Rebecca came to class a couple of years ago to refresh her floristry skills. She dropped me a note at the end of last year to say that she’d won an Award at the Good Funeral Awards. Here’s Rebecca’s story in her own words.
Where it started
I have always loved flower arranging, both for churches and for family and friends. I started flower arranging when I was 14, and took it more seriously in 2009 after my grandmother passed away. However, I had never had the confidence to take it any further as a business – that was until I met Julie Davies, the tutor of the flower arranging course at Kent Adult Education at the Ashford Gateway. Julie was able to show me tips and ideas that I’d not thought about. She taught me to look at things from a different perspective.
A bit about me
Ok, so I’m not really very good at talking about me, but here goes. I am 40 (but ssshhh, don’t tell everyone! I like to think of me more as 39+1, it sounds nicer) I live with my partner Tony, and I have five sons (yes – five!).
I was born in Ashford, lived in Mersham and then Sevington for the first 20 years of my life, before moving to Singleton and becoming a Mum. Whilst living in Sevington I was very involved with St Mary’s Church and I was asked to help at Church flower festival. The theme for the festival was ‘Life and All Life’s Events’. One lady chose to create a flower arrangement depicting birth, another chose Christenings, another chose marriage. I dropped a bomb-shell when I told them I would do an arrangement on death. Well, that didn’t exactly go down too well with the lovely old ladies; but my Mum asked them to have a little faith in me and asked them to wait and see what I could come up with. I was given a little window within the church (slightly tucked out of the way, just in case) and that’s where I created the Gateway to Heaven. My proudest moment was when the Kentish Express asked if they could take a photo of it (I think the dear old ladies were slightly relieved)!
Although I had a real passion for flowers, I didn’t pursue this as a career. Instead I went on to do clerical and administration work, working for both the NHS and Kent Police, as well as being a Receptionist/PA to a director of a large company for many years. It wasn’t until 2009, when my grandmother passed away, that I looked at flower arranging more seriously. It still took me until 2012 before I gained the confidence to take a leap and start a little business.
Growing to cut
I love gardening, but I can’t exactly say I’m an expert at it or even very good at it. I particularly love watching my plants grow. I like big bushy plants and trees (because I can also use cuttings in my arrangements). I like watching how they change throughout the seasons: the buds of spring; the blossoms of summer; the golds and reds of Autumn, through to the gnarled snow covered twigs of winter. It fascinates me.
My favourite flowers
If I had to choose a favourite flower it would be scented flowers and foliage such as hyacinth and freesias; rosemary and lavender; and waxflower – not only are they beautiful, they evoke such memories with their scents. I particularly like hyacinths because you can ‘pip’ them – another little tip I learnt from Julie!
Flower arranging classes
Other than Julie’s classes and workshops, I’m not ashamed to say I have not done any other courses. I dare say in time I will look to achieve some formal qualifications in floristry, but at the moment I am very happy learning on the job. I’m constantly learning new techniques and I’m able to apply them instantly in some of the pieces I produce. It’s a huge learning curve, but actually getting on and doing it is the best way to learn.
I met up with a top award winning florist recently, and he explained that he had worked his way up through the ranks in a florist shop to become their top stylist before he admitted to them he’d never had any formal training or qualifications. It made me feel a bit better – I hasten to add he has many qualifications now. That was down to him wanting his abilities to be formally recognised.
Why do I love funeral flowers
I realise the thought of funeral flowers must seem a tad morbid to most people but, for me, giving our loved ones a beautiful final farewell is the last act of love and kindness we can do for them.
Funeral flowers are a really personal preference though. I can appreciate that many people may consider funeral flowers as an unnecessary expense, especially during the current economic climate; but, for many others, creating flowers for a funeral is a way of expressing their love for and memories of their loved one.
There are so many beautiful stories behind why people choose particular flowers or tributes for their loved one’s final farewell. This was the whole reason why I have taken such an interest in them. When my grandmother passed away in 2009, we had been visiting her in the Pilgrims Hospice. My twin sons were only 3 years of age at the time, and so my mum took them down to the hospice chapel for a little walk. Whilst there, the setting sun was casting its rays through the stained-glass windows and creating a rainbow pathway across the chapel floor – my little boys took great delight in dancing up and down the pathway. It was then that they turned to my mum and said “Nanny Cornwall will soon be dancing along a rainbow pathway like this on her way to sit with the stars”. This was such a poignant moment and we, as a family, will never forget it.
When I looked around at rainbow funeral tributes, I wasn’t happy with what I saw, nor was I happy with the prices being charged. That’s when I decided to create my own. And this is where it all started.
Because I don’t have all the added stresses and worries of a shop, I get to talk in great depth with families about their loved ones – I give them time to talk about all the things they loved about that person, all the quirky things, all their memories of them – this helps me to create a tribute fitting for that loved one, as individual as they were.
I feel very privileged to be asked to create floral tributes for someone’s final farewell – it really is a huge honour for me. No matter how big or small the tribute, each one has just as much time, care, and love put in to it.
My business and my Good Funeral Award
I’m very lucky to have had customers contact me from not only Kent, but also London, Surrey, Essex, and Sussex – even one near Bristol! Good Customer Service is very important to me, and plays just as an important part as the floral arrangements I create. I don’t generally advertise – most of my customers are gained via word-of-mouth. I prefer this because it means I’ve done something right for someone else, enough for them to recommend me. It’s such a huge compliment.
I don’t just do funeral work. I’ve had the privilege to create the bridal flowers for many weddings over the last couple of years too. But, if I’m honest, funeral flowers are a real passion of mine.
I first heard that I’d been nominated for The Blossom d’Amour Award for Funeral Floristry in August of this year. I received a telephone call from the organiser, Brian Jenner, congratulating me on having been nominated and then proceeding to tell me I had been shortlisted to the top 5!
Mr Jenner explained that the Awards are judged on what has been written in the nominations, and the judges felt I deserved to be on the shortlist. Well, as you can imagine, I was totally overwhelmed. I then had to make a decision as to whether I should go to the awards ceremony. It was in Winchester, and it would mean staying down there, and I wasn’t keen on leaving the boys. Ok, so that’s all a bit of an excuse – I was actually very, very nervous about the awards. I didn’t think I was worthy enough to attend as I wasn’t a well-known florist – I’d only been trading for just over 2 years – and I wasn’t going to know anyone at the awards ceremony. Eventually I decided I would go but, even whilst driving down there, I twice asked Tony to turn around and take me home because I didn’t think I should go.
The evening of the awards ceremony was very nerve-wracking. Now, I like talking and I can talk the hind legs off a donkey, but I felt I was going to be like a fish out of water – an evening talking about death with a bunch of funeral directors and grave-diggers is not exactly my first choice of dining companions. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We sat with the friendliest, funniest group of people I could’ve wished for. Listening to all their tales was a mixture of emotions: heart-warming; amusing; tearful; but most of all I could see that each and every one of them was dedicated to their job – some of them were on call that night too.
Then came the point where the nominations were read out. “And the winner is…” (I rested my head on Tony’s shoulder and shut my eyes tightly as if it would stop me hearing anything …) “Rebecca Sharp!”. At that point the whole table erupted with whoops and cheers and banging of spoons on the table. My legs went to jelly, my heart started thumping, and I was trying desperately to walk it stilettos without catching the heel in my long dress – not a pretty look!
I can honestly say that I have some wonderful customers. To even be nominated for an award is a truly humbling experience. To win the award was phenomenal.
Plans for the future
I don’t like to plan too far in advance and get ahead of myself, I prefer to keep it in the present, to give myself a reality-check. It’s good to stay focused and grounded, to never forget how and where it all started, and most importantly who has helped or influenced me along the way.
I’ve made many good friends over the last couple of years – some of whom I met at Julie’s workshops. I’ve recently worked on a couple of projects with the fabulous Farah of Georgie Baldwin (another of Julie’s successes). Whilst it’s great having my own little projects within my business, it’s great to be able to collaborate with other people, to share ideas and to create fantastic pieces of work for others to enjoy.
Getting in touch
Photo credits: with thanks to Rob Farrell Photography Ltd and Clapton Lane Wedding Photography (and Rebecca’s own images).
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Keeping in touch
Until next time, happy flowers!
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