River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Meet Debbie Stewart

January 2021

In a change to our occasional ‘meet a resident’ series, this month we invite you to meet Stoke Ferry business owner, Debbie Stewart. When Debbie became the proud new owner of RH Bond Funeral Services in August of this year, her long-held dream come true. But more of that later. Debbie was born in Kings Lynn and grew up in the town, the eldest of four. Her brother retired from the Air Force four years ago and moved to Australia to take up a job with Virgin Airlines, but the rest of the family are all still happily settled in Norfolk. Debbie left school at sixteen and took up her first job, working for J J Wilson Dairies, part of the Spar Wholesale group of families. A couple of years later and still aged only 19, she was the youngest in the team at Bell Fruit, the pub leisure company. She loved driving across Norfolk, getting to know the county, visiting pubs and clubs, and emptying the fruit machines and pool tables. She met her husband Andy when she was just 16 and he was 17 and she was thrilled when they became parents to Bradley. She desperately wanted to be a stay-at-home mum but like many young families, they needed two incomes. When Brad was six months old, she got into her car with a very heavy heart and left her home in West Winch to go to work. It was her first day back after maternity leave. At the Hardwick Roundabout, instead of heading into Lynn, she did a full loop, drove straight back down the A10 and promptly resigned from her job. Within weeks she had set up her own cleaning company, ‘Upstairs Downstairs’. Self-employment gave her the flexibility she needed with a young child. Her client base quickly grew, and she’d pop Brad into his car seat and take him with her. When a job came up with Abbey National which offered similar flexibility, she jumped at the chance. Debbie provided cover or an extra pair of hands when it was needed. During this period, her second son, Charlie was born, completing the Stewart family. Debbie’s efficiency, her integrity, her people skills, and her natural ability to lead soon became evident and she was promoted several times. By 2010, she was the assistant branch manager. But the company wasn’t the same as it had been. The Abbey National had been taken over by Santander and Debbie wasn’t as happy. It was time for a change. She took up a job at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital working in the Cancer Services Department and a year later made a career move which was transform the course of her life. She joined an independent, family funeral directors in Kings Lynn and quickly realised just how important it is to provide an exceptional level of care to the deceased and their families when a loved one dies. She loved her job working as a PA for the family directors but when an opportunity with another family firm in Downham Market presented itself, with the promise of more involvement with families, Debbie leapt at the chance to develop her professional skills. Her natural warmth and compassion, her attention to detail and her determination to do whatever she could to help grieving families were a formidable combination. Her day-to-day job involved arranging funerals from start to finish for her clients, booking the day and time of the funeral, booking the celebrant, arranging the transport, orders of service, flowers, a headstone, dealing with all the paperwork - anything people wanted and all the time, holding their hands throughout the whole process and beyond. Debbie’s job became her passion. For her, it has always been about so much more than providing the best funeral service she can, important though that is. She is there for bereaved families when they most need her. It is what motivates her. It is knowing that supporting people during the most difficult times in their lives, is worth more than anything money can buy. In 2015, one family in particular, were deeply touched by the level of care that Debbie had given them. They told her she was a natural and should have her own business. Debbie’s reply was simple but heartfelt: “I can only dream”. She was lost for words when the family returned with a gift her. It was a wall plaque, inscribed with the words “If you can dream it, you can do it”. It has been hanging in Debbie’s bedroom for five years and it was the first thing she looked at each morning and the last thing, each night. And then earlier this year, her dream turned into a reality. Colin Bond decided that the time had come to sell R H Bond Funeral Services. The company had been in his family for five generations and he wanted to ensure it stayed an independent, family business. It was a perfect opportunity for Debbie and the sale was completed in August this year. It hasn’t been the easiest of times to take on a new business, the Coronavirus Pandemic has had a far-reaching impact affecting all aspects of daily life but the move to Stoke Ferry has had unexpected benefits. Debbie has been overwhelmed by the warm welcome the community has given her and hopes to get to know even more people when the bingo nights start up again at The Village Hall. Once upon a time, every village would have had a funeral directors’ but nowadays for most communities, having a local family firm to call on in a time of need, is a thing of the past. Debbie is keen to preserve the tradition but has transformed the business into so much more. She wants people to think of her office as a café, where anyone can drop in for a chat over a cuppa. She is of course there for anyone suffering a bereavement, but she’s a wife and a mother and a human being too, and she’s always there to lend a listening ear. She has put a great deal of thought and care into transforming the space. From the moment you walk through the door, you will be greeted with a warm smile from Debbie or her assistant, Donella. Only then will you notice the calm, pastel colours and the tasteful furnishings. Debbie is particularly proud of the fact that she has put the same love and care into the chapel room. With the help of her sister, Samantha Smith, it features a beautiful cloud mural, which has moved visitors to tears. So what does Debbie do when she’s not working? She loves nothing more than spending time with her husband and two sons now both grown-up and working together in their own business, “Brad Stewart Building Services”. All four are passionate football fans and until the COVID recent restrictions, were season ticket holders at Nottingham Forrest. The club crest is even etched in glass into a window at the family home in West Walton. And when there’s no football and when they’ve read every book and watched every DVD about their hero, Brian Clough, Debbie and Andy love nothing more than walking through the cornfields and orchards in the beautiful Norfolk countryside near their home, with their cocker spaniel, Pip. Welcome to Stoke Ferry, Debbie!

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