Memorandum by Corfe Castle Parish Council
Memorandum regarding the role and management
of small rural community cemeteries
1. Corfe Castle, in Dorset, is a village
of some 1,500 population. As is the case with many rural communities,
the churchyard having reached capacity many years ago, a cemetery
was established, which is now also closed. The land for the current
cemetery, "God's Acre", was donated by Henry Bankes
in 1924 and vested in trustees, "under the authority of the
Places of Worship Sites Act 1873. . . .freely and voluntarily
and without any valuable consideration". The board of trustees
was set up following consultation with a parish meeting at that
time and consists of the Rector of the parish church, two appointed
by the Parochial Church Council, two appointed from the Non-Conformists
in the parish and two appointed by the Parish Council. The trustees
continue to manage the cemetery to this day. All those involved
in the running of the cemetery, that is the Trustees and the Clerk
to the Trustees, live within the village.
2. The current cemetery, which covers an
acre and a third, is nearing capacity and will be seen to have
lasted some 80 years. As a burial authority under the Local Government
Act 1972, the Parish Council has purchased the adjoining field
to the current cemetery, from the National Trust (who were bequeathed
the Bankes Estate in 1981) for a nominal sum. The Parish Council
has agreed with the God's Acre Trustees that they continue to
manage the extended cemetery on a day-to-day basis, and this arrangement
has been set out in a "Memorandum of Understanding".
The financing of the work (eg roads, walls) required for the extension
has been raised through a combination of the Parish Council precept,
surplus on the operating costs of the cemetery and local bequests.
3. An average year will see approximately
seven burials and six interment of ashes.
4. In terms of economic viability, the cemetery
is entirely self financing. Expenditure is minimal and is entirely
covered by fees and other income.
5. While the management arrangements for
our cemetery are therefore a little unusual (in most similar situations
the Parish Council runs the cemetery itself), the essential feature
remains that the community itself plans and runs its own cemetery.
The Clerk to the Trustees is a voluntary position and is paid
a small annual honorarium only: it is not viewed as "just
a job". The current Clerk lives adjacent to the cemetery
and is very dedicated to the role. She will obviously know, or
know of, all who come for burial. She takes great pride in the
appearance of the cemetery, a pride which is shared by villagers.
We are not without the usual vandalism or neglect of properties
within the village, but it certainly could not be said that the
cemetery suffers from these problems. (Neither is the closed cemetery
unduly neglected; it is maintained to an adequate standard by
the District Council, who took over the responsibility for same
under Section 215 of the Local Government Act 1972.)
6. The village hall, the church, the pub,
the school, and so on, act as foci for the rural community; each
in their own way help define and bind the community. The cemetery
also acts in this manner. Whilst all cemeteries will clearly hold
a special significance for those with loved ones buried in them,
our cemetery also has a cultural significance for the local community
as a whole. It records generations of local families and provides
the direct link between those living in the village today and
those of past times. Additionally, local people who have been
forced to move away because of lack of affordable housing still
have a tangible link, through past generations buried in the cemetery,
with the local community.
7. Rural communities have long experience
of managing their own burial needs and the current arrangements
work extremely well. Perhaps we have been fortunate in not having
experienced any significant problems or constraints, but there
is little one can envisage that needs to change. This might not
be found by the Committee to be the case elsewhere, for example
in larger urban areas where the scale and nature of cemetery provision
is somewhat different. We are concerned that any recommendations
aimed at addressing problems in these latter areas should not
adversely impact on the already successful operation of small
rural "community run" cemeteries.