Tender project ignites

Jenny Briscoe-Hough earmarked the disused fire station for a not-for-profit funeral enterprise years ago. Picture: Adam McLean
Jenny Briscoe-Hough earmarked the disused fire station for a not-for-profit funeral enterprise years ago. Picture: Adam McLean

A disused Port Kembla fire station will be reborn as a not-for-profit funeral home next year, realising a dream held close to many Illawarra hearts. 

Tender Funerals will open in mid-2016, using more than $700,000 in start-up funding. Wollongong City Council approved a development application for the site, at 99 Military Road, on December 8.

“The difference between what we’re doing and a normal [funeral] business is that I’m not trying to sell them anything.''

An extensive refurbishment will see the building’s showers converted into a coolroom. A mortuary will be made out of the former control room and the room where firefighters once slept, project manager Jenny Briscoe-Hough said.

“It’s the perfect building because the vehicle can drive in – there are not many buildings that have a garage in the middle of them.”

Those behind the venture believe funerals are an essential service that has been priced out of reach for too many. 

Excluding burial costs, its funerals are tipped to cost $2200-$3500.

Ms Briscoe-Hough wants to see the enterprise empower people making decisions about end-of-life, regardless of their means.

“The difference between what we’re doing and a normal [funeral] business is that I’m not trying to sell them anything," she said. 

“If you came to me and said, ‘Mum’s died, I don’t have that much money’, I’d be saying, ‘why don’t you go and pick flowers out of your own garden; why don’t you ask people to bring plates of food to the wake … Your mother wouldn’t want you to spend too much money, would she?’. 

“We’ll try and go through the process in a way that will create a beautiful funeral, an authentic experience for people that’s not going to kill you – financially.” 

Environmentally responsible pine caskets made by Bulli-based craftsman Chris Nicholson are expected to form a key element of the enterprise’s offerings.

The project attracted $125,000 in community donations last year after it became the subject of a Lynette Wallworth documentary, Tender, which played to a national audience on the ABC. 

It has since secured a $300,000 loan from Social Enterprise Finance Australia, a $285,000 grant from the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and $10,000 from the state government. It will employ a full-time funeral director and is involve Port Kembla’s Our Community Project network of staff, volunteers and clients. 

“We’ve had lots of people who have been very moved by the idea, because they haven’t known what’s going to happen with them when they die, because they don’t have any family,” Ms Briscoe-Hough said.

Tender Funerals is in the process of purchasing the building from owners Falcone Bakery Pty Limited.