Memorandum by Carlisle City Council (CEM
Community cemeteries are used by the old, and
tend to be very low on the priorities of local Councils. This
is particularly true in areas where the cemeteries are so poor,
and renovation so expensive, that the sites are seen simply as
wasted space, and ignored. In Carlisle, this has never been the
case, and our cemeteries are attractive and more suited to a "memorial
Firstly, it is necessary to consider how to
present cemetery services to the bereaved, or customer. We prefer
to offer an integrated service, in which burial, cremation and
funeral advice is offered from a single source. This gives customers
a single point of contact. It also recognises that many customers
are unsure as to whether they want burial or cremation, and they
appreciate advice from one point of contact. Indeed, many of our
customers choose cremation, but then purchase a small cremated
remains grave in a community cemetery nearer their home. As an
integrated service, we can offer advice that facilitates this.
Some years ago, we recognised that our function was not just management,
but had to relate more to outputs. Consequently, we changed our
name to "Bereavement Services", and stated our purpose
as to "provide meaningful funerals to the community".
Cemetery services should be seen as integrated, and not isolated
from the wider bereavement picture.
Taking some of the issues individually, I would
comment as follows:
We support Local Agenda 21, and the church funded
"Living Churchyard" concept, and want to meet objectives
set out in the Cumbria Biodiversity Action Plan. Following the
introduction of woodland burial, we have gained many skills in
environmental understanding. This is because we wanted to compliment
the environmental benefits of the woodland graves, by extending
conservation into our cemeteries and churchyards. In this regard,
we now have five hectares of wildflower (hay) meadow in management,
from our total of 60 hectares. We have met environmental targets,
such as tawny owls using each site, pignut and orchids growing,
and the presence of meadow brown butterfly colonies. With these
"indicator" species present, all wildlife has benefited,
including birds, bats, insects, lichens and trees. We still await
the presence of barn owl, which would compliment many years of
planning for this one particular creature.
This environment includes 1,060 yews, many exotic
trees, attractive memorials (some listed), tree carvings, a self
guided walk, with free leaflet, and a Spring bulb walk. It creates
an ambience that compliments funerals, offering the birdsong,
peace and serenity that ideally suits the presence of funerals,
and the bereaved. We have located the conservation zones on old
graves, without upsetting grave owners or causing any dissent,
and we have reduced grounds maintenance costs. An Environmental
Management Plan is nearing completion, to ensure continuity into
Cemeteries are vastly more interesting places
than many urban parks, and their wildlife value possibly exceeds
that of many country parks. The problem is that to recognise this
fact requires interpretation, as well as the appointment and support
of skilled staff. This is rarely evident.
The cemetery design, planting, memorials and
inscriptions reflect the local community that uses them. This
is just as valid today, as it was in the past. The "greetings
card" modern memorial tells as interesting a story as that
erected to a civic worthy in the Victorian period. In Carlisle,
we have just created teachers notes in order to help schools use
these factors as part of citizenship in the "national"
curriculum. They study areas of graves for the Victorian rich
and paupers, and compare these with "green" woodland
graves and conventional lawn type graves.
Cemetery walk leaflets, and cemetery walks lead
by myself, interpret the change in health, mortality, religions,
use of language, symbolism, tree favourites over the ages and
lichens as air pollution monitors. These walks are popular and
also help us to consult with users and potential users. It creates
a working environment in which our service can best function in
the local community.
Our walks and talks also cover threats to the
environment as they relate to cemeteries and crematoria generally.
We talk openly of the fossil fuel use and the air pollution problems
of cremation and how better coffins (without chipboard and plastics)
and clothing can reduce pollution. We contrast these problems
with green burial, which may offer a viable alternative where
land is easily available. We also extend into the use of herbicides,
how they damage memorials and lead to water pollution, and into
protecting memorials generally. Rather than upsetting people,
this approach simply proves that we are aware of the problems
and are trying to address them. As an example of how effective
this is, in a recent question to our Citizens Panel, 98 per cent
of the respondents supported a wreath recycling proposal!
Some issues cannot be viewed as positively.
Memorials in our cemeteries, though not as poor as elsewhere,
are declining in condition. It is doubtful whether this Council,
or any other, will be able to arrest this decline. Some form of
heritage funding would obviously help.
Although cemeteries can play an important social
and environmental role, older features such as chapels are by
no means defunct. As secular funerals increase, and as small ethnic
or religious groups develop, the need for a meeting place in which
funerals can take place becomes more, rather than less, important.
Such chapels are also less expensive for the bereaved when compared
to fees of well over £100.00 if the service is in a C of
E church. In Carlisle, we have two chapels, both in good condition,
and in regular use. One will shortly be fitted with a new vestry,
and toilets, including for the disabled.
The general condition of Victorian and Edwardian
cemeteries is very poor. This is particularly true of buildings,
boundary walls and gates and the hidden infrastructure, such as
drainage systems. This is due, partly to reducing cemetery income,
and partly due to such cemeteries being reduced to "green
spaces". When placed in this latter category, and managed
directly by parks or grounds staff, the heritage value of the
site is rarely understood. Such sites are then seen as unimportant
and severely underfunded.
In recent years, I have viewed cemeteries with
derelict chapels, some with a complete absence of trees, others
entirely blighted through the application of herbicide. In all
of the sites, such management is also attended by poor memorial
safety, and clear signs that the staff lack the necessary skills
to manage effectively.
Grant aid of some form to help improve chapels
and other parts of the infrastructure would be beneficial. In
addition, some government initiative to raise the profile of cemeteries
DETR AND OTHER
The Government has ignored their responsibility
on this issue for decades. In particular, the burial of bodies
in private gardens has been occurring for some time and is clearly
causing public offence. In addition, most winters there are adverse
media reports about delays to funerals during the winter, especially
during flu epidemics. In addition, many authorities have raised
burial costs to extortionate levels, penalising those people who
have religious or other reasons to prefer burial. In many areas,
burial space is no longer available and choice for the bereaved
is therefore reduced. It is also worth noting that perhaps 30
private cemeteries (woodland burial grounds!) have opened in the
past few years. Some of these have already completed 400 or more
burials. These are completely unregulated, as private cemetery
legislation has been repealed, and they are not inspected. It
is only a matter of time before serious problems arise. Indeed,
at least two of these sites have already had a significant management
problem. Private sites do not have the long term stability and
transparency of local authority sites.
These private sites have copied the woodland
concept which I introduced at Carlisle in 1993.
The Government should appoint a Minister for
cemeteries and crematoria (or for the bereaved) and should issue
minimum national standards. A cemetery inspection process should
be organised and/or cemeteries should be forced to submit to assessment
schemes organised by the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration.
It also needs to be recognised that apart from
cemeteries and crematoria, representation for the bereaved generally
is very poor. Consumer protection is weak and because death is
not given prominence by the Government, it remains a taboo subject
for many. In addition, cemeteries need a long term strategic approach,
both on funding and management. Decisions on grave re-use, for
instance, cause controversy and will naturally be avoided by many
officers and elected members, particularly if they are just concerned
with the immediate future, or with re-election.
I would also point out that although we work
hard in local Government to both recognise environmental problems
and reduce their impact, we get little help from either government
or funeral directing. For instance, the construction and content
of coffins is impossible to monitor and the large funeral directing
concerns constantly bring in new models. The use of plastic fittings
and liners is expanding, as is unnecessary embalming. These are
all aspects which almost certainly will cause us grave re-use
problems in the future. Not only does funeral directing show little
concern for helping us, they also cloud the issues to the bereaved,
often obstruct "green" funerals, and have little or
no transparency as regards their impact on the environment. Although
they are the polluters, it seems we have to pay through pollution
arrestment costs! Few of us, as mere Council employees, would
dare to challenge these issues with the private sector.
In 1983, I worked hard to get local hospitals
to meet minimum standards for stillbirth burial ie individual
burial, and a service for each child. Subsequently, they agreed
to inter all foetal deaths (16-24 weeks) with us. All attempts
to get them to pass all foetal remains to us have failed miserably,
even though we will keep charges very low. They continue to go
to a waste incinerator, in Cheshire I believe. We know that many
mothers return to hospitals to ask what happened to these remains,
which they ignored at the time of the loss or abortion, and they
are upset at being told the truth. Had there been a national standard
utilising services such as our own, the mothers would have had
a place to visit, and could have used the memorial services we
offer. This is a further example of archaic practice, which government
could easily stop. It is still a matter of concern that foetal
remains, prior to 16 weeks, and where the mother decides against
a funeral, are still sent to clinical waste. They should be cremated
at local crematoria. In a similar vein, pauper funerals continue
to take place, without any national standard. Some years ago,
a government spokesman said that funerals should occur in a similar
manner to conventional funerals. In reality, this does not occur,
and "paupers" receive a lesser service. Similarly, funerals
completed by local authorities (bodies found exposed, or with
no kin) do not meet any specified standards, even though the deceased
may have left sufficient finds for a conventional funeral. Until
a Government minister takes responsibility for such issues, I
cannot see how matters will improve.
The problem for cemeteries is twofold, firstly
with historical maintenance costs and secondly, on the provision
of new land.
With regard to historical maintenance costs,
most private cemeteries closed down due to this increasing burden.
It is essential that cemeteries are given legislation to enable
them to be sustainable. If this occurred, and private cemeteries
were viable, it might at least introduce wider provision, and
some competitive element. To achieve this requires a limitation
to grave rights, say a maximum 50 years, and the legislation to
allow grave re-use after, say, 100 years. This would allow grave
right sales for an initial period, followed by periodic payments
for continuing maintenance. Then, when most graves are abandoned
by families, at 100 years, lift and deepen could occur, and the
grave be reused. This is similar to techniques used in Europe,
and replicates the churchyard regime that existed in the UK for
perhaps a thousand years. This will keep the cemetery to a sustainable
size, and control maintenance costs.
Many cemetery authorities also maintain churchyards
closed by Order in Council. In Carlisle, we have 10 such churchyards.
If these churchyards could be reused, perhaps funded by the local
authority and not the church, it would offer new, neighbourhood
locations for further burial.
The use of new land for cemeteries ought to
satisfy environmental and sustainability conditions. Firstly,
the authority should confirm that grave reuse has been introduced
(assuming legislation is passed), and secondly that woodland burial,
or some other form of low cost maintenance grave, has been introduced.
These issues will meet the needs of Local Agenda 21. Only then
should new land be given planning approval. This land will need
to be on the outskirts of urban development, as it is not available
elsewhere. The development of the new cemetery should also meet
more stringent environmental conditions, particularly on tree
cover, water pollution and the use of herbicides and integrated
The absence of an obligatory standard for cemeteries
and crematoria is a national disgrace. As an authority, we have
adopted the IBCA Charter for the Bereaved, which I wrote in 1997.
The Charter rights are the minimum service, and we now provide
many of the targets identified in the document. This includes
six grave options, including woodland burial, the provision of
bio-degradable coffins and a "re-usable" coffin, environmental
cremation and a Funeral Advisory Service. This latter service
includes 21 leaflets, giving every detail necessary to allow people
to complete a funeral, both with and without a funeral director.
Our service proves that the bereaved desire
greater choice over funerals, but they often fail to obtain what
they want elsewhere in the UK. In Carlisle, we are contacted regularly
by people from elsewhere in the UK needing cardboard coffins,
seeking woodland burial, and less formal funerals. In this regard,
most commercial funeral directing seeks to market more expensive
coffins, and market funerals along the American model. Cemeteries
should, at the very least, offer services that allow people to
break the commercial monopoly, if they so desire. Woodland burial,
for instance, meets this need.
Woodland burial utilises a tree to mark the
grave, and because it is less formal (often top hats and black
dress are opposed by the bereaved), it costs much less. For instance,
many people use the funeral directors estate car rather than the
hearse. This informality also validates the use of an inexpensive
bio-degradable coffin, which might otherwise seem cheap when used
on a conventional burial. We do offer a memorial, in the form
of a bronze plaque placed in the "sheepfold" within
the woodland site. Woodland burial is chosen for many reasons.
These include the fact that it removes the need to visit and care
for the grave and because of the forest appearance, makes graves
uniform and removes status and other social influences. Many single
people, who would have nobody to care for their grave, choose
it for these reasons.
It is worth noting that in Carlisle, after we
introduced "green" woodland burial, we approached the
local National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) to see
if they would meet requests for cardboard coffins from users.
They refused, and we ultimately purchased such coffins and supplied
them to the public. We now offer at least six budget priced coffins
and we sell about 60 each year, many of them to funeral directors.
In the meantime, woodland grave sales have increased to 33 per
cent of all new graves and this figure continues to rise. The
psychological approach of users, and the marketing of woodland
burial is something we understand and of which most funeral directors
are entirely ignorant. Indeed, some funeral directors in this
area still refuse to use cardboard coffins and make it difficult
for the bereaved to have informal funerals.
The long term impact of these "green"
services is the revitalisation of cemeteries, and the potential
for profitable operation. Our current deficit arises because we
have sold, and continue to sell, lawn graves too cheaply for the
period involved. This is because the costs need to be calculated
over the 50 year term during which we guarantee a specific maintenance
standard. The loss is estimated at £783.00 per grave over
the period 1999-2049. This loss is further highlighted by the
fact that where people choose woodland burial, which carries a
much less onerous maintenance liability, the Council makes an
estimated profit of approximately £100.00 per grave over
the same period. Some of this income arises through coffin sales,
and the sale of bronze plaques in the sheepfold. This income is
fundamental in ensuring that the cemetery is maintained as a viable
business in the future.
It is also essential that income is reserved
to meet future grave maintenance, and to replace the land used
for burial. This meets the current Audit Commission risk-based
approach to good management.
We have recently had a report approved by our
controlling committee in order to create a sustainable cemetery
service. This new policy, approved only in draft form will focus
on five objectives:
1. Increasing fees in real terms.
2. Applying real cost fees for intensively
maintained lawn graves.
3. Increasing income in real terms ie woodland
burial and memorial sales.
4. Increasing cremation supplements to cover
5. Reducing maintenance standards on old
graves via conservation.
This policy, with grave reuse added in time,
will enable us to maintain a burial service without raising fees
beyond the reach of the poor.
It is also essential that local authorities
be given stronger trading powers. We ought to be able to provide
coffins and memorials without the threat of being taken to judicial
review by the private sector. I am also aware that many people
would prefer that we offered a no-frills direct funeral service.
This would entail the local authority contracting a local funeral
director to collect bodies, and simply move them directly to refrigeration
at our crematorium or cemetery. We would then arrange the documentation,
and service, and charge these costs directly to the bereaved.
Such funerals already take place, informally, and work extremely
well. They are low cost, because they exclude the hearse and cortege,
body viewing and embalming. They also allow the cemetery or crematorium
to take a greater share of the funeral income, and ensure their
survival. A number of people would utilise this type of service,
given the opportunity. It also expands options, without restricting
the right of people to continue with conventional funeral arrangements,
if they so prefer.
Much of the detail already given relates to
the economic viability of cemeteries, and I will not add to this.
National Lottery funding would be extremely useful, as no other
form of funding seems available. Any form of funding that might
help Victorian and Edwardian cemeteries, and the buildings and
memorials contained within, would be extremely valuable. It is
worth noting that such cemeteries and structures are falling apart
throughout the country. In Venice, and perhaps elsewhere in Europe,
cemetery authorities are able to re-sell old and valuable memorials,
so that they and the graves they lie upon, can be renovated and
reused. I regret that we seem to prefer deterioration and the
complete loss of such valuable features.
I was interested to note that in the current
government initiative for "cultural strategies", death,
cemeteries and crematoria was missing. It appears that cemeteries
must continue to receive lesser treatment than parks, libraries,
museums and the like.
To conclude, it is important to consider funeral
costs, and the impact cemeteries and crematoria can make on these.
Some people now freely choose to reuse Victorian "paupers"
graves, which we call "recycled", in the old parts of
our cemeteries. Sometimes these are single people, with no family,
or just environmentally conscious individuals. They can save up
to £900.00 on conventional burial costs (£2,000.00 including
a memorial). The other choices, such as woodland burial, and environmental
cremation, or independent options, are saving people sums of between
£250.00 and £1,000.00 on their funeral costs. Overall,
at least a quarter of a million pounds has been left in the community,
and not spent on funerals. This is because we have been innovative,
and we have given people the right to choose. If cemeteries are
to advance, they must throw off the fustiness of the past, and
offer services which people want. They must also challenge thinking
and allow people in the community to develop psychological views
on death that meet the "green" and sustainable approach,
which challenge current commercial funeral directing. At the very
least, this approach is conducive to "Best Value" and
the benefits the Government is seeking.
Bereavement Services Manager