E Peart Funeral Director was founded near Newcastle in the 1930s by the Peart family, who ran the funeral home for over 50 years. The Pearts were friends of Darren Johnstone’s family and, while he was still a schoolboy, Darren started helping out at the funeral home. Darren then became a full-time member of the E Peart team when he was 17.
In 1985, following the retirement of owners Bob and Joe Peart, the business was purchased by local businessman Graeme Ward and Darren continued to work at the funeral home. Two years later, the funeral home moved to new premises in Crawcrook, Ryton.
After Graeme died suddenly in 1994, the business was left to Darren, who was committed to running it with the same quality of personal service it had become known for. Darren has been a stalwart of the local community, serving them in their time of need, and supporting local churches, including as organist at Sunday services.
“I wanted to leave the decisions to somebody else. I had been on-call overnight for 37 years, that was a big thing I wanted to hand on.” – Darren Johnstone
After more than 37 years serving the business and the local community, Darren realised he wanted to enjoy more time to himself and to spend time with his wife.
He explained: “I wanted to leave the decisions to somebody else. I had been on-call overnight for 37 years, that was a big thing I wanted to hand on. I’d had a slight health scare and I had no-one else to leave the business to if anything happened to me – I wouldn’t want my wife to be left with selling it.
“For me, it was the right time to sell. Funeral Partners had approached us three years previously, it wasn’t the right time then, but I liked the person I dealt with.”
Funeral Partners wrote to the business again after the pandemic and after new regulations had been introduced following the Competition and Markets Authority review. Darren said he had heard good things about the business through the funeral trade network. “I’d heard Funeral Partners were the people to go to, I didn’t speak to anyone else.
“I didn’t have any qualms about selling to Funeral Partners, I knew they would keep the business running as it was before and keep the family name. And I’m still working here!”
As a small business which had always done things its own way, Darren said he and the team found the move to part of a larger organisation somewhat daunting at first.
The due diligence and legal processes leading up to the sale took longer than he had realised. “Then, there were new ways of doing things, different rules and regulations, it took some getting used to, but everyone was extremely helpful and we’re fully on board now,” Darren said.
He praised Funeral Partners’ Regional Management team of Tara Cameron, Kelly Stevenson and Michelle Beveridge as a huge source of help and support during the initial transition period.
“There really is a family feel – they don’t come in and say you must do this, they ask what you think, and whether you are happy.”
Darren said he and the team soon settled down. “From the start we had new computers and equipment we had technology support, audit and compliance support and lots of marketing support.” The business also had a new website within a week, an online donations and funeral notice system, live chat, an online quote builder and refreshed signage.
“Having people to do those things for us, instead of me having to do everything, was a real bonus,” Darren said. “We’re involved in making decisions and we are left to get on with the day-to-day business as usual 99% of the time.
“A lot of people locally didn’t even know the business had changed hands. A few people rang up about their funeral plans, but we haven’t lost a single plan.”
Darren said the most important outcome was that there has not been any change in the service provided to local families. He continues as Business Principal, conducting almost as many funerals as previously, when requested by families.
“It’s a great thing that the business continues to be run as it always has been for the families. We haven’t lost any business, in fact it’s busier than ever. I’m very happy with the way things have turned out and the team are happy too.
“We have been able to get out in the community more and will be sponsoring the football kit for the local Bolden Girls under 12s team,” he said.
The business has a new experienced Funeral Director, Courtney French, who joined in late 2021. Courtney replaced long-serving Funeral Director, David Alderson, who has taken partial retirement but continues to assist with funerals. E Peart has a new vehicle and discussions are ongoing about future improvements to the funeral home.
“I am happy with the work life balance and less day-to-day budgeting and administration responsibility,” Darren concluded. “Funeral Partners leave me to get on with seeing families and conducting funerals without all the responsibility of running a business, so I can do what I love best.”