Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by Clear Skies Software Ltd (CEM 85)

INTRODUCTION

  I am the Managing Director of a small software house specialising in the development of computer systems for bereavement Services. My customers are based from Inverness to St Helier and consist of a wide range of organisations including small, medium and large local authorities as well as private companies.

  I therefore believe I have a unique perspective on the problems and opportunities that cemeteries give to any organisation and have an insight into the benefits that modern technology can provide.

  I have written some brief notes below.

STRUCTURE

  1.  There are wide variations in the management structure relating to cemeteries across the country.

  2.  There is a proliferation of associations and organisations representing the interests of various interest groups within the cemetery/crematorium movement. The IBCA, FCA and CBA being the three largest.

  3.  Understanding of burial law varies from organisation to organisation with generally the best knowledge being found where the cemeteries are the responsibility of a crematorium manager. Some organisations have little understanding of their responsibilities.

PRIVATE/PUBLIC OWNERSHIP

  1.  I believe that there is a conflict between the needs of the community and the needs of private enterprise to create profits. It should however be noted that there are many examples of private companies who have reconciled these conflicting interests.

  2.  Due to the vulnerable position many people are in when someone close to them dies leads me to believe that it is in the best interest of the community for local authorities or a caring organisation (ie Church of England) to be responsible for cemeteries.

ENGLAND/SCOTLAND AND WALES

  1.  The law is substantially different in Scotland to England and Wales. There are also minor variations between the law in England and the law in Wales.

  2.  The burial and grave registers are more consistent in England and Wales than in Scotland. This is due to English law specifying the contents of each register in detail.

MEMORIALS

  1.  The safety of memorials in cemeteries is a major problem across the Country.

  2.  Many local authorities and organisations are unaware that the problem exists.

  3.  The standard of workmanship relating to the erection of memorials is quite frequently below acceptable standards.

  4.  Many stonemasons are not committed to achieving the minimum standards frequently putting ease of erection before safety.

  5.  Many cemetery organisations have no record of the memorials in their cemetery, when and who erected them, when and who modified them and the details of who is responsible for them.

HISTORICAL BUILDINGS, MEMORIALS AND REGISTERS

  1.  All cemetery organisations have items of historic interest. The Burial and Grave registers are common to all cemeteries and due to the material of the books are normally in good condition. However, they are used as working documents and are therefore at risk. It is ironic that the most detailed records of who lived in our communities is in these registers.

  2.  Memorials in many cemeteries have been made by the type of skilled craftsman that it is now rarely found in the modern world. They have immense worth as works of art in general and detailed sculptures in particular. Many of the words engraved into the stone give details of dramatic events or an indication of the history of the individual.

  3.  Many of the chapels that form part of the cemetery are derelict. Again on close inspection you find stonework, and other artifacts of significant historic and religious interest. Many examples of stonework or woodwork are being lost purely because of neglect.

  4.  In addition many cemeteries have areas that provide important habitats for local flora and fauna.

  5.  Cardiff have detailed in a booklet information on the war graves in their cemeteries. A centre page provides stickers of regimental crests and the booklet describes a path through the cemetery identifying the various graves and providing a story of the events leading to the death of each soldier. The stickers can be placed against the relevant item and then coloured in by children. Other booklets can be published for other items of interest.

INCOME

  1.  It has generally been believed that cemeteries cannot generate an income. This, however, is far from the case. The price for the purchase of exclusive rights and also burials need to be reviewed. It is not essential for a service in the cemetery chapel and these facilities should be provided at a price that at least covers the costs.

  2.  A more imaginative policy with regard to memorials should be pursued. Provision of seats, shrubs, flower beds, trees, wall plaques and other types of memorials can generate substantial income and improve the presentation of the cemetery.

  3.  Charging for grave maintenance and the provision of festive ornaments can also generate money.

  4.  Adding options to exclusive rights to allow owners to extend the exclusive rights for an additional period not only generates a continued income but ensures that the cemetery keeps in contact with exclusive rights owners.

  5.  Many cemeteries have items of important historic interest and it may be possible to provide guide books detailing this information.

  6.  It is important, however, that staff are motivated to provide these services. Too often any additional income raised through the hard efforts of staff disappears into the local authorities coffers. In most cases local authority staff are only looking for a proportion of any income generated to be ring fenced to improve facilities within the cemetery.

  7.  Internet access will allow the cemetery to sell information on the cemetery especially burial records. The burial records in particular should be viewed as an extremely valuable asset.

COMPUTERISATION

  1.  The provision of computer systems will allow the generation of most of the cemetery documents to be completed in a timely and efficient manner. This will allow staff to focus on the more important aspect of the job, supporting the bereaved.

  2.  Internet access will allow cemetery records to be searched. Links to other sites (ie florists, memorial masons) can generate income and provide a wider range of services.

  3.  The generation of renewal letters and other correspondence will allow the cemetery to offer extra services and generate income.

  4.  Palm PCs will allow cemetery managers to capture information in their cemeteries, in particular, memorial risk assessment, without the need for paper or time consuming data input.

  5.  Mapping packages can provide the cemetery manager with a visual image of the cemeteries. Identifying grave space, unsafe memorials and many other items. Mapping in conjunction with cemetery systems can identify graves and produce location plans.

CONCLUSION

  Firstly I must apologise for the unstructured format of this letter. The object is to provide you with a few bullet points to consider. Generally I have a high regard for many of the people in the crematorium and cemetery service. The IBCA in particular is striving to ensure that the quality of staff remains high and provide a range of education that I expect is the envy of most countries in the world. I believe that the manpower is there but the will to change the service and allow it to grow and generate income is not.

M Caxton

Managing Director

December 2000


 
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