We speak with father and son duo Andrew and Alfie about their roles, their relationship and the unique challenges their profession presents them
Andrew is a cremation technician and Alfie is the cemetery chargehand of the grounds.
When asked about what working together is like, Andrew replies, "He don't talk to me a lot" with a pursed smile. Alfie laughs. It's clear to see that there is real affection between the two. When asked initially what their relationship to each other was, the pride in Andrew's voice was palpable when he told us, "He's my son".
Throughout a typical working day their paths don't often cross, although there are some natural overlaps. While there is a significant non-public facing aspect to both of their roles, they both guide and support bereaved families every day.
"I'll come in, organise my boys - there's 4 of them - usually 2 burials a day and then, on top of that, maintenance, mainly of the crematoriums", says Alfie when asked what a "normal" day looks like for him. Andrew responds to the same question, "Typical day – doing [funeral] services. If I'm not doing services I'll be cremating and if I'm not cremating, I try to keep the grounds looking nice".
They both deal with between 3 to 5 families every day.
"They take up different amounts of time with their particular needs" says Alfie who tells us that you can never know what to expect. Andrew adds, "Every family is different".
They both agree that, although experience is of course helpful, the ability to navigate the inherent unpredictability of the job requires a particular kind of person. [or - the job requires a particular kind of person capable of navigating its inherent unpredictability.]
"You don't know what's 'round the corner. Can't be rude" Andrew tells us, "And you can't be upset about it" adds Alfie. "If something has to wait then something has to wait. There’s certain things that shouldn't [have to] wait, like the maintenance of the grounds should always look nice, but if we're dealing with families that are bereaved, then obviously they take priority".
Interaction with the bereaved as well as with wider members of the community is a core part of both of their roles.
"They like to know how it actually runs, don't they?" Says Andrew to Alfie.
"It's also the unknown" replies Alfie who says that there's a lot of misinformation and supposition about their jobs, particularly regarding the crematorium.
"A lot of it when you do answer questions, it's more like myth-busting"
They've both been in the industry since leaving school and started working for BSL as grass-cutters at Streatham Cemetery. Andrew has been in the industry for over 40 years and has spent the last decade at BSL. Alfie worked for BSL previously, left and then "found his way back" and has been back with BSL for the past 5 years.
"Since I left school I was a stone mason" says Andrew. "When I was in school, the 6 weeks holidays, I used to spend it in Vaughan's, the stone masons across the road. My cousin worked there". Andrew tells us that while he was there he learned sand-blasting, cleaning and fixing, but when he was asked to learn letter cutting, the young Andrew was far more interested in social activities than night school - "I could go to pubs instead of going to college at night" he laughs. "I wish I done it now, yeah - there's a lot of heart in letter-cutting".
Alfie's career had similar beginnings to his father's.
"I started here in work experience at 15" he says, "Two weeks here at work experience, went back to school and they contacted me to say, 'you got a job when you want to leave', so I got signed off school and I started the same as what dad did, grass cutting".
When asked, Andrew tells us the best thing about his job is meeting people. "I do like doing front-of-house. Just meeting people. I just enjoy what I do" he smiles.
"You know you go into some of them jobs where you wake up in the morning and, every morning you contemplate calling in sick?" Asks Alfie, "I've never had a day like that". He looks at the camera for the first time, "There's no vacancies - need not apply".