I am the recently resigned chair of Whalley Wiswell & Barrow Cemetery, off Clitheroe Road going into Barrow.
It is not the Parish Church cemetery, nor is it the old cemetery on Mitton Road. As with many details regarding recent events there seems to be some confusion about this. This cemetery is managed by a committee made up of nine parish councillors, selected from the three parish councils of Whalley, Wiswell and Barrow.
The committee in turn employs one part-time Registrar who deals with the day-to-day administration. Parish councillors are non-political and unpaid volunteers, giving their time and energy for no other reason than a desire to help their community. The cemetery committee makes decisions by way of a vote, no one councillor is responsible for a decision, and neither is the registrar, who attends to take the minutes.
Why am I telling people this? Because a certain family, who will remain nameless, took it upon themselves to start a campaign against myself and the registrar.
To move on, I would like to explain to the people, who were legitimately upset, exactly what happened. By law cemeteries have to check their memorials for safety every five years. The cemetery management is responsible for the safety of visitors and workmen when on cemetery property. The five-year safety check was carried out in May, after it was publicised on the notice board for six weeks as required. It was carried out by a qualified memorial mason, Brent Stevenson.
The report was received on 28th June and was not satisfactory as a five-year safety check. It stated we had 175 memorials which needed work to make them safe. It further stated that a “handful were of sufficient mass and required little force to push over to be a risk to the public”. Mr Stevenson could not identify the “handful”, stating there were no specific ones and any dangerous ones would be dealt with when we gave him the repair work.
At an emergency meeting of the committee, it was agreed we had a written statement from a qualified mason stating that we had memorials which could be a risk to the public and we had to act as a matter of urgency, or the committee could be held personally responsible for any accident.
I wonder how many people would like to think they could face fines, or worse imprisonment, for simply trying to give something back to their community.
The cemetery is not responsible for the maintenance of the memorials, it is the responsibility of the memorial owner. Sadly over time this does not happen, the owner may also die and relatives not realise the responsibilty has passed to them, the owner may move away and lose contact with the memorial.
Any money made from the sale of grave plots and granting of rights is for the upkeep of the cemetery grounds, not privately owned memorials.
As I explained in my response to the aggrieved family, it would cost the cemetery approximately £150 per memorial to put them back to a satisfactory standard, that sort of expenditure on privately owned property just couldn’t be justified.
Unfortunately this was repeated inacurately as the committee were demanding £150 from each person with yellow tape on their memorial, which upset people dreadfully.
After taking advice from various experts, our options were to cordon off areas of the cemetery, refuse entry to the cemetery or identify the dangerous memorials.
As we did not know which were the dangerous ones that meant all 175. With all this in mind the committee took the decision to put yellow tape around the memorials – not only would this warn the public, but it would also raise awareness with the owners we didn’t have contact details for.
Due to the urgency of the matter this had to be done before owners could be contacted, as it would take too long to track down current addresses, masons involved where relevant, and personalise letters.
As many people will be aware this was like lighting the blue touchpaper, and the committee and registrar had all their spare time taken up just trying to keep the cemetery safe and no time to contact memorial owners.
As a Parish Councillor I couldn’t say what I wanted to say all the time. Now I have resigned I can and people need to know the truth. I am told there is a movement to get rid of the committee and the registrar, that people want it run by “Friends of the Cemetery”.
Whilst I think a friends group, who liase with the committee, might be a good idea, the idea that they could run the cemetery is a complete non-starter. Who would have the registrar’s office in their home, deal with grief struck people, organise burials, forward plan, liase with contractors? Who would be prepared to front the group and deal with problems? Who would be willing to be the target when things don’t go to plan?
No one wants my job now I have resigned and I was backed by councillors, what person would want to take that role on with no backing at all?
How can anyone truly believe that the committee suddenly took it into their heads to upset people for no good reason, start wrecking the cemetery and demanding money?
The burial committee needs your support, not your condemnation. It does a fantastic job looking after the cemetery, the cemetery is beautiful because of the committee not despite them. You lose them at your peril.
Ex chair Whalley, Wiswell & Barrow Burial Committee
Ex Whalley Parish Councillor