case study

PlotBox Improves Derby Bereavement Services

Learn about the positive impacts that PlotBox’s deathcare management solution has had on this Local Authority's cemetery and crematory operations.

| Read time: 8 mins

Derby City Council, a local authority based in the East Midlands region of England operates six cemeteries and one crematorium, with responsibility for the maintenance of seventeen closed churchyards throughout the city.

Their team of four cemetery technicians (grave diggers), four crematory technicians, and four bereavement officers currently manage around 2,000 cremations and 430 burials per year.

We recently had the pleasure of hosting a webinar in which Bereavement Services Manager Sheena Ratcliffe, and Operations Manager Glynn Jones spoke about the positive impacts that PlotBox’s deathcare management solution has had following its recent implementation.

Here’s what we learned:


Burial and cremation scheduling

With Derby’s previous solution, cemetery and crematory bookings were logged separately and very rarely both open at the same time. That proved difficult with all of the administration being carried out from one site. 

With PlotBox, all of that cemetery and crematory administration is now within a single system, creating much more streamlined scheduling processes.

As Sheena says,

“We had to allocate one person who would take burial bookings, and the rest of the office would have the cremations open. So the fact that we can have everything on one screen, and it all works and links is a real benefit to us.”


Cemetery mapping 

For Derby, PlotBox’s mapping functionality was one of the aspects of the solution that really sold it to them.

“The massive one for me personally, being a cemetery-based person, was the mapping - it’s been amazing.” says Sheena. “Previously we were using excel, paper-based maps and a bit of a mixture from the different cemeteries.”

This created a disconnect between the maps and the data held, over-complicating common tasks such as assisting families with locating gravesites.

Sheena continues,

“We would have asked if they knew the grave number; if not, [ask] who's buried [there], then research through the software system….once we'd found that, we would then go on to the appropriate excel map, highlight it, send it out to the person, or arrange to meet them.”

With various maps that didn’t match up correctly this became a challenge.

As Sheena acknowledges, the task of administering requests could be a role in itself - finding graves, placing markers etc., and ultimately it was this functionality that made PlotBox such an attractive proposition for the council.


In practice then, what did that mapping process look like?

Sheena, “We sent over the excel maps that we had computerized, and also the old maps…that are really minute little tiny squares with numbers in. We scanned all of those and got [them] over to the team.

Then, working closely with the team, we were picking up where they weren't lining up quite correctly with the drone footage. One cemetery had no digital map PIN whatsoever, so I very quickly just drew grids on excel, numbered it, and your amazing team put it over the drone footage, and it works.

There was a lot of work involved…but the benefits from it now are incredible. So it's worth doing.”

A really important point noted here is the expectations of what is going to be required on both sides - making sure that customers have the time and availability on their side to support the aspects needed by the provider to complete the project.


Paper-based processes

“[Previously], we did have a very simple online system for booking cremations, but it was quite minimal.”, says Glynn. “And that caused issues, especially during the period of Covid,” he continues,

“A lot of forms were coming through…it was becoming a lot more work for the office staff, with printing off the documents.”

This meant that paper was increasingly piling up and creating pressure on the system - our filing system was getting longer, bigger. It [was] a lot of work.

Now, these processes have been made much simpler with PlotBox, which now and over time, will help the team to minimize time spent on their filing.”

Glynn has also seen the positive reaction from members of the team with its potential to speed up processes, manage and archive important legal documentation, and reduce the need for printing.

In terms of their admin processes, in Glynns words, it is, “Going to go to another level.”


Funeral Directors

Communicating the benefits to external stakeholders, and showing them how it can help them to deliver their service to families is also an important factor when implementing a new solution.

And that can be seen in how the PlotBox funeral director portal has also improved processes for both office staff and FDs, enabling them to both book a cremation slot online and to upload the relevant documentation.

As Glynn says, “Some of them have jumped on it - more of the newer funeral directors - all input their documents [online], so it's already there waiting for us…that will be a massive benefit to me.”


Optimizing space

As with many other cemetery operators, land availability is becoming a challenge for Derby, meaning that mapping, along with more accurate reporting on current capacities, was important - and something that PlotBox has made a huge impact upon.

Sheena says, “Personally, I'm still learning a lot about PlotBox.  It's almost like every day's a school day - you go in and think, "Oh, yes, I can actually get that information off here. It's very easy to use.”

The benefits have extended beyond optimizing existing space, with the team now having discovered untapped inventory at cemeteries believed to be full. That’s now both opening up new sources of revenue for the council, and opportunities for residents to acquire plots.


Online grave search

Post going live, the team has realized just how much PlotBox - and specifically, their Everafter public grave search portal - is helping from a customer support perspective.

Providing families with the ability to search their records and view on digital maps to easily locate the graves of loved ones has not only delivered an important public resource, but also had a significant impact on the volume of calls being received.

A key part of its success is having marketed it very well through their friends and local history groups, as well as on social media.

As Sheena says,

“It's saving masses amounts of time, and even had a piece in our local newspaper - [with a] link out there for people to be able to find [their] relatives. It's been very good.”

And the feedback the team has received has been very positive, as Sheena continues,

“The portal is like, Wow! That is absolutely amazing…”, “That's the response we're getting. We're getting people phone back to say, "That is incredible, thank you very much.””.

And the PR push is clearly working, as Derby's public portal is currently one of most visited of all of the PlotBox portals that we have across local councils in the UK.

Read more on the story here.  [source:]


Supplier support

Software support was clearly important to Derby, having experienced the challenges of system crashes and their impacts on daily operations - particularly over weekend periods when trying to book services.

As Glynn said,

“It was a massive thing…to have the right reliability of support - it was quite, clear, very quickly that the support we got through PlotBox was outstanding. And because of the portals and the little widgets you have…we can have answers within minutes.”

“If [the team] have an issue, they've all got the access. They can type a question, they get an answer.

So that's so invaluable…especially because they’re there at the heart of our business, and if they've got issues with anything, they can come online and straight away, they get an answer, which is tremendous.”

Derby have been impressed with the level of support provided by the PlotBox team, especially in regards to where there are gaps in knowledge.

As Sheena says,

“I can't fault [it] when you phone and say, “Can you just remind us how to do this?” And within a couple of days you've got another training session set up that reinforces it with extra members of the team.

That is invaluable.”


Process changes

When any project goes live, it can be easy for teams to feel a little lost, switching from a product that they’re comfortable with, to something that looks and feels different.

We’re conscious, particularly across the UK, that many local authority crematory and cemetery operators have been using systems for decades, so it’s important to ensure that they continue to see the value in the new system.

There may also be some element of parallel running while teams get comfortable with the new system, as Sheena explains,

“We still had access to the old data that was on our old system, [which] we kept open for all staff. But we soon discovered that [it] was very much a comfort blanket…so we 'yanked' [it] recently…and after the initial concern that was raised…all of the [team] are happy without their comfort blanket now!”.



Training can be hugely important to the success of any transformation project, ensuring that teams are empowered to maximize the benefits of the new system.

Glynn describes his experience with PlotBox:

“The initial training for all the staff was fantastic, and it wasn't just limited to one session. You would offer multiple sessions on different parts of PlotBox…they were being recorded [so] we could fall back on them months down the line, which supported new members of staff who have come into the business.”


Customer success and Implementation

Support isn’t just for when things are broken, nor should it stop, or indeed start, at Go live. There is very much a focus from PlotBox on partnerships, not just an initial project, but through the ongoing relationship, making sure that customers are both getting the value out of the current product and feeding into new developments.

Sheena explains,

“When we signed…we were allocated our own project management team, and we had regular meetings…went through things that you needed us to do [at] our end.”

Those meetings ensured that Derby were able to provide PlotBox with all of the information required to carry out the implementation process successfully.

Sheena continues,

“[Those meetings were] however often we felt we needed them, and as the project got closer to Go live, those were increased…when we did go live, we had a daily meeting for the first week. If there was anything that we wanted to raise, if it wasn't anything urgent, then we would save it for that meeting…we have the support that we still currently have.”


The Future

What does the future look like for Derby with PlotBox?

Glynn says, “It's moving forward…we've realized very quickly that we're only literally dipping our toes in PlotBox at the moment, and there's so much more we can access.

I know Sheena is working on the financial side with the city council to try and streamline that a little bit more, and I know [she] spoke about the possibility [of having] iPads with [grounds teams], so literally as they are working through their daily schedules, they can update the system, so the [back office team] are seeing graves being allocated [in real time].  

That is happening literally now - it is a working live portal.


To learn more watch the webinar in full.



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