Champ Funeral Services/Lianna Champ

AT THE age of nine, Lianna Champ already knew she wanted to be an undertaker, despite it being ‘not a job for a young girl’. At 15, her mum organised for her to spend the morning at a funeral home at Scales in Blackburn thinking, wrongly, that it would lead to a change of career plan. That led to Lianna’s first encounter with death and loss. She saw her first dead body and assisted in its preparation. When her mother collected the enthusiastic teen, rather than being dissuaded she asked to go back the week after.

At the time Lianna, now 55, lived in Blackburn and attended a boarding school in Windermere. The school dismissed her career plans and instead lined her up with an interview for a retail job in Chelsea Girl. Determined Lianna refused the interview and instead knocked on every funeral director’s door locally until eventually Wolstenholme’s, in Accrington, agreed to let her work six days a week for £30.

She said: “When a cleaning job came up at the home, I took that on, and I also worked in a night club four-nights-a-week.” At 18 she became the youngest fully qualified female funeral director and also a qualified embalmer, then promptly found herself made redundant. Lianna said: “I never at any point considered my gender to be a barrier, although I faced discrimination I never took it personally because I felt it said more about them than me.”

When her latest round of door knocking failed to yield a job offer, she spotted a former bank building on Blackburn Road, Clayton-le-Moors, and was fortunate to have the backing of her parents as guarantors – Champ Funeral Services was born. Age 21, Lianna had her own business, but the reaction of other professionals meant she had to collect coffins in secret and pay cash up front. Undeterred, she worked all hours, built up the business and by age 27 had a £175,000 overdraft, but all the hard work was worth it

At Hyndburn Business Awards 2019, Lianna won the title of Enterprising Woman and the business, now in its 34th year, with eight employees and definitely in the black, won the Made In Hyndburn trophy. She said: “My mother was my biggest support and she increased my capacity to perform and she would say ‘the more you do, the more you can’. I always remember being young and wanting to help people to stop feeling sad. To give people the tools to rebuild their life following their loss is one of the greatest things we can do.”

Following the death of a close friend and an encounter with former Dragons’ Den millionaire Richard Farley, she put her knowledge of grief, counselling and recovery into a book – ‘How to Grieve Like a Champ’. The grief reference book was snapped up by Red Door Publishing and has been sold world wide and received excellent reviews.

Lianna said: “I never expected to win one award let alone two. Now I have written a number of articles for different publications both national papers and magazines and online. There is no right and wrong way to grieve, there is no normal and nothing is foolish. You should never worry about how you will be perceived or what you think people expect of you.”

To nominate a business for the 2020 Hyndburn Business Awards visit http://www.hyndburnbusinessawards.co.uk/

Story by Catherine Smyth Media

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