Sandra Perkins wanted to be a registrar. She tells Fiona Finch how decades later she realised she could still achieve her dream by becoming a civil celebrant.
Sandra Perkins is accustomed to speaking up and speaking out.
As a former mayor and county councillor, a serving town councillor and the founder of a dementia cafe she is used to using her voice to further causes close to her heart.
Now she has taken up a new role where her voice is again a key requirement.
But this time she is revelling in a completely different job - as a civil celebrant.
It is a dream come true for Sandra, of Garstang, who many many years ago harboured ambitions to be a registrar.
She said: “I’ve always wanted to be a registrar. It appealed to me from being quite young. but you had to work (at) and be trained by the local authority and I never fancied being tied to desk hours because I was teaching. ”
Browsing online some years ago she came across information about celebrants celebrating: “I thought it’s not being a registrar, it’s the next best thing, now I consider it better.”
She continued: “I’m not governed by a script. Everything is personal. You can have your ceremony anywhere. I’m actually doing a wedding on a farm next year. The only thing I won’t do is a hot air balloon or under water (ceremony).”
Warming to her theme Sandra enthuses: “There are ceremonies for everything. These days there are divorce ceremonies, pet ceremonies, namings...”
She trained with the UK Society of Celebrants and said: “I did it online but my mentor would visit me and we would have tutorials here. We had assignments to do. You are given a scenario for weddings, funerals, namings .We have to devise the ceremonies. They’ve all got to be individual. There’s no script and I’m not a humanist so you can have a religious element if you want. Lots of people want a prayer or even a hymn.
“A celebrant when arranging a marriage or civil partnership ceremony has no restrictions in terms of style, content, format, time of day or venue."
But when it comes to wedding legalities these still have to be done by a registrar. Sandra said: “You do have to have their ceremony. Lots of people want something much more personal. At the registry office you’re not allowed to mention God, angels, anything to do with religion of any sort. The registrar can attend but of course would charge to come out and attend. Normally the couple will go with just the two of them and witnesses and do the legalities a couple of days or even a week before their ceremony - then all the guests come to the marriage celebration.”
And celebration is what Sandra is about.
She says: “A funeral is a celebration of life. The ceremony is not a funeral. I do these at the crem. (crematorium).There’s more and more people wanting green funerals and so if the opportunity should arise to officiate at a green funeral it would be lovely.”
So far Sandra has officiated at two weddings, one vow renewal and some seven funerals.
She stressed: “It’s not a full time job for me. I don’t want it to be a full time job. It’s just as and when.”
Referrals for Sandra’s services at Garstang Ceremonies come, she said, mostly by word of mouth.
“One or two funeral directors know me now. They match a celebrant really to the family. When the funeral director knows how you work they know who is the best person to go to that family and help them cope through their bereavement.”
It is early days in her new role but she said: “I’ve had nothing but positive reviews.”
A church goer herself she believes her ceremonies meet a demand for alternative ways of marking life’s milestone moments.
“It keeps me out of mischief. Because it’s intermittent, not an everyday thing, when it comes it gives you an impetus.”
She seeks she says to ensure her ceremonies are “very, very special” and researches carefully to find appropriate words and music: “I listen to a lot of music. I’ve quite a broad classical interest - you can usually find something
“The music particularly can be very, very touching. I’ve just done a funeral where they came out to the music of Kelly’s Heroes. It’s all about that person’s life - representative of their life, not what someone thinks their life was like. I spend time with the family finding out about the person. I ask for a picture of the person who has died so I can see who I’m talking about.
“It’s emotionally testing and if you can bring somebody through the darkest days of their life it’s very rewarding.”
Sandra has been used to taking new directions throughout her life. She explained: “I was a wife and mum and then I became a teacher and then I left that and retrained in the beauty industry. I was a trainer and assessor in the beauty industry.”
She lost her beloved husband Alan to dementia seven years ago and this has informed her creation of the Memory Cafe which is held regularly at Garstang library: “It’s a meeting of carers and those living with dementia. We just offer a free service and we just offer some respite and chatting. If someone passes on one coping strategy that day has been worthwhile, but I do love it. It’s an absolute passion now.”
The cafe is, however, only a start. She said: “I’m working towards making Garstang a dementia friendly town. The Town Trust have done dementia awareness and the IGT (Independent Garstang Traders) are on board. I have done some schools and the churches are on board.”
• See www.garstangceremonies.co.uk or email sandra at firstname.lastname@example.org