A county of cream teas, pasties and ... coffins?

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The Independent Online
Watching a television documentary on an all-purpose supermarket turned Ian Vosper away from kitchen appliances to death. Now, his eco- friendly flat-pack coffins, made by a Cornish firm with just four employees, are being inspected by the Mexican president, and promoted by United Nations officials as the cheap bio-degradable answer to grave robbers in Angola.

Mr Vosper's company, Eco-F systems, is on the verge of signing a pounds 15m export order with Mexico for 600,000 coffins, and the Angolan government is reportedly close to agreeing a deal. The "cask-kits" have been sold around the world; everyone, it seems, is keen to get involved in this green, user-friendly way of depositing their dearly beloved into the earth.

Everyone, that is, apart from the authorities in this country. To cope with this sudden rise in demand Mr Vosper will need to take on at least 30 more workers, and increase the workspace of his St Ives firm from 1,500 square feet to 15,000 square feet. He was hoping to get some kind of government funding to help with the expansion, but he hoped in vain.

Mr Vosper started making the cask-kits after seeing a programme on the French Roce' Cleric supermarket chain. He recalled: "There was a man who bought a coffin off the shelf for his own funeral and loaded it into a Renault 5. But he was having difficulties. I saw how much better it would be it would be if the thing came in kit form. So we decided to produce it and also make it eco-friendly."

Mr Vosper's firm is the only one making wooden flat-pack coffins - there are others that produce cardboard coffins but they are said to be of a "here's one I made earlier" type.

Mr Vosper is disappointed by lack of government backing, but accepts that such is the rocky path of creativity - recognition abroad, neglect at home. In Mexico, the coffins may become a political hot potato. President Ernesto Zedillo has taken a keen interest in the project. One of his brothers heads one of the biggest government-backed funeral institutions in Mexico City, offering subsidised ceremonies to the disadvantaged.

There is, of course, no suggestion of impropriety involving the Zedillo brothers, this is not "coffingate". But the Mexicans are at the moment sensitive about the business dealings of presidential relations. Raul Salinas, the brother of the previous President, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, is in prison on charges of murder and illegal enrichment.

In Angola, debilitated by a long, bitter civil war, the government faces problems from grave robbers who dig up coffins to sell on the thriving black coffin market. Bereaved relatives, understandably, get upset.

The cask-kits will counter this. Because they are bio-degradable, suitable treatment would mean that within an hour they would break apart if anyone tries to lift them up. This advantage was pointed out to officials in Luanda by a UN official, Adrian Dunderdale, who had visited Mr Vosper's factory while in the UK. The price, too, is competitive, the Cornish coffins cost $100 (pounds 61) each while the traditional ones being imported to Angola can be as much as $500.

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