While this is the first of these meetings in which we've taken part, we should look forward to being a regular participant from now on. In opening the meeting, Richard Welburn, Head of Bereavement Services at Leicester City Council, says that, given the diversity of Leicester, it is wholly appropriate, indeed essential, that the Council of Faiths should take part in these meetings. Leicester City Council wants to provide service relevant, appropriate and acceptable to the families and communities of Leicester and Leicestershire.
Minou Cortazzi is also here, representing the Council of Faiths Board of Directors. She also has an interest in this matter from the perspective of the Bahá'í community - on of those religions for whom burial of the dead is mandatory.
Today we learn that total burial space in the city will be used up in 40 years time (although space allocated to different faith communities is being used up at different rates). As part of its Burial Land Strategy (part of a set of 21 recommendations included at end of two-year long review of Bereavement Services) Leicester City Council is considering a number of options, but it is a long way from committing to any of them, given the sensitivity of the issue. These options include:
- opening up new spaces (e.g. by infilling space between graves and paths; grassing over paths) thereby extend the life of the existing cemetery;
- establishing a new cemetery which may incorporate natural burials (if a new cemetery is opened up while existing ones remains operational, this will extend the life of the existing ones);
Latest plans for the crematorium expansion project (due to run from September this year until December 2012) were displayed, explained and discussed today. We were told that the current ratio of cremation to burial is 70:30.
These developments, in which the burial and cremation needs of the city a hundred years from now have to be taken into consideration, will necessarily have an impact on fees and charges made to users now and in the future. Any such impact has to be seen as fair, equitable and reasonable. Leicester City Council wishes to be transparent in making and justifying any such decisions (which is part of the reason for involving organisations like ours in consultation).
The next meeting of this kind should take place in September this year, before work on the crematorium extension begins.
A surreal episode: in a brief moment behind the scenes, two members of staff are planning the music to be played in one of the upcoming funeral services. They're discussing the relative merits of two different edits of "Hey Joe" by Jimi Hendrix.