Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Sawtry Parish Council (CEM 32)

  Sawtry is a small Burial Authority formed when the local churchyard of All Saints Church became full. The Church no longer wished to be responsible for future burials (although a piece of land adjoining the churchyard had been donated in earlier years). The land was passed over to the Parish Council and brought into use in 1985. This cemetery is rapidly filling and the search for further land has been going on for at least three years with little success (until very recently). Being on the edge of the Fens and the clay belt, drainage in the cemetery is difficult. Parishioners do not understand why some sections which flood in winter (and recently in summer) cannot be drained.

  Sawtry also has the "closed" graveyard of St Andrew's (this Church no longer exists). This area is maintained by a volunteer conservation society because, when the graveyard was pronounced "closed", the Church no longer maintained it and the community was left with its maintenance. Even if the District Council maintain the area, the cost is usually passed back to the parish. The land for the new cemetery is situated next to this old graveyard.

  Most parishioners believe the cemetery to be the churchyard and don't understand the difference. Unless you live in a large metropolitan area, there is usually some confusion about who owns and runs the cemetery (especially when it is situated next to the churchyard!).

  Burials and cemeteries are very emotive issues. Some sections of the community will visit the grave of a loved one almost every day, others believe this to be morbid. Recently a tree and fence blew down in the current cemetery, this was reported to me by no less than six parishioners in one morning who had visited the graves of relatives to check that all was well after the storms. Other damage in the parish remained unreported.

  Concepts of what cemeteries should look like are also diverse. Maintenance of a cemetery for a small parish can be expensive. On the one hand we are told that burial fees must cover expenditure, on the other hand if the fees are too high, the parishioners who are already paying for the cemetery via Council Taxes, cannot afford them.

  Whilst obviously having to comply with the relevant rules and regulation laid down, cemeteries in smaller areas need the personal touch (although in my experience not all councillors agree). Clerks and members of staff dealing with burials and the personal side of cemeteries need training which, until very recently, was difficult to obtain. Small parishes are unwilling to fund membership fees of, for instance, the Confederation of Burial Authorities, and the expenses associated with attending training courses. My first training course was this year and I have been Clerk for over 12 years.

  Obtaining land for new cemeteries is difficult. It should be close at hand for local people to visit, but not everyone wants one at the bottom of their garden. Land owners would rather sell land for housing development as they can obviously demand a better price.

  There is little information available on the funding of new cemeteries and for the smaller town or parish the economic viability is difficult to assess. This parish estimates that the initial set up costs of the new cemetery including the cost of the land will be £70,000 at least (to be financed by a loan) and future income will probably for the time being not exceed £2,000 per year. The land will continue to need regular maintenance even though it will not be in full use as a cemetery and the old cemetery will still need to be kept looking neat and tidy.

  The idea of a beautifully landscaped cemetery which is an oasis of peace and calm, pleasant for the bereaved and others to visit is a nice idea, but, for the small community the costs are too high. Some would say resources spent in this way would be better spent on the living. Should the land be consecrated or not, should "public" graves be provided and areas for ethnic minorities set aside? What does the future hold in a small community which has already more than quintupled its size? Whatever a Council decides today future Councils will disagree with.

Hazel Cooper

Sawtry Parish Clerk

December 2000

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