Thu, May 25, 2023 9:00 AM
The Sowman family has been serving the Blenheim community in the funeral profession since emigree Alfred Sowman arrived in 1869, the year that Blenheim was pronounced a borough. The following decades saw various members of the Sowman family involved in the funeral business; cabinet making, upholstering and undertaking. In 1959 Geoffrey T Sowman Funeral Directors was launched and Geoffrey’s son Alistair still works in the business today.
In the early years, caskets were hand-crafted on site and the business was a pioneer in establishing modern cremation facilities. The local monumental headstone business was purchased by the company and in 1986 the Mayfield Chapel was built so funeral services could be held on site.
The Sowmans funeral premises have recently undergone an extensive and contemporary makeover. “The Mayfield Chapel renovation, in particular, is the most major transformation the business has undertaken,” says manager and funeral director Barry Holmwood. “It is a purpose-built space which has been renovated from the ground up to create a beautiful, serene environment where people can celebrate the lives of their loved ones in complete comfort.”
With seating for one hundred and fifty, and extra space available in the lounge area, funerals of considerable size can be catered for.
“We made the decision to update it because it is a building that is used a great deal. Being able to have everything in one place makes things so much easier; families can hold the service in the chapel then meander along the short pathway under the elm tree and into the Sowman Lounge for refreshments. As the only registered monumental masons in Marlborough, we are able to provide memorial stones and a renovation service as well, all onsite.”
Jenny Saggers of Collaborate Design Studio was engaged to redesign the premises, a task she was delighted to accept. “It was such a special project because I had to consider that people coming to Sowmans are often in a vulnerable state and it is so important to give them a feeling of comfort,” she says. “I absolutely loved working with the team to create a chapel that is a beautiful space where people want to linger. It has an almost ethereal feel and is also a place to be quiet and reflect.”
The paint colour Half Haast from Dulux was chosen for the walls and the high-backed chairs are in a neutral linen-look fabric. Textured white curtains soften the space.
Particularly popular is the Memories Forever Wall at the front below the oak veneer panelling that can have a soft moving image projected onto it. “For one Kaikoura family we used the image of water flowing over rocks,” says Barry. “For a train enthusiast, we projected a steam train on tracks, puffing smoke and steam. It creates the most beautiful backdrop and can be personalised for each family to represent the person who has passed away.”
“Lighting is so important to create the right ambience in a space like this,” he says, “and a great deal of thought has gone into creating customized lighting. There are dimmable lights in the ceiling and the casket can be illuminated by spotlights. We love to work with local businesses and Jenny had the brass pendant lights made in collaboration with local company, Richmond Lighting. All these touches work together to help create special memories for families and friends of the deceased.”
“Photography of Marlborough scenes by Kevin Judd is on display throughout the whole premises which provides a very real sense of place,” says Barry. “Kevin’s photos were a great inspiration and are reflected in the fabrics chosen,” adds Jenny.
She chose New Zealand-made wallpaper with soft clouds for the viewing room. “It gives the feeling of the deceased floating and is very calming,” she says. A beautiful chaise longue allows families and friends to sit together.
“The updates on the chapel have made the funeral or memorial event so much nicer for everyone,” says Barry. “Now we can do so much more to personalise any events we have here and people are really appreciating it.”
Sowman’s attention to detail doesn’t stop with their premises. “I was pre-arranging a funeral for a lady who was a real character,” says Barry. “She wanted her casket to be carried by a horse-drawn hearse so I arranged that. Then I discovered she had been part of the British air force and had been in a Vulcan bomber. ‘I bet you can’t get me one of those,’ she said. Determined to meet her wishes I found that the local modelling club had one made up and I popped it on her casket, at the funeral some weeks later. It made the day extra special.”
Sowmans Funeral Directors has been an integral part of the Marlborough community for over one-hundred-and-fifty years, supporting and sponsoring many local events along the way. “It is a privilege to not only care for families in their times of sorrow but also to put our backs behind the community that we are a part of and offer support where we can,” says Barry.
“This never feels like a job as everyone here loves working together and working as a team. The transformation of our premises with all the special details is our way of helping families feel completely supported and cared for in their times of grief.”