TRUSTEES at Bishop's Hull-based St Margaret's Hospice Care have decided to close its loss-making funeral service.

The charity set up funeral shops in Taunton's Bridge Street and in Bridgwater, but critics say it should have concentrated on what it does best - caring for terminally ill people.

Confirming the "difficult decision" to close the trading subsidiary St Margaret's Funerals Ltd, a spokesperson for the hospice trustees said: "All current commitments to families will be honoured and the team will be contacting any funeral plan holders with further information to help them identify an alternative provider.

"The funeral business was run as a trading subsidiary to the hospice, and it is this that is closing. No other hospice services or activities are affected."

The funeral business was established in 2017 as an income generator, which led to criticism from local undertakers annoyed at the charity setting up in competition to them.

St Margaret's Hospice Care chief executive Ann Lee said: "While we are disappointed to be closing the funeral subsidiary, it has been a great privilege and honour to support our local community offering families in Somerset additional choice and affordable funeral options.

"One of our core values as a hospice is to be brave and entering the funeral marketplace was a bold decision, that was driven by a need to explore alternative income generation opportunities while challenging the increasing rise in funeral costs resulting in funeral poverty for many people.

"We have since championed the need for regulation across the funeral sector, which has helped to achieve a more transparent and fairer pricing structure locally for our community.

She said restrictions during the Covid pandemic had severely impacted the charity's funeral business as people changed the way they said goodbye to loved ones.

Mrs Lee added: "More recently, a change in regulations has also limited how we talk to patients and their families, and because this venture has not realised a financial return for the charity, it is now necessary to close our funeral business.

"We will continue to focus efforts on responding to the increasing needs of families in our community who rely on us for compassionate high-quality end of life care.

"And we will explore how we can extend our reach, meet demand and share our expertise so that all dying people and those close to them have access to timely, appropriate care and support.

"The trustees would like to thank the community for their support of this venture, and to express their gratitude to over 300 families who specifically chose St Margaret’s Funerals to care for their loved ones."

A local funeral director, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "Ask yourself where has all the money come from to prop it up. They surely knew it would not work.

"The amount of donation money lost because of this venture has been Love Musgrove's (the local hospital's charity) gain.

"St Margaret's provides excellent care to the terminally ill, which they should have concentrated on.

"Perhaps some of those on the board involved with this venture should consider their positions."