Headstone safety a priority for council

Last Updated: 10 September 2021

10 September 2021

Council staff will be carrying out headstone safety checks at Kendal’s Parkside Road Cemetery from next week as part of their rolling five-year programme of inspections.

This important work forms part of South Lakeland District Council’s (SLDC) legal duty of care to ensure its cemeteries are safe places for visitors, staff and anyone working in them.

Cabinet members recently approved an updated policy which sets out the council’s responsibilities in ensuring the safety of visitors at the eight cemeteries, 15 closed churchyards and one closed burial ground that it manages across South Lakeland.

Professionally trained council staff will be starting their checks at Parkside Road Cemetery in Kendal on Wednesday 15 September. As inspections continue across South Lakeland, notices will be placed at the entrance to each location to let visitors know about the works.

SLDC’s Bereavement Specialist Josh McLeod said: “We would like to reassure families that these safety inspections will be carried out with the greatest respect and sensitivity.

“Each memorial will be visually inspected and if there are any signs of damage or instability a gentle “hand test” will be performed on the headstone to check for movement.

“If a memorial poses an immediate risk we will make it safe. Where remedial work is required by a stonemason, we will write to the registered owner of the grave and a notice will also be placed by the headstone.”

South Lakeland has an estimated 13,000 headstones and memorials at 24 locations – from the largest at Parkside Road in Kendal, to the tiny, garden-sized Scotch Burial Ground tucked away off Beast Banks in Kendal, dating back to 1760.

At the recent SLDC Cabinet meeting to approve the updated Policy for the Management and Safety of Memorials, members heard that in the past 25 years across the UK there have been several fatal accidents and many less serious ones involving unstable memorials, which highlighted the importance of regular inspections.

Councillor Philip Dixon, SLDC’s Portfolio Holder for Customer and Locality Services, said: “Our staff are highly trained and experienced in this important work, and I know that they will treat every headstone with care and dignity.

“Each of our burial grounds has a special significance for families across South Lakeland. They are places of peaceful contemplation and I hope that people will feel reassured when they see our team going quietly about their work.”

Bereavement Specialist Josh McLeod added: “The council’s Bereavement Team is here to help and guide you in the unlikely instance that your relative’s headstone requires remedial work by a stonemason.

“Although councils don’t have the right or responsibility to repair memorials, we can support you by helping you to understand your options and how to move forward by making arrangements with one of the local memorial masons on our list of registered firms.

“If we are unable to trace the owner of a headstone, we will endeavour to make it safe in the most sensitive manner possible.”

The 24 locations managed by SLDC are:

  • Beckside – St Cuthbert’s Churchyard (closed)
  • Beetham – St Michael’s Churchyard (closed)
  • Bowness – Glebe Road Cemetery; St Martin’s Churchyard (closed)
  • Chapel Stile – Holy Trinity Churchyard (closed)
  • Coniston – St Andrew’s Churchyard (closed)
  • Dent – St Andrew’s Churchyard (closed)
  • Grange-over-Sands – Grange Fell Cemetery
  • Grasmere – Pye Lane Cemetery; St Oswald’s Churchyard (closed)
  • Kendal – Castle Street Cemetery; Holy Trinity Churchyard (closed); Parkside Road Cemetery; Scotch Burial Ground, Beast Banks (closed); St George’s Churchyard (closed); St Thomas’ Churchyard (closed)
  • Kirkby Lonsdale – St Mary’s Churchyard (closed)
  • Lindale – St Paul’s Churchyard (closed)
  • Sedbergh – Busk Lane Cemetery
  • Torver – St Luke’s Churchyard (closed)
  • Ulverston – Priory Road Cemetery; St Mary’s with Holy Trinity Churchyard (closed)
  • Windermere – Rayrigg Road Cemetery; St Mary’s Churchyard (closed).