The life of a local celebrant

Kent-based celebrant Lou Fowkes found herself training for a new career in the midst of the pandemic and is loving life on her new path. Join us as we hear about her battle with redundancy and learning during lockdown.

Kent-based celebrant Lou Fowkes "It's been an interesting year hasn't it? I mean, putting Covid aside who can keep up to date with the whole Brexit thing? 2020 has been, well, unforgettable or forgettable, depending on which way you view things. However, for me the year kicked off in fabulous fashion with being made redundant from my job. Lovely. Now, I loved and (perhaps naively assumed) I would stay in my role as trust manager for a local charity until I got itchy feet. Looking at my CV, this invariably happened after about five years, alongside moving house for some reason. But no, I'd been in the job for nearly six years and my feet weren’t even the tiniest bit tingly. I would have kept my feet under that office table for the foreseeable future, so being handed my P45 was a huge blow and one that, although I'd been kindly warned by my employers well in  advance, left me somewhat blind-sided.

"I applied for jobs and attended interviews in the last few months of 2019 to no avail. January hit and I still had nowhere to go, which for someone like me who has never been out of work, was scary. In all of my working life (some 31 years) I'd never, ever been made redundant. I’d always moved on my terms. 'Then you’ve been very lucky!' I hear you cry and you'd be right, but that still doesn’t ease the blow. If anything, I was completely ill-equipped as to how to handle it. Redundancy, as it turns out, is something I am not at all experienced in then the virus hit the jobs disappeared overnight. 

"Now, for someone who loves working, the idea of being stuck (be it all safe) in the house, filled me with dread. The weather was pretty special and I discovered a whole new love for sunbathing and reading. However, I failed miserably at the whole banana bread making fad. And Joe Wicks exercise classes? Sorry, not for me. But I did enjoy stopping that other treadmill of life and not doing much for a while. 

"It also gave me the time to re-evaluate my position. Perhaps I’d been stuck in a rut?  Was this the kick up the backside that I needed? And then it dawned on me. Time for something new! Over the years I'd been told, by a few friends and family, that I would make a great celebrant. While this was an interesting idea, I’d always put in on the back-burner. Then, while singing one balmy June evening for my neighbours (a second job I usually love doing in pubs, clubs and care homes) I was again told that the work of a celebrant perfectly matched my skill set; standing up in front of people, creative writing etc. This was from a neighbour who currently works in the industry, so it was just the incentive I needed! My research into what the job is all about and whether I could indeed do it began in earnest. By the August I had booked my first training course in Leeds - there are two to do -  for funeral celebrancy, and marriage and family celebrancy. My new career journey had begun.

wedding ceremony close up of couple holding hands, shows off sparkly engagement ring "I never particularly liked school. I mean, I loved the break times and lunch, when I could get together with my mates in the playground and talk all things music, make-up and boys but the school work? Nah. And the homework? Don't get me started! So the idea of re-training and actually going back to school filled me with utter dread. However, having been made redundant at the start of the year, a pandemic thrown into the mix, everyone locked down and a possible recession on the way with little or no jobs being advertised, what choice did I have? So, I made the bold decision at my age, coming up for the big five-O in April, to re-train as a family and funeral celebrant.  Richi Sunak would be so proud...

"My first foray into the world of celebrancy started in October in Leeds with the funeral side of the industry. I took the train - deserted, and got to the hotel - deserted. I then settled in for a stay of five days on my own, which is rare for me as I never went to college or university and have never lived on my own. How would I cope with just my own company and how would I survive having full control of the remote control? Despite it being a lovely hotel with a comfy bed, I didn’t sleep for the full five nights.  Turns out I really do need a snoring man next to me and a dog sleeping on my legs. 

"On the first of three days training with the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants, I was somewhat nervous. This may come as a surprise to a lot of my friends and family, as perhaps I give off this sense of bubbly self-confidence, but it’s been a long time since I walked into a room of strangers. However, I need not have worried as James the tutor put us all at ease straight away and the other five students, thankfully all of a similar age to me, were just lovely. We bonded over coffee and little packets of cellophane wrapped biscuits and got stuck in. 

"The marriage side of the job was planned to take place at Ascot at the beginning of December, but again, changes to restrictions meant that I couldn't book myself into another luxury hotel and instead I had to book myself into my own office to stare at a screen for two days. Although we've all been Zooming like mad with friends and family, and some of us for work, it felt very odd to be doing a full course with a computer screen. Don't get me wrong, my tutor Terri was lovely and all the other students were all in the same position. So after a couple of hours we all started to relax.  The best part? No masks! Just lots of tea drinking thoughout. I was told that officiating at weddings, renewal of vows and baby namings is an important but joyous thing. I learnt all about the various symbolism and rituals that can be included in a ceremony.  Handfasting (something I thought was to do with me trying to keep my hand out of the cookie jar) actually involves hands coming together with beautifully intertwined coloured ribbons. I thought a sand ceremony must just be a ceremony that takes place on the beach, and living in Whitstable, this could be a real seller for me, but no, it's the coming together of two different colours of sand to symbolise the joining of two people. Ah well, Whitstable's a pebble beach anyway. Then there's the really fun one: jumping the broom. My first thought was that this maybe something to do with ceremonies taking place on Halloween but I was wrong. You actually just jump over the broom. Thank goodness this takes place as part of the ceremony and not the reception, when the couple may have partaken of a little too much champagne! 

"Most of all, being a celebrant is about creating a wedding that places a unique love story at the heart of the ceremony. Capturing and crafting the perfect day, with the freedom and flexibility to take the ceremony on its own path, is what makes a celebrant-led ceremony so magical and memorable. Each element that can be used, whether it is vows, poetry, pictures, stories, music, readings and rituals and of course innovative and inspiring locations, can combine together to create a ceremony that captivates and evokes the true meaning of love. So, changing my career at this late stage of the game is interesting, but already I've found it to be rewarding and enriching, both professionally and personally, and well... lovely."

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