2 January 2024

Tender expands across country to help families farewell loved ones in affordable, personal funerals

| Jen White
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Jennifer Briscoe-Hough at a fire.

Jennifer Briscoe-Hough at Tender Funerals’ annual Our Community Remembers Memorial. Photos: Tender Funerals.

From small beginnings in an old fire station at Port Kembla, Tender Funerals has branched out to 14 communities around Australia.

In 2024, the organisation will add another first to its already impressive list – a funeral director training package aimed at encouraging Indigenous Australians, as well as newly arrived refugees, to work in the funeral industry.

Cultural experts from the diverse Port Kembla community will be invited to help build the course modules, with content due to be finalised soon.

Tender’s vision is simple and clear – for all Australians to have access to affordable and meaningful funerals.

Back in 2013, the close-knit members of Our Community Project at Port Kembla were trying to deal with the imminent loss of one of their own, Nigel, who was dying of lung cancer.

Their journey was captured in a documentary called Tender, which filmmaker Lynette Wallworth described as “the story of one community teaching itself how to be as present in death as we have learnt to become in birth”.

The concept for the not-for-profit funeral company was born and the community banded together to make the dream a reality.

Tender was established in 2016 and has become Australia’s first franchised non-profit funeral service, providing services on an at-cost pricing model, enabling families to have an authentic and affordable funeral service without going into large amounts of debt.

Tender Illawarra started with one full-time staff member, funeral director Amy Sagar, and has now grown to 14 staff and 32 volunteers, who helped deliver 464 funerals in the past financial year.

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CEO of the company known as Tender Funerals Australia since 2020 is Jennifer Briscoe-Hough, the founder and driving force.

“Tender Funerals Australia is built around the idea that empowering communities to own and operate their own not-for-profit funeral services will create a deep change in our culture – we are a reclaimer and a creator of system change,” she said in the company’s annual report.

“We are building a knowledge system across Australia so that people have the information and have done their own thinking around what funeral most assists them and those they most care about – to have a process that is more focused on transformation than transaction.”

Jenny said as a result of an Australia Story episode in June 2022, the Tender Network has grown to 14 communities and has a presence in every state and territory bar the Northern Territory.

Tender Funerals building at Port Kembla.

Tender Funerals has renovated and expanded its services in the old fire station at Port Kembla.

“Each [are] in different stages of development, growing themselves from the ground up to learn, stretch and develop the practical requirements of governance, fundraising, building purchase, design and fit out, but also to internalise the culture and ethics of Tender Funerals that has been at the heart of this work,” she added.

“All this has to occur before a service can even open its doors – a huge undertaking requiring hundreds of hours of dedication and skill.

“It takes patience, determination, partnership, and most of all love. Love because when we love something we are compelled to look after it, and we can’t stop talking or thinking about it.”

Over the past 12 months, Tender Funerals helped 585 families to have affordable, meaningful funerals, an increase of 273 from the previous year.

The organisation helps families who are experiencing financial hardship/distress to access meaningful and affordable funerals.

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It provides a range of services for after death care, funeral/celebration arrangements and body disposal options – many based on sustainable principles – which aims to give families a greater say in how their loved ones are treated after death.

An evaluation survey carried out by the Death Literacy Institute in May 2023 found 99 per cent of families had the funeral experience they had wanted, 98 per cent felt empowered in planning the funeral, and 89 per cent said the funeral experience had helped their family heal.

“Being given the chance to look after and spend time with your loved one after their passing and being given the opportunity to say goodbye your way, is so very important,” one mourner said.

At the old Port Kembla fire station, Tender Illawarra is celebrating renovated work spaces which allows it to support more families. It has a a sewing circle and a choir which performed at the annual Our Community Remembers Memorial event.

The annual report said the group’s focus for the next 12 months was to grow into the newly-renovated surroundings and maximise the use of the space for both staff and families.

A new garage will be a shared space for community workshops and families to gather and decorate coffins.

“Our growth has meant we need to seriously look at future capacity which is a really exciting thing to be planning,” the report said.

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