White Rose Pontacanna
"They started from 'square one' after realising an
important service was missing from the community"
White Rose Funerals open a second funeral home
If you find yourself in the company of a funeral director you'll almost invariably be experiencing one of the worst times of your life. If you're religious there are even more guidelines to follow when organising a loved one's funeral and if you're not able to follow them it can lead to a world of guilt and upset.
In 2010 three brothers had an idea – to fill a void for religious families in Cardiff and open their own funeral directors catering for the intricate religious requirements of different faiths. Ahmed, AJ, and Amir Alsisi launched their business in Splott and believe it was the first-ever Muslim-run funeral director in Wales.
The brothers now cater for people of all faiths and none and, after 13 years in business and seven years under the name White Rose Funerals, they're opening the doors on a second branch in Pontcanna around the corner from where they and their two sisters grew up.
"It takes a lot of effort to meet specific requirements for each religion," AJ said. He's the youngest of the three brothers at 24 years old and is the business's operational manager and funeral conductor. "It takes a lot of studying, a lot of practice, doing your own research, and discussing with members of the community – fathers, priests, imams et cetera.
"It’s been about building trust too. Many of our families tend to return to us because we try to build a good rapport with each family, try to become friends in a way so that it would be like our family helping their family. It does take a lot of trust – and a lot of commitment as well."
White Rose Funerals started with a desire to provide a service to the Muslim community that had been missing from Cardiff. Islam, as with other faiths including Judaism, usually requires a burial within 24 hours of somebody's death.
The lack of funeral directors providing this was causing problems for families said Ahmed, who at 33 is the eldest of the brothers. He said: "Before we opened not just Muslims but Roman Catholics, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews were stuck… they didn’t have a service that could cater for same- or next-day cremation or funerals.
"There was a lot of mental health issues related to that – families not able to grieve because they’ve done something they feel guilty about or they feel is of sin to them. We initially started as community-based, using friends' venues and places of worship and it was initially specifically for Muslim families and we were the first independent funeral director in Cardiff to cater to that."
Ahmed is fully honest about where the brothers started from: "Square one." He added: "We had no experience – we had to figure our way with everything. For us to be here today is almost miraculous."
But it's clear Ahmed, AJ, and Amir handle things with a huge amount of care. The business was founded in 2010 and rebranded as White Rose in 2015 and the work never stops for the brothers.
Ahmed said: "We build up the expertise with experience. We read a lot, study the backgrounds of our families, and we ask our families to be very specific about what they want.
"It’s hard to explain to a funeral director who’s set in his ways how you want a funeral that is maybe a little bit different to the custom. Providing for what the family want... it helps them grieve better, move on from that horrible time in their life better."
The brothers deal with requests for non-religious funerals as sensitively as the religious ones. Ahmed said: "We've had a few families come in who have no faith and asked if they can help prepare their loved one… Funeral directors expect it from a faith family but wouldn’t expect it from a traditional indigenous Welsh family.
"They were shy to ask but we said: ‘We’d rather you help – we want you to help.
She or he is your loved one so if you want to be involved we’d rather you do that.'"
Depending on how well you get along with your siblings running a business with them might sound like a nightmare. Ahmed admits he and his brothers often have pretty blunt exchanges with each other but that's part of what makes it work.
When we asked him about it he said: "I’m glad you asked that question because honestly it can be frustrating sometimes. But at the end of the day we shake hands.
"It doesn’t matter what we say to each other. When you have 10 funerals in a week we can get stressed out and I might say something to them, or they might say something to me, but at the end of the day we go for a meal.
"And you have to meet your parents’ expectations. My father would never want me to go home and for him to find out me and my brother had a fight and hadn’t spoken to each other for 24 hours.
"We do love each other as brothers. AJ is still a baby in my eyes – I used to change his nappies and take him to school.
"They are my best friends and I hope, I’m sure, I am their best friend also. It’s not a 'love-hate' relationship – it’s a loving and a working relationship."
Ahmed, AJ, and Amir's work has gained recognition not just in the form of awards but from senior coroner for South Wales Central Graeme Hughes. In a situation where someone needs to be buried within just hours of their death coroners will need to speed up their work to make sure a family is able to do what their religion requires.
Speaking at the launch of the new branch he said: "To lose a loved one in what might be considered violent or unnatural circumstances compounds grief... It's that level of communication and education between Ahmed and his service and my coroners' office that I believe helps the bereaved at their most difficult of times."
Coroners, as Mr Hughes said, can't make things better but must do what they can to avoid making things worse. The same goes for funeral directors and it's the team behind the scenes making sure things run as smoothly as possible. Philip Langbridge and Keith Demanuel are part of the team that operates the funerals at White Rose. Keith said: "There’s all different types of funerals. None of them are right, none of them are wrong – they’re all for the family to be satisfied at the end. I tend to do more backroom work, and it wouldn’t be for me to describe backroom work, but the end of it is that the family can come, see their deceased relative, and walk away happy.
"It takes a certain person – fortunately I’m that person. As to what it takes, I have absolutely no idea – until you come up against the job you will never know if it’ll suit you or not."
Also in attendance at the opening of the new branch was Barry Phillip, who was headt eacher of Fitzalan High School when the trio were there as teenagers. "He was a bit tough at the time," said middle brother Amir, 31. "But he gave us a lot of guidance during our younger years. We built a good relationship with him and you can see the connection stayed."
The three brothers know the streets and people of Pontcanna well and clearly want to make an effort to build connections in the area again. "It’s all about the family and what they want," said Ahmed. "We will try our utmost to provide for them."
Taken from an article written by Wales Online