Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management (CEM 84)

  The Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management (ILAM) would like to present evidence to the above inquiry on cemeteries. ILAM is a professional body representing over 6,500 professional managers from across the public, private, voluntary and educational sectors embracing all aspects of leisure and cultural services.

  ILAM purpose is to promote the better management of leisure resources in order to provide better public access to a wide range of cultural and recreational experiences to enhance the quality of life for individuals and communities. As part of the Institute's work to raise management standards and encourage continued professional development through information dissemination and the provision of education and training opportunities and qualifications, the Institute offers an extremely successful one day short course on the Introduction to the management of cemeteries.

  ILAM is firmly of the belief that cemeteries are not properly appreciated as places for the living, more as places for the burial of the dead. However ILAM feels that this is recreation in its literal sense, refreshing the spirit of visitors so that they are better able to meet the demands and obligations of life. This is most important for the bereaved but many others may seek the solace of cemeteries for quiet contemplation and relief from stress. Cemeteries should be places of stillness and tranquillity where the landscape and natural elements help us to understand their own lives whilst revering those lives which preceded us.

  However ILAM feels that there is a general lack of research and understanding around the type of feelings and the wider benefits that cemeteries have for the general public and the local environment and this has been compounded by the state of many modern cemeteries. Their condition offers little comfort to the bereaved. In older cemeteries with fine old memorials and mature trees the landscape can support and become wildlife havens which would suffer if domestic neatness was imposed. However, many more cemeteries are empty treeless places whose perfunctory, maintenance and bleak aspect cannot be countered by the incorporation of unimaginative gardens of remembrance.

  There is a major difference between cemeteries in the UK and those in other European countries in their standards of care and the quality of their landscape, which reflects badly on our own civic and spiritual values. British cemeteries could gain, not just from being respected by the civic authorities to whom their care is entrusted but also by being seen as part of a greenspace system adding to the diversity of recreational landscapes accessible to urban populations. The new and welcome policy initiatives introduced in the recent Urban White Paper should include cemeteries in their definition of parks and open spaces. Their better care remains part of the Institute's case for a National urban parks and greenspaces agency, as supported by the select committee inquiry into Town and Country Parks.

  The Institute is concerned with the practice of a number of local authorities, which began in the 1960s and '70s of creating "lawn cemeteries". This includes converting existing cemeteries to the lawn type by removing curbstones from all graves and prescribing strict size limits to which all new memorials must conform. This removal of curbs was often carried out with no regard for any inscriptions that they might contain and was undertaken to cut maintenance costs and facilitate mowing machine access. Herbicides were used wherever the mowing machines could not reach.

  However a number of local authorities are now looking at alternative practices and authorities such as Carlisle and Maldon have started to lead the way in woodland burials. Offering a choice to the bereaved to bury the deceased in cardboard coffins and marking the burial site with a tree or shrub thereby creating a landscape which is peaceful and respectful and also an important wildlife haven.

  ILAM awarded Maldon District Council its 1999 Open Spaces Management Award for Woodland Glades. The Award is made to recognise innovation and imagination in the management of open spaces across the UK. Woodland Glade is a new burial site within one of the Council's existing long established cemeteries and is a new concept and choice in cemetery service provision for people in Maldon.

  The benefits of such schemes are to make long term visual enhancements as well as ecological and environmental changes to an existing site. The site has resulted in a fundamental approach to grounds maintenance and has made a significant contribution to Local Agenda 21 issues. In addition to these benefits Woodland Glades has also provided major social and practical benefits for the local community as well as potential educational opportunities and community involvement.

  Woodland Glades is a site, which provides the public with a quiet and natural amenity site as well as providing a sensitive and meaningful burial ground. Family and friends of the deceased buried within Woodland Gales are invited to take part in a day of dedication, which offers them the opportunity to experience genuine involvement in the development of the overall concept of the site. The management of the site has also involved the Friends group in designing and developing a semi-natural wildlife garden and have been successful in securing funding from the Better Britain Campaign and is working with the Essex Wildlife Trust to maintain and developing the site to safeguard its future.

December 2000

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