If I can make a difference, then I will
There can’t be many children who dream of one day becoming a funeral director and, indeed, it wasn’t a career which Stephen Tester thought about when he was young. Instead, he knew he wanted to work outdoors and fancied becoming a game keeper or a forest ranger.
Stephen was born and brought up in Crowborough and is part of a family who has lived here for many generations. He went to school at Beacon.
Stephen’s first job did, indeed, seeing him working outside, as he began work on a farm in Eridge. After a while, he joined Millbrook Garden Centre as a landscape gardener and, while there, the company supported him in completing a landscaping course at Merrist Wood College near Guildford.
“I was fulfilling my dream of being outdoors and enjoyed working with my hands,” says Stephen.
At that time, a funeral director in Crowborough, approached Stephen to see if he could assist in fitting some memorials.
“I’d got quite good at building garden walls and laying patios,” says Stephen. “Fitting memorials required similar skills, so I agreed.”
As time went by, Stephen was offered a full-time role with the funeral director, initially continuing to fit memorials and, later, managing the memorial side of the business, which was his first office-based role.
During that time, Stephen met Glenys Jones, who also worked there and who he would eventually set up the business with in 2004.
“I wanted to offer a funeral service which was accessible to people, welcoming and not scary, modern but built on traditional values,” says Stephen.
Looking back over the past 13 years, Stephen says he’s proud of what he and Glenys have achieved.
“We are extremely grateful to the people of Crowborough for having faith in us and supporting us, particularly at the beginning,” he says. “We couldn’t have done it without them. We never fail to feel proud when a family choses us to look after a funeral for them.”
Stephen is still very much part of the Crowborough community and continues to live in the town. He was a member of Rotary for many years, and now, along with Glenys, he is an active member of Crowborough Lions, while the business is also part of Crowborough and District Chamber of Commerce.
At the weekends, he’s often away in his motor home – enjoying country walks and a pint of beer at which ever local pub he’s staying near.
While Tester & Jones hasn’t altered its approach, Stephen says he’s witnessed many changes in the funeral business in the UK.
“People are asking us for a variety of different types of service – such as natural burials - and there’s been an increase in non-religious services,” he says. “The pre-paid funeral market has grown too.”
He adds: “While we’ve always been incredibly proud of being independent, it is something which has become more important to me over the years. I’ve found I’m really passionate about it now and I’ve got more involved with SAIF (The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors).”
Stephen is also keen to support professional development in the industry and, to this end, has got involved with the Independent Funeral Directors (IFD) College, helping to mark papers.
“I really care about our business, but I also care about the industry and if I can make a difference and encourage the next generation of funeral directors, then I will,” he says.
Stephen says that the last 13 years have been hard work but ‘worth it’.
He adds: “I don’t think we’ve changed our approach at all since the day we opened – we always wanted to offer a personal service and we’ve continued to provide that. We’ve both remained very hands-on in the business and I don’t see this changing for a good while yet.”
Posted: 1st of February 2018