Hi there, my name is Frances Potter, and I make caskets. This is the story of how it all began.
Like many of the small operators in this area, I started making caskets because of my Mum, who died in a rest home at age 95. She had outlived everyone she knew, so there was no point in having a funeral. Her death was entirely foreseeable, so my sister and I could make plans well in advance. I found this website, run at the time by the wonderful Robert Belmont, and thanks to that, I felt confident not only about building Mum's casket myself but also about arranging everything we needed to do when she died. I made her casket out of pallets and waste MDF and my sister made a beautiful lining in mauve, which was Mum's favourite colour.
I made the lid after Mum died. Mum was very religious so I stayed up until 3am two nights in a row painting a beautiful cross on it and an inscription from Psalm 23. It was the first time I had done anything like that and it surprised me how much it affected me - it felt like such an incredible honour and privilege. There are a lot of tears mixed in with that paint!
Mum died in 2021 during the second Covid lockdown. The government had made a ruling that only a "licensed funeral director" could drop a body off at a crematorium, so we were obliged to find one instead of transporting Mum in my van as we had planned. We had built the casket, put her in it with all her soft toys, done all the paperwork and would have transported Mum ourselves as well but for this annoying government regulation, which turned out to have no legislative basis anyway. The regulation was withdrawn when when Robert challenged it with an OIA application but that didn't help people like us during the period when it was in force. When I started pricing funeral services in Wellington I found that thanks to the monopoly that had been handed to them on a plate, all the budget options had mysteriously disappeared. The funeral homes I spoke to quoted figures of $2,800 to $3,500 for their "cheapest plan" when all we needed was someone to pick Mum up at Stokes Valley and drop her off at Karori crematorium.
It was just lucky for us that we finally found our way to the wonderful George O'Donnell of Private Cremations. George is a sole operator, not corporate owned, and he chose to help us rather than exploiting us, by giving Mum a ride to her final destination for a reasonable price. An icecream was one of Mum's favourite treats, so we headed off to Eastbourne to have one in her honour as she was on her way to the crematorium. A little fox terrier dog came and wandered around our car as we were eating our icecreams and we felt that was a sign from Mum, who adored dogs and had always had fox terriers. God bless you Mum! It really was the perfect sendoff.
That experience led to not only a firm friendship with George but an equally firm conviction that I needed to do something to counteract the practices of the corporate funeral industry. I started by making a beautiful casket for my good friend Sandra, who died in 2022. I persuaded her to employ George instead of a funeral home, and thanks to him, for less than $10k her family enjoyed a huge funeral attended by hundreds of people with lots of eulogies, live streaming and catering, and I got to make a beautiful casket for my dear friend which many people helped to decorate.
After that I started making caskets for George. One day I came upon this website again and saw that Robert was retiring. I decided to ring him to talk about the industry and his place in it, and to cut a very long story short, I ended up taking over this website. On the day I went up to sign the papers and pick up his last coffin, this is what Robert and I looked like. Needless to say, I took it as a clear sign that it was all meant to be.
I look forward to serving the New Zealand public for a long time to come. I want people to know that when someone dies, you probably don't need to use a funeral director - or at least not a big corporate-owned funeral home. And if you do, make sure to read the fine print very carefully and go through all their charges with a fine-toothed comb before you sign anything, or even give a verbal go-ahead.
Please don't hesitate to contact me on 022 561 5620. You can find further resources here. If you have found the information on this site helpful, and you are not in a position to make your own casket, please consider buying one of mine as a way to support this message. And thank you Robert for running this website for 16 years and saving hundreds of New Zealanders who knows how much money!
I wish you all the best in your DIY funeral adventures.