemetery managers, stonemasons, crematoriums. Hayley Spencer and Darley Funerals are two of the most respected names in “the business” around York.

What would a typical day look like for you?

“My days involve talking to and meeting with the families, going through all of the arrangements for the funeral. I care for the deceased – collecting them from where they have passed away, washing and dressing them, doing hair and make-up if required.  I prepare the coffins and meet family and friends when visiting the chapel of rest.”

“On the day of the funeral, my priority is to ensure that everything is as the family are expecting it to be. We then take some time before we leave to sit and have a coffee; discuss the day, the person we are taking on their final journey, who the family members are and what to expect when we arrive at the crematorium, church or cemetery.”

York Cemetery Funeral at the Pritchett Chapel

“No two funerals should be the same, every single life that we are honouring is different and some days we can be away for an hour, others can be most of the day,” Hayley concludes.

What parts of your job do you enjoy most and find most rewarding?

Hayley doesn’t hesitate at this question. “The families. I’ve met some amazing people. Many remain friends and we keep in touch.” She continues “I love hearing all about a person’s life – who were they? What did they do? Where did they work?”

Hayley smiles when she tells me: “I can sit and listen for hours to their stories. It is such a huge privilege to be able to do what I do; I’ll never take that for granted.”

Do you have any amusing stories you could share with our readers?

Hayley thinks for a moment. “Many, but one, in particular, has stayed in my mind. I know this lady’s son wouldn’t mind me sharing it with you.” Hayley adds: “A few years ago when working in Cheshire I looked after a lady whose wishes were to be buried in a woodland burial ground. All of the arrangements were made, and on the day of the funeral everything was going as planned….”

Hayley continues: “On arrival at the cemetery I looked at the grave and my stomach filled with dread, the plot didn’t look like it would be wide enough. I approached the family and explained my concerns, and then spoke to the cemetery clerk. While talking to him I noticed a man out of the corner of my eye – the gravedigger – attempting to hide behind a tree. The clerk started striding towards him, a stern look on his face. The gravedigger (who was an older gentleman, having retired from full-time grave preparation some years earlier) realised he had been spotted and ran… across the field, dodging the trees, the cemetery clerk hot on his heels.”

Hayley smiled. “It was like witnessing something from a carry-on film. The family could barely stand for laughing, our funeral team were struggling to hold it together too. An occasion that in usual circumstances would have caused a huge amount of upset was immediately lightened, the son said that his mum had a wicked sense of humour and would have found the whole scene highly amusing. The much younger burial clerk soon caught him and within minutes he was correcting the plot ready for us to begin the committal service and burial.”

“It’s fair to say I didn’t work with that particular gravedigger again, but I spoke to the son several times after that day and know he looks back at it with a smile,” Hayley concludes.

If you had one word of advice for someone who has recently lost a loved one what would it be?

Hayley shows incredible insight with her reply. “Grief is a marathon, not a sprint. Some days are ok, others are unbearable, but all you can do is take one hour at a time.”

What are your thoughts about the current, totally distressing situation with Covid19 and increased regulations?

“It’s a truly awful time. My heart is with every family affected over the last few weeks. As a funeral director, I’ve had to say “No” more in a month than I have in 12 years – it’s just not a word that usually comes up when arranging a funeral. We will be helping families arrange celebrations of life when we are able to and we won’t be charging for our time. Whether it’s in a church or their local pub, with or without a minister or celebrant, with their loved one’s ashes or a photograph of them. One thing is for sure, we’ll see some amazing celebrations for all kinds of reasons when all of this is over!”

Outside the Pritchett Chapel at York Cemetery

Our sincere thanks to Hayley for taking time out from her schedule for this interview.

Hayley can be contacted at Darley Funerals here  Telephone 01904 622746 Email reception@darleyfunerals.co.uk

© Text Sharon Malone, Images Hayley Spencer, Darley Funerals.



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