Grieving the loss of a loved one is what brings people to New Era, Brentwood and Billericay’s bereavement support group, but it is the support, friendship and laughter they find there that keeps them going to meetings.

Each two hour drop-in session offers an opportunity to natter with people in a similar situation, in a supported, informal atmosphere over a cuppa. Monthly afternoon meetings are held on the second Wednesday of the month at St George’s Church Hall. As ever, there were refreshments aplenty at January’s meeting as well as a celebration cake, marking the group’s 10th anniversary.

Managing Director of Bennetts Funerals, Jane Bennett said: “We started the group because we realised there was a need for support within the area.

“What is so fantastic is the support people give each other – they are their own success. They can pass onto new people the message that it will be alright, that their life will change and become different but there is still a life.”

A decade ago a handful of people attended the first meeting. More than 30 New Era members marked the group’s special anniversary, enjoying a slice of cake, taking part in a fun quiz and drawing a raffle. Importantly, there was ample time for chatting with friends.

Doreen Fairman from Basildon said: “It’s helped me tremendously. I think when you talk about what’s happened to you, you kind of get it off your chest.”

Doreen has been attending New Era for about five years, since the loss of Norman, her husband of 53 years, in 2010.

“Although you lose someone that’s very dear to you, it’s very hard at the time, there is a way to carry on your life if you get out and about.

“There are outings. We’ve seen a couple of shows. I’ve made friends. I’ve had to push myself to do things a little bit but it becomes second nature now,” added Doreen.

“You feel safe to open up. Another time you don’t have to say anything. You just have a cup of tea and it’s nice to meet people,” said Lynn Hailey from Hutton, who has been attending the group, after recently losing three close family members.

Janet Botwright of Bennetts runs the support group which offers empathy, trust and understanding. “I think most people feel supported by being in the company other people who understand there are good days and bad days. Dealing with anniversaries and birthdays can be really difficult.

“Friends will support in the short term but their lives carry on as before whereas the bereaved life is changed forever. And that’s what other members understand,”said Janet.

Father and daughter Roy and Jo Roper from Hutton have found the group welcoming and easy to talk to. Their first meeting was five months ago, after the loss of wife and mother, Viv, in June last year.

“It is hard the first week but here you feel comfortable talking to anybody,” said Roy.

Jo added: “You don’t feel silly or embarrassed. If you want to talk about your loss, if you feel sad, everyone has been through something similar.”

Meetings are free but a £1 donation is requested for refreshments.

Janet added: “The tea and coffee money goes towards hiring a coach for trips further afield once a year.

“We take people out to places of interest like garden centres, museums and anywhere the group expresses an interest in going. We organise meals out a couple of times a year too.

“We try to get people reconnected with life and get them to do things they perhaps wouldn’t do if they were at home on their own.”

Independently, New Era members have started organising a regular evening dining club.

A separate parents’ bereavement support group, Our Grieving Hearts, is also run by Bennetts. It meets on the first Monday evening of the month in Brentwood and second Monday afternoon in Billericay. Last year the group became part of the national charity for bereaved parents, Compassionate Friends.

“There was absolutely nothing out there for bereaved parents. Bennetts had the foresight to start a support group exclusively for anyone who has lost a child because it’s a very different type of bereavement.

“I came as a user of the group in 2011 when my daughter Emily died and I got so much from it that I wanted to reach out and offer that support to more people.

“We want to show newly bereaved parents of a child of any age, what hope looks like. You will have a life after the loss of your child but it will be different. It’s learning how to live the rest of your life without your precious child that is the challenge,” said Bennetts’ Bridget Holley.

© Wendy Pike, January 2017

This feature was previously published in The Brentwood Gazette

Bennetts Funerals (Brentwood & Billericay)

By Wendy Pike

This blog post feature first appeared in a slightly different form (again, written by me) on Brentwood Brewery’s website in early December 2015.


Mince pies and mulled wine.  Turkey and Christmas Pud.  Both are excellent but obvious festive food pairings.  One partnership you might not necessarily put together is beer and Brussels Sprouts but that could be about to change …  Apparently the perfect beer to accompany Christmas Brussels is Brentwood Brewery’s Lumberjack 5.2% ABV.  This erstwhile unknown phenomenon has just been discovered on Twitter and it’s official.

“As accolades go, this is a pretty big one. We are honoured that Lumberjack is hailed as the best beer to enjoy with Brussels. The brewery has been working on lots of beer and food matching suggestions with Beer for That but this latest pairing idea is very exciting.

“What could be more traditional or British than the Brussel Sprout at Christmas? I love them. I always eat one at this time of year,” said Roland Kannor, Brentwood Brewing Company MD.

Asking the ultra topical question on a Twitter Q & A session with Great British Chefs was food blogger and writer Jeanne Horak-Druiff of

‘So tell me what is the beer that best matches the dreaded Christmas Brussels Sprouts?’

OK, perhaps the question smacks of a large side order of tongue-in-cheek, but a serious answer is provided by courtesy of Laurence Creamer of There’s A Beer for That (

‘Counter the brilliant Brussels bitterness with sweetness of Brentwood Brewing Company’s Lumberjack, a beautiful bitter,’ comes the reply.

Who knew?  Love them or hate them, those little green brassicas have been transformed into fancy dishes by top chefs and on occasion, even coated in chocolate, to make them more appealing and palatable, when all along, a glass of award-winning Brentwood Lumberjack is just the thing to make sprouts taste their best.

“Lumberjack’s full body can cope with the strong flavour of the sprout, while the beer’s sweetness will contrast and balance the bitterness from the vegetable,” says Laurence Creamer of There’s A Beer for That which is backed by Britain’s Beer Alliance.

With a reputation as a ‘Marmite’ vegetable, universally out of favour in the recent past, sprouts have had a bad press. The butt of endless jokes at Christmas (Pharhhhp!), the much maligned sprout may not be as trendy as curly kale or broccoli but it is currently enjoying something of a popularity revival.  If not on your dinner plate then at least in spirit.   BBC One’s Christmas TV promotion featuring Sprout Boy puts a positive PR spin on Brussels and is sure to warm the cockles of your heart?   He is ‘a sprout with love to give’.  The animation suggests repeatedly ‘Nobody ever liked the sprout’. But luckily for Sprout Boy there is a happy-ever-after.  At Christmas he’s allowed to join the dinner party rather than being served up as dinner.

Another perennial joke, particularly with BBC Radio 2 listeners, may have more relevance for chefs and cooks across the land this Christmas. What time do you put the sprouts on? When it comes to plating up, timing is crucial and this year’s Christmas Brussels may need slightly longer cooking than normal.   Farmers in East Anglia report the mild Autumn has led to a bumper crop with sprouts up to a whopping third larger than usual.  On the upside, you’ll need fewer to fill the plate which also means less peeling.

With sprouts about 33% bigger, it is perhaps the brewery’s Christmas wish that the optimum beer/sprout ratio could mean increased demand for Lumberjack – purely to balance flavours, of course.

If you need further Brussels Sprouts inspiration, Great British Chefs have a great Christmas recipe by James Mackenzie:

Obviously, if you need beery inspiration, please visit Brentwood Brewery.

Whilst the brewery fully endorses this freshly discovered Brussels and Lumberjack partnership, their plea is simple. Do consume Brussels Sprouts responsibly.  Large family gatherings, confined spaces, Brussels, Lumberjack … enough said. Boxing Day walk in the fresh air anyone?

Lumberjack 5.2% ABV

A strong, slightly sweet, full-bodied bitter traditionally brewed using English Fuggles and EKG hops. Has a round, hoppy finish.

Available in bottles and polypins.

Gold – SIBA East Region Best Strong Ale 2009

Silver – SIBA East Region Best Bottled Strong Ale 2013

Brussels Sprouts

Brassica Oleracea Gemmifera:   are rich in many vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C, K, A and B as well as copper, calcium, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus.  With anti-oxidants, protein and dietary fibre they have many health benefits to offer.

 The UK consumes more sprouts than any other country in Europe. A third of annual UK sprout consumption is thought to take place during the Christmas period.

Something else to noteBrussels Sprouts (often mis-spelled as Brussel sprouts) get their name from the capital city of Belgium due to their popularity and huge crop volumes grown in the country around the sixteenth century.  Thought to have originated in the Middle East, the Romans were credited with cultivating the forerunners to contemporary Brussels.

Graham Cochrane cleaning out mash tun - CopyWill Fisher cleaning out Mash Tun (2) - Copy



This feature first appeared in Made in Essex newspaper in August 2015.






The ultimate day out for beer fans, a Brentwood Brewery Experience Day, starts 8am sharp with an important choice.  Beer or science for breakfast?  Or maybe both?

“It’s a jolly, fine day out.  We individually tailor the day to suit each visit.  We can be as serious or otherwise as you like.  If you want to learn about the science behind the process, we’ll happily talk science.  If you want to sample our beer all day long, be our guest,” said MD, Roland Kannor.

The morning schedule begins with a briefing followed by measuring malt for the day’s brew, mashing in and sparging – collecting the all important sugars from the grain.  Being a brewer for the day is physically demanding work, so practical clothing and boots or Wellies are advisable.  Getting mucky is inevitable.

A work friend recommended the Experience Day to engineer Graham Cochrane from Great Baddow.  Graham put the idea on his 40th birthday wish-list.  His sister bought the gift.

“We’re watching the process live, as it happens and getting really involved, adding malt into the mix and helping throughout the process.

“I guess, when you go on a normal brewery tour you get told how these things happen but don’t really understand the time and care and the important points.

“But today we’re doing it real time and learning exactly where the care points and craft is and that’s the real interest,” said Graham.

Once the wort is bubbling in the copper, talk turns to technical aspects of brewing.

“It’s great fun for us too.  We enjoy imparting the knowledge we’ve picked up over the years, teaching people about our passion for beer and brewing,” said Brentwood Brewer Mike Holmes.

As well as learning about Humulus Lupulus (hops), barley and malt, there is much biology and chemistry to delve into.

“I already know a lot about the brewing process so it’s been fun to get involved but really the highlight for me has been the detailed explanation of the chemistry behind it, how everything works.  It’s been fantastic,” said Will Fisher from Colombia, South America.

Originally from Brentwood, Will a teacher, booked a Brewery Experience Day whilst on holiday visiting family and friends in the town.  He’s a true Brentwood beer fan and admits he’s an obsessive home brewer.  His dream –  to open a small craft brewery in Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast.

“I was really interested to see how they do things on a larger scale.  It’s not a lot different to home brewing, just everything’s upscaled.  These guys really know what they’re doing.

“Everything’s done scientifically using really precise calculations.  For me as a home brewer its more of an experiment.  Small scale, you can get away with just throwing things in.”

Midday guests are chauffeured to a local pub for lunch and a pint of Brentwood beer, all included in the package.  Afterwards, chores include digging out the mash tun and sanitising equipment before the day’s tasks are finalised by adding hops to the brew and pitching in yeast.

Home time is 4pm.  Everyone receives the brewery’s booklet ‘Notes on Brewing’ along with an 18-pint Polypin of the beer they brewed, once it’s ready – usually a week later.

The Summer Virgin that Will Fisher brewed will be ready in time for his departure.  The dilemma is he’ll only have a couple of days to drink it before he flies home to Colombia.

If sparing a whole day is difficult, tours held on the first Saturday of the month offer a good glimpse of brewery life.  They run at 11am and 1pm.  For £10 per person enjoy a pint of beer,  free gift and an hour-long tour.  Entertainment is provided by Head Brewer Ethan or Roland.  Discover The Hulk and where it resides or hear jokes and anecdotes, Roland-style.  Like the brewery’s close shave with Warner Brothers regarding a ‘borrowed’ image.  The upshot, it ends well – thanks to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Chockwork Orange is now the official beer of the book ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

Brewery Experience Days are available Tuesdays and Thursdays for up to four people per day at £99 per person.  For details or bookings contact Brentwood Brewery (next to Calcott Hall Farm Shop):  01277 200 483,,

See original Made in Essex feature online:  See:

One of the highlights of my year was being asked to catch a quick interview with UB40 ahead of their headline act at The Brentwood Festival 2014. 

The story I subsequently wrote first appeared on Brentwood Brewing Company’s blog:

Just to prove it, here’s a photo of me taking a photo of UB40 at the Phoenix FM Studios.  Thanks to Laurie Edmonds of Local By Social for the snap.

Photo of me taking publicity photo of UB40

This World famous Reggae group may like to sing about Red, Red Wine but it turns out the boys from UB40  are also partial to a pint or two of real ale.

Assistant Brewer Ethan Kannor couldn’t resist presenting the band with some Brentwood Brewing Company refreshment when he met them at The Phoenix FM Studios at The Brentwood Festival.  Ali, Astro and Mickey seemed genuinely pleased at the prospect of trying some bottles of Summer Virgin, the festival’s most requested Brentwood Beer – after the show, of course.

Astro said:  “I like beer. I’m a CAMRA member and have been for the last 5 or  6 years.  I go to as many festivals as humanly possible.  The best one is always Birmingham Beer Festival – 800 real ales, 200 perries and ciders.  It’s a fantastic night out.”

In recognition of Astro’s obvious enthusiasm for real ale he was invited along with the rest of the band to return to Brentwood for a brewery visit and perhaps to brew their own beer.

“You’ll never get rid of us,” said Mickey.

“Can he call it after himself?  How about Astro’s Fantastic?” asked Ali.

Astro added:  “That would be fantastic.”

So the band really does like real ale but enough to change the lyrics to their first number 1 hit of more than thirty years ago?  Would they consider singing Brentwood Beer in place of Red, Red, Wine to the packed crowd at The Brentwood Festival just for the night?  No they said and it’s probably for the best as fans like that iconic tune just the way it is.  But the question did make them chuckle.

UB40′s new album is due out in October (2014) – Silhouette.  You can find UB40 on Twitter:  @WeAreUB40 also @BrentwoodBrewCo and me too:  @newswoozle

UB40 with Brentwood Brewing Company's Head Brewer Ethan Kannor