Examination of witness (Questions 75-102)
TUESDAY 9 JANUARY 2001
75. Can I welcome you to the second session
this morning. Could I ask you to introduce yourself to the Committee.
(Ms Horton) My name is Jane Horton. I am the Secretary
of the charity which is called the Friends of the General Cemetery
which looks after a historic cemetery in Sheffield.
76. Do you want to say anything more by way
of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?
We have got your evidence.
(Ms Horton) I would like to contextualise it a little
bit more, if that is okay?
(Ms Horton) The context of our cemetery is quite different
from the previous two speakers. Fundamentally it is a disused
cemetery, and that is an important starting point, and therefore
it has particular issues that are to some extent exacerbated by
the fact that we do not have any kind of income from burial. Secondly,
the management of that cemetery differs as a result of that. It
is a historic cemetery which gives it other issues as well because
it has got a lot of listed memorials in it and a lot of historic
monuments in it.
Chairman: Thank you very much.
78. What difference would you say the formation
of your group has made?
(Ms Horton) It has been fundamental to the cemetery.
The cemetery fell into disrepair and serious trouble after the
Second World War. It actually had a couple of direct hits in the
Second World War. They were running out of burial space in the
1950s. The cemetery company, and it was a commercial company that
owned the cemetery, abandoned the site in the 1950s and it became
an eyesore. It is very close to the city centre in Sheffield and
it became an eyesore and was effectively abandoned. Following
the take-up by the City Council, because they procured it from
the company, the management of it was not there. We formed the
Friends of the Cemetery in 1989 which was really a response to
local community feeling about the terrible neglect of the site.
We have been around since 1989 and since then we have basically
whipped up a huge amount of local community support for the cemetery
and we have a very, very active membership. We are now taking
shared management responsibility for the site. If it was not for
the work we are doing the site would still be in the same state
that it was in in the 1960s and 1970s.
79. Would you say you get support from Sheffield
(Ms Horton) The support has been very slow in coming
but it is there now. When we first started our group I personally
went to the City Council and asked "what are you doing about
this site?" and the suggestion came back "why do you
not form a Friends group?", which was a great constructive
start, however following from that we got very little support
from the Council. Basically there was a feeling of defensiveness
about the site and any suggestions we made about improvements
to the site were met with "we cannot do anything, we have
not got the funds". Embarrassment and defensiveness is how
I would describe it. We continued to campaign and to do work informally
with no management agreement on the site. We have been on that
site and doing work for the last ten years or more. Eventually
we realised that we were getting more support, or sympathy if
you like, from Bereavement Services within the City Council than
Leisure Services. The site was controlled by Property Services,
managed by Leisure Services, who obviously mow all the parks in
Sheffield, and all they were doing effectively was mowing, so
when there was an unstable monument they would be more inclined
to flatten it than to do anything else with it. Bereavement Services'
attitude was different. We were getting good, useful advice from
the manager of Bereavement Services and we asked for the control
of the site to be shipped across from Leisure Services to Bereavement
Services, and that happened two years ago. That has really helped
our cause. The other thing that helped our cause was the advent
of a new Chief Executive at Sheffield City Council who has been
effectively very sympathetic towards our group and our work.
80. Basically if they flatten gravestones, what
happens when you say there is a more sympathetic approach, does
that mean someone has to go and reset the gravestone so it is
(Ms Horton) Yes, it does. We have many interesting
monuments in the cemetery but there was one in particular that
was very frequently visited by people because it was of historic
interest. It was a Chartist martyr who died on the treadmill at
York Prison. It was a very frequently visited grave and is surrounded
by the graves of his comrades. All the graves in that area were
leaning over very sharply and we were very concerned that members
of the public were walking through to get to this grave when all
of them were leaning over. So we spoke to the manager of Bereavement
Services and agreed with him which set of six monuments needed
to be put right and they have the staff who have the skills who
know how to put monuments straight again. It was not an expensive
operation in this case, they did not need to bring in heavy duty
gear to do that, but simply reinforced them, pulled them back
upright and pushed material in to stabilise the monuments at the
base. There has been a lot of very positive feedback from that
small piece of work.
81. Why would you say Sheffield Council gives
this less priority than other parks?
(Ms Horton) Sheffield Council has more green space
as a city than any other city in the country, I believe. It has
got lots and lots of parks and, therefore, there is competition
for funding for parks for a start. I think a cemetery is a lot
less glamorous than a park as a place to have a development project.
For example, the Botanical Gardens in Sheffield, also a historic
park, and only a few minutes walk from the General Cemetery in
Sheffield, has just received considerable sums of Heritage Lottery
funding for its restoration. People use that for recreation much
more than the cemetery, it has to be said, it is in a pretty wealthy
part of Sheffield, while the cemetery sits in what is an extremely
deprived part of Sheffield I should say. Not in contradiction
to what Dr Hussein said but as a supplement to it, I do think
there is still a slightly embarrassed view about death. If I say
"this is what I do", for example, people do tend to
look at you in astonishment, "are you morbid? Have you got
a morbid interest in death?" There is still sometimes a slightly
jokey response to the work that you do, but I also think that
it is regarded as a problem, it is a problem zone, so let us keep
off it, let us stick with the parks which are easier to manage
and easier to come up with ideas about putting cafes in them and
it is less troublesome because if you start putting cafes in an
open area of a cemetery you are going to have relatives on your
back. I think the attitude has been "let us leave it alone".
82. Have any proposals been suggested for developing
the site as a heritage site?
(Ms Horton) Yes. The context is that in 1978, as did
happen in other parts of the country, the cemetery was closed
by Act of Parliament. It was closed for burial, which meant no
further commercial use could be made of it from those quarters,
and the council proceeded to demolish half the cemetery, they
bulldozed half the cemetery. So half of the historic fabric of
the cemetery has now gone. Thank goodness the area that was kept
was the more historic area, if you like, the original cemetery
which was opened in 1836. That means we have got half of the cemetery
which is effectively a green space and it is a park that is used
by footballers and dog walkers principally, and joggers. The other
half is a historic site which is used by people for walking around,
historic interests and so on. As far as putting forward plans
for its restoration, we as a group are the people leading that
and what we are doing is submitting a bid to Heritage Lottery
Fund this week for the restoration of the gatehouse which will
have a warden in one side of it, which we will get funding for,
and on the other side an office for the Friends which will mean
there will be a security presence on the site, there will be a
focus for our group which will mean there will be a focus for
our educational activities, our volunteer workers and all the
activities that happen on the site. That is the first stage of
the project. We plan to move on to other buildings on the site
if and when that is successful and hopefully develop those buildings
too. An adjunct to that is that we hope to open a memorial garden
to get some revenue back into the site. That will not be for burying
ashes because we have had lengthy debates with lawyers about whether
or not we are able to bury ashes on the site and it has been decided
by Sheffield City Council that we may not bury ashes on the site
because it was closed by Act of Parliament for burial. Consequently,
we can scatter and we can put memorial plaques up but that gives
us particular issues because it is a historic site and we do not
want to put plaques on the site, so we are putting them in a building.
That will give us some kind of revenue stream. We will also be
hoping to get revenue streams through taking, for example, the
mowing contract from the council to bring us in revenue for the
site as a group.
83. Who are the other partners and supporters
in your proposal?
(Ms Horton) It is the Friends of the General Cemetery's
proposal, but with support from Sheffield City Council.
84. Where else in Sheffield is there the same
sort of co-operation? Are there any other groups similar to yours?
(Ms Horton) Yes. I do not know what it is like in
other parts of the country but there are lots of Friends of Parks
groups: there is a Friends of the Botanical Gardens, there is
Friends of Meersbrook Park, for example.
85. Friends of other cemeteries?
(Ms Horton) Yes. There is a National Federation of
Cemetery Friends which has, I am not sure how many members but
there is a lady behind me who would know. Twenty-five members.
The Friends groups are very varied in terms of their success,
if you like, and in terms of their activities. Some of them have
been highly successful, like, for example, Abney Park Cemetery
in London, Stoke Newington, they have an extremely successful
project going, as do Nunhead Cemetery, York Cemetery Trust, for
example, they are very successful groups, some of them with no
support from City Councils, others with limited support.
86. Within Sheffield itself are there any other
groups similar to yours that are looking after cemeteries? Is
Sheffield trying to adopt this as a way forward?
(Ms Horton) I think the Bereavement Services' manager
would very much like that to happen, but the trouble is as far
as I know there is only one other Friends of group for a cemetery
in Sheffield and that is much smaller. We have the advantage that
we have got the most historically interesting cemetery in our
hands and that was why our group was formed in the first place.
I do not think there are any Friends of groups for any of the
other cemeteries, but that would be useful.
87. What do you think the Friends of Cemeteries
themselves could realistically achieve if they were to be set
up? What lessons would you have to tell others who are thinking
of doing the same thing?
(Ms Horton) I think that because for the most part
they are run by volunteers it really does have to depend on the
particular interests, energies and enthusiasms of volunteers.
I am a volunteer. I actually have a full-time job but I am so
enthusiastic about history, heritage and this site and its place
in the urban community that I put in a lot of time on this project.
I believe that groups will take different focuses. Some people
will focus on education work with schools, that is one of our
focuses because we are mostly educationalists who are involved
in the project. Other groups may be more interested in the conservation
work, creating habitats for wildlife and so on and so forth. We
are lucky as a group that we have been able to get funding for
a full-time paid worker which has meant that we have been able
to lever the support and aid of volunteers, long-term unemployed
people from the local area, and we are also fortunate that we
are in an Objective 1 zone because of the level of deprivation.
So we can act as a channel for funding that the City Council would
find it more difficult to get their hands on.
88. What about the council itself, what more
can it do to assist you?
(Ms Horton) What, in the cemetery?
89. Yes. In terms of trying to promote this,
what could they do?
(Ms Horton) I think one thing they could do is provide
better channels of communication and access to appropriate skilled
and experienced staff within the council. It was extremely difficult
for us in the early days even to get somebody to talk to us on
the phone, let alone a site visit. We have very ready communication
channels now with Bereavement Services but I believe that should
be strengthened and that is something that as a matter of course
should be given to Friends groups across the country. Secondly,
Friends groups should have, I am not saying major funding but
I think they should be funded by City Councils. We get a grant
of £500 a year from Sheffield Council and we do by far the
most significant work on site. We have to get our funding from
elsewhere. We have grants from the Northern Rock Foundation, Lloyds
TSB and Heritage Lottery.
90. Can I ask you about urban regeneration because
you said where the cemetery is is in a depressed area of Sheffield.
(Ms Horton) Yes.
91. From your experience what role can this
cemetery and other cemeteries play in urban regeneration?
(Ms Horton) Many cemeteries are in deprived areas
of cities and ours certainly is. What we do, and I believe we
could be doing a lot more of, is acting as a channel, as I have
said, for funding but also for the promotion of skills development
and training for long-term unemployed people and for disabled
people. We have an office where we have many volunteers coming
along. We carry out work with people on their reparation orders,
for example, with probation officers. There are lots and lots
of different types of activities and work and skills development
that can take place. It is not just on the site, it is off the
site too. We are developing a database of burial records, for
example, that is IT skills development. There is a lot of work
that can be done in terms of creating training and employment
opportunities for local people.
92. The existence of the cemetery in this area,
which is an area available for development which was obviously
spotted historically by Boden Developments in the 1960s who bought
the site and then failed to develop it, what weight should be
attached to the fact that here is a large area of land in the
middle of a depressed area that could be a major source for urban
regeneration in a wholly different direction?
(Ms Horton) I think it would be completely unacceptable
to do anything with that cemetery other than to use it for the
community of Sheffield for recreational or visiting purposes.
In the area that was cleared nearly all of the bodies are still
there, they only removed a few bodies when they did that and that
was on the request of families. The bodies are still there even
though the gravestones are not. There are many, many people who
come on our tours on a monthly basis saying "can you help
me find my grandma's grave?", the gravestone has gone and
they are distressed. If they felt that there was going to be building
on that area there would be upheaval locally.
93. Right. So, the contribution to urban regeneration
is a marginal one of people taking a role, skills training and
all the rest of it?
(Ms Horton) I would say it is, yes.
94. Can I go on to the funding of the site.
You mentioned some of the areas where you get funding from into
your group. How easy do you find it to access money from the Heritage
(Ms Horton) Tortuous is the word that springs to mind.
We have succeeded in getting a three year project funding from
Heritage Lottery for revenue, that is for our education work.
That is £87,000 over three years. We have to put in matched
funding in terms of volunteer time, which we are doing. Of course,
we are absolutely delighted to have that funding but the process
to get it was very time consuming and given, again, that we are
a voluntary organisation the amount of time we had to spend, as
it were, responding to their queries and the amount of information
you have to present to them is enormous. It is a very, very lengthy
process too. Our current bid is for capital. It has taken us three
years to prepare the documentation, using architects, surveyors,
landscape architects and engineers, all of whom have been working
for us at risk in order to build this bid, so if we do not get
that funding we are going to have a lot of very unhappy people
on our hands.
95. What if you do not get that funding and
you have all these unhappy people on your hands? What realistic
alternatives are there for grant-aid?
(Ms Horton) I believe that it is a very serious issue,
and I really do not know what the answer is. I think that if we
do not get the grant-aid for the restoration of Grade II* listed
buildings, that will be extremely poor in any case, but on top
of that, and besides that, there are all the monuments on the
site, some of which are in a bad state in terms of their health
and safety and some of which are actually fenced off by the council's
health and safety officers to stop people accessing. It does not
stop people accessing; they break through because they want to
see their family graves. I do not know how we can maintain those
graves for the future, except that I believe the friends group
has a role to play, and that is that we can train people, in collaboration
with bereavement services, to do that work, for example, under
the New Deal programme.
96. You have been told, though, that you cannot
earn any income by reinterring ashes, for example, or, in effect,
reusing the cemetery for some historic purpose which obviously
would be a way of generating income. How, in the long term, do
you see the cemetery being funded?
(Ms Horton) I do not know how the cemetery can be
funded significantly in the long term. I believe that in the long
term it will have a dribble of income coming through our group,
because we can generate an income through doing our education
work, for example, through tours, through publications, through
talks, through getting funding through taking on unemployed people
and from training and development. Through doing a memorial garden
we will get some small-scale funding from that as well, but it
is small scale. Gradually we will work our way round restoring
key monuments, but we are never going to get round the whole site.
There are 87,000 people buried there.
97. In a sense, you represent a lot of friends
groups, although individually. You have an advantage, do you not,
over a lot of others, in that there are no burials taking place?
(Ms Horton) I do not think that is an advantage.
98. Right. How easy is it to manage that sort
of historical, educational side with people actually being there
very upset, following funerals, that sort of thing? Is there not
a clash of interests between wanting to have a cemetery as a quiet
place possibly and somewhere where you do not want schoolchildren
coming round, perhaps asking awkward or silly questions?
(Ms Horton) I see where you are coming from. I believe
there is an issue here, definitely. I believe fundamentally that
it is a great advantage if there are still burials taking place,
because that means there is a reasonable income still coming in.
I do not like to speak for York Cemetery Trust when I do not think
they are here, but they have a few burials taking place, and the
sort of people who come to get buried in York Cemetery I believe
are more into the ecological approach to burial, and it is more
in harmony with the approach of the friends group, I believe,
in that it fits in with the education programme, the fact that
there are wildlife areas, butterfly gardens and so on and so forth.
So I think that there are ways round it. There is a balance. As
we see it, we have to toe a very careful line with our tours and
talks. We are very much against doing, for example, halloween
spectaculars and those sorts of things which people would quite
like us to do, because you get Goths who are interested in the
cemetery and so forth. We do try to be respectful to people who
have family who are still buried there.
99. So you see that there is possibly a clash
of interests between those things, but you think it can be managed?
(Ms Horton) It can be managed. It is a sensitive area,
100. Could I ask about the scattering? Sheffield
City Council has allowed scattering, has it not?
(Ms Horton) That is right, yes.
101. Did it prescribe where this might take
place and where it might not take place, and how often?
(Ms Horton) No, we have not got to that level of detail
yet. We know the area in which we wish to scatter.
102. It has not happened yet?
(Ms Horton) No. If we get our funding from Heritage
Lottery, that will be taking place then. We have got a zone that
we are going to use.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very
much for your evidence. Thank you very much indeed.