The Latest local coronavirus funeral advice

Please check with your funeral consultant for any last minute changes

To all in their bereavement during the coronavirus pandemic –

There is nothing we can do or say to mitigate your pain of separation, except we will treat your Loved One in our care the same as we would our own, in these unprecedented times.  We have had so many sensitive and difficult conversations with the bereaved, many of whom have been separated from hospitalised family members during final days, and who now find that they are unable to say goodbye in the way they expected.

Directors and colleagues in our company recognise that we are in the middle of an unprecedented international situation.  We are still making good funeral services from an ever changing situation.  We work to the most careful of conflicting advice, to keep any possible cross-transmission minimal between your family, the wider community and ourselves.  Safety informs every decision we make.  There is no loss of dignity and care to your Loved One.

We update this website page about as changes happen which affect our local funeral arrangements – please look at it for advice.

I am interpreting what the new government “Tier 2” area government covid regulations mean for our service where we mainly work inside the London boroughs and Essex local government area – nothing will change today for our own service from yesterday, but the change is in the advice we need to give you about who can gather in your own home which is just those of you who live there and your “support bubble” – more details here

Meeting people outside is restricted to any 6 people (including children) socially distanced, but if friends and neighbours would like to pay their respects to a hearse from their doors or front gardens before a funeral then that couldn’t count as a gathering.

Thank you so much for reading

Mrs Carol Lawrence BSc (Hons) Cert FAA (Distinction)

On behalf of all Directors

Frequently Asked Questions About Planning a Funeral During Coronavirus 

Will Harold Wood Funeral Services remain open during the coronavirus pandemic?

For your safety and comfort, conversations about funerals, plans, urns and headstones are taking place on the telephone (and by video Skype/Facetime/Zoom etc if preferred).

In order to prevent the spread of infection, our four funeral homes are open for short pre-booked appointments for the following purposes:

  • signatures of cemetery documents, and cremation documents where you don’t have a scanner for signatures
  • collection of ashes containers – urns, caskets, keepsakes and jewellery
  • chapel of rest, closed and open coffins

In line with new government guidelines, we ask that you use a face mask when you come into our premises, and on funerals, unless you have a medical reason.

Because of track and trace requirements all callers to offices must leave contact details in case they stay for longer than 15 minutes, which we wish to avoid for face to face meetings.  Each office has a registration book and you will be given a receipt with our contact details and the date and time of your visit should the NHS need to ask you.  Where we are following all advice it’s unlikely any visits should come under track and trace rules.

(We also have on display at each location a NHS Track and Trace QR code poster. In order to use this, a mobile phone owner has to download an “app” from from their smartphone and follow instructions, at home with your own wifi and data allowance – it does take up data space on your phone so it may or may not be possible to download depending on what space you have.  Once you have done this then your camera has to be opened up on your phone and its screen held facing the poster for a few seconds if you come in.)

We have hand sanitiser and disposable face masks available at all our locations, but please bring your own reusable face mask if you have one.

If you are local it is no problem for us to deliver documentation or ashes items on appointment.

Can I still make an appointment during the lockdown?

The way in which we are able to communicate with our customers has changed until lockdown measures are over. For example, most documents are being exchanged by email. We recommend that a member of your family provide us with their email address if you do not have use of a computer.

Appointments will be conducted either over the phone or video phone to try and maintain the personal connection with you. 

Our telephone lines are always staffed for emergencies by our own local call-out team, and our four funeral homes are still staffed Monday-Friday 9am-5pm and Saturdays 10am-Midday. There may be occasions that you may be asked to leave an answerphone message, but we will respond to you usually within the hour.

Can I delay a funeral until the coronavirus pandemic has passed?

We strongly recommend that funerals are not delayed.   Some deaths will be subject to coroner’s jurisdictions which will have naturally longer timescales.

Can I take my loved one to be buried in their country of birth (funeral repatriation)?

Yes, subject to varying wait times for carrier flights.  At present we have capacity to care for your loved one for any waiting times at either our Hilldene or Hainault Funeral Home. Please see our repatriation page

How will funeral arrangements be affected by social distancing?

Firstly, each of our funeral homes behaves as its own household, which means that your household and our own “work households” need to remain separated as physically separated as possible based on government advice. All hospitals and care homes have this policy, to protect transmission from each other unknowingly, especially with regards to key workers like ourselves, and so this is our policy too.

When the deceased are brought into our care from private homes and residential homes after a GP has confirmed an expected death, we will use protective clothing for ourselves and for the deceased.

Death Registration

At present local registrars are producing death certificates via telephone calls. Respondents may not necessarily be next of kin, and the registrars will advise you accordingly. Please attend to death registration at the earliest time, giving our email address so registrars can provide us with documentation.  If your Loved One is in the care of Coroners, they will advise you when registration can take place.

Can I see my Loved One again in the funeral home?

Washing and dressing by families – because of our limited spacing, just a small number of people can be invited to wash and dress their Loved Ones because of social distancing limitations.  If those who wished to help with this are unable, then we will carry out your washing and dressing wishes as you ask us.  We will light candles and incense when preparing the deceased on request and play any music or prayers if you are able to send us a link to a piece of music from the internet. Your loved one will be well taken care of in our funeral homes.

Chapel of Rest  – There is the possibility of an open coffin in a chapel of rest, with social distancing in place, but at increased cost due to a higher level of care and embalming needed (which is a current company policy).  On request a “zoom” video link to chapel of rest can be provided for those unable to attend, operated by a director.

Will I be able to see a Priest/Minister/Celebrant to help me with the funeral service?

Priests, ministers and celebrants will still help your family with the content of the funeral service by telephone, through letter boxes, and through new technology video conferencing.  Face to face meetings will take place if possible, in large indoor spaces if available or in gardens.

Can the funeral coffin come to my home during coronavirus?

With pre-planning and risk assessment it can be possible to bring a coffin into your home for a short while before a service.

Alternatively, the hearse with coffin on board can stop for a while outside your home immediately prior to a funeral service, for prayers to be said and for neighbours to pay respects.  This could be helpful if there are close family members too frail to attend the funeral, or if they are self-isolating.  We have cards for you to invite mourners.

Can I attend a funeral service if I am social distancing?

While self isolation is recommended for at-risk people, there is permission to attend the funeral service of an immediate family member if you are able to keep the recommended social distance and are free of symptoms. 

Here is the link to the current government advice on attendance

How many people can attend a funeral? 

It varies from one place to another, to a maximum of 30 whilst still maintaining social distancing of 6ft/2m between people of different households. 

An NHS track and trace QR code poster is also available at all crematoria and cemeteries for smart phones for those who have them, but the funeral director has to keep details of the applicant who would in turn have to provide details of mourners to NHS if ever requested.


Each place of worship, if they have chosen to open for funerals at present, has a different number of people who can be safely accommodated, so we will check each time for you, usually 30 at most depending on size.


  • South Essex Crematorium South Chapel at Upminster can accommodate 30 mourners
  • South Essex Crematorium East Chapel at Upminster can accommodate 15 mourners
  • Forest Park Crematorium in Hainault can accommodate 30 
  • City of London Crematorium modern chapels can accommodate up to 30 immediate family 
  • Bentley Crematorium in Brentwood can accommodate 30 
  • Bowers Gifford in Basildon is 30, Parndon Wood in Harlow is 30, Manor Park 12 Mourners (with speakers outside in addition)


  • Upminster and Rainham Cemetery Chapels can accommodate 18 mourners
  • The Romford Crow Lane Cemetery Chapel 20 mourners
  • Forest Park permits 30 in the chapel and at graveside
  • Bentley in Brentwood can accommodate 30 
  • Manor Park Cemetery 12 in burial chapel (with speakers outside too), 25 at graveside (token witness backfill if wanted, own shovels)
  • Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery in Five Oaks Lane Chigwell, 20 mourners to each burial
  • City of London service chapels can accommodate up to 30 depending on the space.


On arrival and departure to crematoria and cemeteries, mourners are asked to thoroughly sanitise hands with their own or chapel supply, or use hand washing facilities on site.  Our hearse and limousines always have a supply of hand sanitiser.

It’s not permitted to touch the coffin once in position in a chapel, to keep down transmission risk, so curtains will need to close.

Does coronavirus restrict the type of funeral coffin I can have?

Coffin and casket choice is sometimes limited due to frequency of supply.  Woven and plain cardboard caskets are not currently permitted in some venues. In order to avoid disappointment, we will ask you for a first and second choice.

Do I have to wear a facemask?

Crematoria and cemeteries request everyone wear face masks inside service chapels unless there is a medical reason or someone is aged 10 or under.

There should be an exemption for ministers and conductors, who have to be able to make themselves heard and understood clearly.

We request that you wear a facemask in our partitioned limousines, and we always have extras available for anyone attending.

and here is the government advice about making own masks, which can be as simple as a clean scarf or bandana.

Can we help carry the coffin?

It is possible for family members to carry their Loved Ones’ coffin.  We will provide disposable gloves and masks.  This may also be possible with a wheeled bier.  We also sanitise coffin surfaces before placing in the hearse for extra reassurance.

Can my family sit together at a funeral while social distancing?

In chapels with moveable seating, they can be placed in household groups with their “social bubbles”.  We would ask you to maintain your own household social distancing in chapels with fixed seating.

Can I have printed service sheets during coronavirus?

Prayer books, bibles and song books are put away during the duration of the pandemic so it can be useful to provide something to guide fellow mourners as to the order of service.

Service Booklets can still be printed, for which we can produce if wanted in order to provide lovely mementoes during a time of sadness, and provide hymn words where no hymn books are on display.  Service booklets can also be posted to those who aren’t able to attend. 

Are we allowed to sing hymns?

It might be possible to request a singer where good distance can usually be maintained.

However, congregational singing is strongly discouraged at present because of the possibility of airborne projection.

The playing of choral music is another useful choice.

Is it possible to witness the cremation or full burial?

At this time, there are lower numbers of mourners permitted for witnessed cremation.  Please check with us for each crematorium.

Witnessed backfilling for burials may be suspended at some cemeteries – please ask us regarding each burial where this is wanted.

Can I hire limousines to take my family to the funeral during coronavirus?

Yes these are again now available, partitioned from the driver, and we recommend only people from the same household in each vehicle.  Limousines are fully sanitised before their arrival to your family home.  Disposable face masks are available for all passengers if you do not have your own.

For helping with people in wheelchairs, we have several licensed local black cab operators who have given us their details, with fully partitioned and pre-sanitised seating areas.

Can I still order floristry for a funeral during coronavirus?

We work with some very good local florists.  However, please bear in mind that there may be limited choice of blooms and at least three working days notice is needed for order.

Are horse drawn funerals and dove releases available during the pandemic?

Horse and horse drawn hearse is a service that is still permitted at most sites (Bentley Cemetery and Crematorium is the exception to this) and can be a great option for families to add a personal touch to a funeral and create a special memory even if the day itself cannot be all that you’d hoped.

“Homing” Doves can be released from cages (rather than from cupped hands).

Can I live stream or record a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic?

For those unable to attend a funeral service during this time for whatever reason, technology can truly be a saving grace and a way to connect with those we love most to say goodbye to our loved ones. Many crematoria or cemetery chapels have audio and visual recording facilities to achieve this (but not all, for example, City of London Cemetery and Crematorium does not have webcasting and recording facilities).

However, it is always important to remember that webcast from any sources are not 100% reliable because of variable broadband signal, and so recording is important to avoid disappointment.  Recordings are sent by email if webcast is difficult due to technical limitations.

Zoom broadcast and recording a funeral service may be available if that is the only way of achieving a broadcast or recording.

There are no restrictions for families to record funeral services on telephones and personal cameras, which can be broadcast through own applications like Zoom, Facebook Live, FaceTime, WhatsApp. We also have some tripod selfie sticks which can be borrowed (please ask in advance), which can allow you to achieve the recording to share with your loved ones who are unable to attend the service.

Can I have an unattended funeral during the coronavirus pandemic?

An unattended service may be a viable option for some families, especially where all relatives and close friends are unable to attend due to illness. During this kind of funeral, there are no mourners present. However, we are still able to stop outside a family home with the hearse, with coffin and flowers in order to provide that more personal connection.  

A minister can still attend on your family’s behalf to give a chapel service at the place of funeral, or outside one of our funeral homes with the hearse, or outside a family home, even if there are no mourners present.  One of our own colleagues can say personal messages on your behalf.  All these events can be recorded by venues’ systems, director’s zoom, or by telephone.

We know how important funerals are for remembering someone who has passed and so we are more than happy to record any unattended service on a company computer or phone to send to you immediately. We can also take photos of flowers, return floral tribute cards or even place a local newspaper announcement where you can thank everyone for their support.

How can mourners gather safely after a funeral for a post-ceremony reception?

The easiest way to stay to know you are staying within the current law is by booking a catered venue like a pub or a restaurant (in this region they are still open, until 10pm at the moment) where the current six person rule applies for each table for a sit down meal, with members of the same household and their “social bubbles” served by restaurant workers from a menu, with managed social distancing in place where each venue is responsible for its measuring.  Customers still have to wear a mask when they are not at a table, unless medically exempt or aged 10 or under.

No more than six people can gather in your home unless you all live together, or are in the same “support bubble.”  The rules are complex and you would need to check out the government rules each time, which I personally don’t entirely understand

What if I want to have a pre-funeral gathering (otherwise known as a “wake”) or a memorial/ashes dispersal/stone-setting ceremony after the funeral?

Numbers are limited to 15 for such events, outside a home, with all the social distancing observed.  

However for pre-funeral gatherings, greater numbers can be achieved by giving chapel of rest appointments with us for small groups of mourners from the same households or support bubbles on the same afternoon/evening.

Can I have ashes returned quickly during coronavirus?

One of the most important parts of the funeral process for many families is the receiving of their loved ones ashes and the subsequent scattering of them. During the pandemic, ashes collection at most crematoria is currently restricted to funeral directors, and ashes burials will be delayed.

However, we can look after ashes at no cost until the situation is over, and if you live local to us we are able to deliver ashes to your doorstep. If you would prefer an unattended ashes burial at the crematorium where the funeral took place, this can be arranged free of charge.

Does coronavirus restrict cemeteries normal working?

Cemeteries are open for private visits of mourners to lay flowers and tend to graves.  Please check with each cemetery for current opening times.

On-site choice of graves is generally suspended at present.

Memorial re-fixing or fitting in all cemeteries has only recently re-started, and stonemasons are catching up with work, so please bear with us.

What if I am not able to attend a funeral due to coronavirus?

During this time, there are many reasons why you might not be able to attend funerals of loved ones, whether it be due to illness, time constraints or lockdown measures prohibiting us from doing so.

These rules are, understandably, causing great emotional distress to thousands of people. But there are still ways to bring meaning and find solace in these difficult times. Compiled with the support of independent funeral directors from around the UK, here is our advice for remembering a loved one, if you’re unable to attend a funeral or want to do something beyond watching a service on FaceTime or via a webcast.

  • If the hearse is going to the family home before a funeral
    • you could greet the hearse (with social distancing in place)
    • perhaps clap with others as the hearse departs
    • or follow the hearse in procession to the place of service (even if not able to go onto the site).
    • If you are the applicant, please ask us for some specially made cards to invite friends and neighbours to join in with this.
  • You could consider holding a virtual wake, at the same time as other family and friends, on the telephone, or via Zoom, Skype, or WhatsApp, FaceTime. Have a glass of something ready to raise a toast to the deceased and have a good old chinwag about the person, reflecting on happy memories. To help break the ice with people who might not be used to talking on video apps, ask everyone to think of something that reminds them of the deceased before the call. It could be a memory of an occasion, something they said, or what you liked about them.
  • You could also light a candle in that person’s memory and sit quietly with them in mind


  • There may be an online tribute if the family are donating to a particular charity and share it with friends and family on social media.


  • Quiet, undisturbed contemplation is incredibly therapeutic when you are grieving. So why not place a bouquet of the deceased’s favourite flowers in a corner of the garden if you have one, or a room in your home, and set aside time to sit with the flowers and remember the person. If flowers are unavailable, perhaps there’s a particular plant your friend or loved one was fond of. 


  • Read some poetry, prayers, or verse, or maybe a section from the deceased’s favourite book, then video it and post it on social media and tag other mourners. Read the passage and then talk about why those words are important and what they meant to your relationship with, or opinion of the deceased.


  • Ask friends and family to send stories and thoughts of your loved one along with photographs. Look through these whilst playing a piece of personal music in the background at the time of the funeral. If you’re not there in person you can still be present emotionally. Also, ask those who did attend to take pictures of the coffin and share these with you and perhaps let you know about anything that was placed in the coffin, what readings there were and which music was played.


  • Write a letter to the person who has died and include everything you would have said, or perhaps should have said but didn’t have the time or a suitable opportunity to do so. Keep the letter safe where it may be possible to to inter it with the ashes, or perhaps bury in a favourite part of your garden. Each time you look at that spot, you will be reminded of the person, creating a lasting, positive mental legacy.


  • Get creative. Find your peace in music, writing, drawing, or reading. There is great comfort in artistic expression. And if you are at home with children due to the school closures, get little ones to paint a picture that makes them think of the person and hang it on the fridge or somewhere for all to see. Not only is it really important to involve children to help them express their emotions and understand grief, but it will also bring a smile to your face.


  • For a set day, wear an item of clothing in the deceased’s favourite colour. By doing this you’ll be able to give the deceased a personalised funeral and you’ll think positively about them all day.


  • Help create a plan for a larger meaningful thanksgiving event after social distancing restrictions have passed – this is something we will be able to assist with. We also have several annual memorial events in local churches to watch out for in our facebook page and website.


  • Use your daily exercise as a chance to go for a walk in a space (if open) that the deceased loved. Be mindful of social distancing rules and avoid lingering in one place for too long if the area is busy.


  • Many local independent garden centres are still open online and are offering a delivery service. If you have a garden with some space, order a bench and ask your funeral director to create a plaque commemorating the deceased. With the summer approaching, spend the warm evenings sitting outside enjoying the fond memories of your loved one or friend.

And remember, don’t be alone during this time of isolation. Keep in touch with friends and family even if you don’t feel like it.  Your local places of worship are always ready to help.  You could ask us about other local bereavement support. Whilst these groups won’t be meeting in person at the moment, there is likely to be some who will talk on the phone or via video conference call. As a result of social distancing measures, bereavement support is being adapted, meaning support is still available.

There are also free online bereavement services, such as SAIF Care Chat, which is available at or 9am-9pm weekdays 0800 917 7224.  

St Francis Hospice Orangeline is available on 01708 758649 9am-5pm weekdays for bereavement help.