Memorandum by Sawtry Parish Council (CEM
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was pronounced "closed", the Church no longer maintained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
Sawtry Parish Clerk