We are Owain and Shelley Harris a husband and wife team and we make the Cornish Bamboo Coffins in our workshop in Perranwell Station.
Shelley and I didn’t start out as coffin makers, I was previously a lecturer in furniture making and Shelley has worked in the caring professions for the past forty years. All this changed when my lecturing career came to an end after I was made redundant in 2015. This dramatic change in circumstances made me reassess my working life and consider what I could do as an unemployed 55-year-old. After much deliberation and discussion, I joined the Ba Hons in Sustainable Product Design at Falmouth University as a mature student (I was older than everyone including the staff), but as they say, “you are never too old to learn”.
During my time on the course I learnt about the importance of sustainability for the planet and everything living on it. We put this learning into practice by using sustainable strategies to design a new product or redesign an existing product to make it sustainable.
This requirement for a suitable design project was one of the reasons the concept for a sustainable Cornish coffin came about. In fact, the original idea to design a sustainable coffin started with a conversation I was having with my Mum. Mum has planned that after her cremation we are to celebrate her life by placing the ashes in a miniature wicker Viking long boat and then set it alight by shooting flaming arrows at it. I commented that this was an exciting final farewell, but the cremation beforehand was missing any such distinctiveness. Having thought about this comment for a moment Mum suggested that I should design her a beautiful sustainable coffin.
At the time this seemed a simple idea, but I soon learnt that the world of coffins, cremations and funerals is far more complicated than I ever imagined. Fortunately for me, not long after starting on the design I met Katrina and Terry from the Cornish Funeral Company. They helped guide me through the peculiarities of coffin design, and the requirements of the funeral business.
Several coffin designs were created and rejected before selecting a long basket with a roll top lid for the final shape and bamboo as the main material.
Bamboo was chosen because it is the fastest growing plant in the world which needs no pesticides or fertilisers and it loves growing in Cornwall. In fact, it grows so well in Cornwall that until the early 1950s it was grown as a commercial crop at several sites across Cornwall, with one farm producing 5 million culms (the correct name for bamboo canes) a year; the national bamboo collection is growing just outside of Wadebridge.
Cornwall’s mild climate allows a wide variety of bamboos to grow in Cornwall consequently it was important that I designed a process to produce a coffin from whatever species are available. After extensive research and experimentation, I have developed a process which allows us to split, flatten and clean almost any bamboo culm of the right length into strips for weaving into a coffin.
Bamboo has been used to make coffins for thousands of years, but coffins made from Cornish bamboo is definitely a new thing.
Shelley and I harvest our bamboo from several sites across Cornwall, and then clean, process and weave into coffins in our workshop. Each process is carried out by hand, consequently it takes us approximately four days to make a Cornish Bamboo Coffin.
Every Cornish Bamboo Coffin is absolutely unique and made with pride to honour your loved one and care for the planet.