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"I feel quite empowered and that I am doing something worthwhile!"

Crematorium Team
Left to right: Ian Knowles, Tony Kirkham, Karen Smith, Trudi Hayes, Celia Chapman and Deborah Balsdon

That is the message from Celia Chapman and Trudi Hayes who have both qualified as Crematorium officers this month.

The pair have spent the last year working at Lea Fields Crematorium, supporting bereaved families, in what has been an exceptionally tough year with the outbreak of Covid-19.

As the country was plunged into the first national lockdown, both Celia and Trudi were redeployed to the crematorium, which is run by West Lindsey District Council.

They were able to offer resilience to the staff to ensure services would not be disrupted due to Covid-19. However, looking back, they never expected that 12 months on they would be fully qualified members of the team after learning lots of new skills.

Trudi, a democratic and civic officer, at West Lindsey District Council said: “I initially offered to help to cover holidays and I thought I would only be covering the phones but gradually I have been trained to be able to cover all aspects of the service. I never thought that when I started that I would be fully qualified in a year and I do feel proud of what we have achieved.”

Celia, a senior elections officer at the Council – had no elections to run as they were all postponed, which opened up the opportunity for her to learn the role.

She said: “Originally we thought we would be helping out in the office or in the Chapel but we never thought we would be involved in the whole process. Karen Smith, a senior crematorium officer and our mentor could see both Trudi and I had taken to the role and she put us forward for the qualification.”

Ian Knowles, Chief Executive of West Lindsey District Council, surprised Celia and Trudi with their official certificates during a recent socially distanced visit. He also presented Karen with a special mentoring award in recognition of her achievements.

He said: “I am incredibly proud of all our colleagues at West Lindsey District Council who have worked incredibly hard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and for their unwavering support.

“Today we recognise a team, which has maintained a dignified crematorium service to loved ones, despite changing national restrictions. On top of this they have increased resilience by training three staff members who have all demonstrated outstanding professionalism.”

Trudi and Celia had to complete and submit a written theory test and take a practical test, which was observed by an external examiner.

Celia said: “At 58 – the revision was a bit of a struggle, so it was a challenge but a good challenge and the team has really embraced us.”

The Council opened the flagship site in the district in February 2020 – just weeks prior to the lockdown. This accelerated plans for Lea Fields Crematorium to train more staff to ensure there was a robust, resilient service in place. 

Karen Smith, has been described as ‘passionate, and keen to share her knowledge with others’ by her team. She has now trained three individuals in the last 12 months, the first to pass his exams was Tony Kirkham.

Celia said: “Karen has been fantastic. She is so keen and willing to share her knowledge. It was a big thing to train us all and she has got us all through our exams.”

Trudi said it has been ‘great’ to have the experience of her mentor on hand for support. She added: “Karen has been fantastic.” Both Trudi and Celia said they are proud to be working with a ‘great team’ at the crematorium.

Crematorium Manager, Deborah Balsdon congratulated them on passing their exams. She said: “At the start of the pandemic, I guess Celia and Trudi never imagined in a million years they would be working at the Crematorium, let alone become fully qualified.

“They have joined us from completely different roles and have even gone the extra mile to put themselves through all the coursework and training.

“This is a massive testament to these ladies, who really didn’t have to do all of this but they have embraced completely different roles and have stepped up and done so in such a professional manner and demonstrated such team spirit. This really embodies the One Council ethos at West Lindsey District Council.

“Whilst the pandemic did bring a lot of negatives - it also brought a lot of positives. We have strengthened our procedures due to the challenges and feel more confident we able to cope and cope in the future. It has increased our resilience and we have increased the pool of qualified people which is fantastic.”

Karen Smith,Senior Crematorium Officer said, “it takes a special type of person to become a crematorium officer, it’s a demanding role both physically and emotionally.”

She added: “The training, coursework and examination involves hours of work for everyone involved, Tony, Celia and Trudi have risen to that challenge, and completed it in record time whilst dealing with the constantly changing guidance during the pandemic, it’s been a pleasure mentoring them and watching their confidence soar.

“During the pandemic Trudi and Celia could have worked safely at home but instead chose to step out of their comfort zone and onto the frontline into a role they weren’t even expecting, strengthening our resilience. I’m in total awe of the pair of them and they will always have my utmost respect. We’ve been so lucky to have had the opportunity to build such an amazing team at Lea Fields and it’s a pleasure to work with all of them.”

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