Hundreds of mourners turned out to say goodbye to the mum of two special needs children – after an appeal from funeral directors who feared no one would attend.
Caring mum Hazel Osborne died aged 86 – leaving behind her worried adult children Susan and Kevin who both have severe learning difficulties.
The trio lived together and rarely interacted with the outside world beside their trusted carers – causing fears of an empty church on the date of Hazel’s funeral.
But funeral directors Aaron and Jonathon Bewley posted an appeal on Facebook two days before which was shared more than 1,000 times and seen by 80,000 people.
The response was a full church and a turnout of over 200 mourners.
Many travelled from neighbouring towns to be at the emotional send off in the market town of Corsham, Wilts., which has a population of around 13,000.
Hazel died peacefully at Royal United Hospital in Bath, Somerset.
Reverend Andrew Johnson, who led the service, hailed the appeal’s powerful impact “in an era where social media gets a lot of negative press”.
Rev Andrew said the event was “very moving” and “heartwarming”.
He added: “The church was packed and it was almost entirely down to the power of social media.
“The children would have otherwise been on their own apart from social workers, myself and the organist.”
Hymns Morning Has Broken and All Things Bright and Beautiful were sang in reference to Hazel’s love of birds and spending time in the garden.
Funeral director Aaron Bewley said: “The appeal went out on Sunday evening and come Tuesday by the time the funeral was held it had been shared more than 1,000 times and had reached 80,000 people.
“Normally the best possible reach we get with a post on our funeral page is 1,000 to 2,000 views.
“There were fears only the two children and their social workers would attend.
“But it was one extreme to another and the church was packed out – there wasn’t a spare seat in the house.
“The vicar’s speech was thoughtful because he spoke about the country being divided by Brexit and the impact of social media.
“But he cited the turnout as one of the positive powerful elements of Facebook.”
A fundraiser for Susan and Kevin has reached more than £400.
The Facebook appeal said: “If you have been part of the Corsham Community for any amount of time I am sure you will recognise Susan and Kevin Osborne pictured here.
“Sadly their mother, Hazel Osborne, passed away on December 31, 2018.
“Susan and Kevin are very concerned that as they and their mother do not really have any friends, they will be the only two people at the funeral.
“Some of their support team and a handful of other professionals hope to be in attendance but for them an empty church is a real concern.
“So we are appealing for your support.
“Can you spare 30 minutes on Tuesday, January 29 to join Susan and Kevin at St Bartholomew’s Church, Corsham?
“I know this is a big ask, but a little time out of your day will mean the world to them on what will obviously be a very difficult day for them.”
The funeral directors wrote in a separate appeal on their website: “We are calling on the community to come and support Susie and Kevin, who have learning disabilities, by joining them at the funeral service, as they are very worried they will be on their own in a near empty church on this sad occasion.”
Hundreds of wellwishers commented on the post.
Martyn Matthews wrote: “What an amazing response from the people of Corsham and the surrounding area. St Bart’s was packed, a lovely service and farewell for Hazel.”
Jane Gater wrote: “How wonderful it was to see the church absolutely full. It was a beautiful, simple service. Well done for your efforts in making us all aware.”
Amanda Lou Hadnett said: “I think you may now need some extra seating in that church! How lovely to see such genuine community spirit.”
Joy Restall wrote: “How thoughtful and kind.”
Karen Palmer said: “Wow this just shows how our community comes together and that is why I love Corsham.”
by Alex Shipman