New plan to deal with 'upsetting' issue of 'toppling' head stones in South Tyneside cemeteries

Council chiefs are to adopt a new memorial strategy in the coming months to ensure graves and cemeteries across the borough remain safe.

By Nic Marko
Friday, 17th June 2022, 2:30 pm
Updated Friday, 17th June 2022, 2:47 pm

South Tyneside Council chiefs reported the plans after providing an update on fallen gravestones in Westoe Cemetery.

The site contains approximately 2,200 memorial stones, with the last burial taking place in 1993, after first opening in 1857.

The latest meeting of the place select committee heard an estimated 200 memorials are lying on the ground, with approximately 150 falling into disrepair and toppling over pre-2005.

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Westoe Cemetery, where a number of head stones have been laid down.

Around 58 more have been laid down by the council since for health and safety reasons, in line with a memorial strategy adopted by the local authority in 2005.

Council officers have now said in the coming months a new memorial strategy will be introduced, featuring a five year rolling programme of inspections to ensure all sites across the borough are safe.

Lynne Maughan, bereavement services manager for the council, said it will be up to the local authority to make the memorials safe, but warned due to a lack of funding they will have to use a variety of different methods.

She said: “We don’t have the funding to make a full repair, as much as we would love to.

Westoe Cemetery, where a number of head stones have been laid down.

“We’re hoping with the various methods of makesafe works we’ve come up with, there will be very few laid down.”

Ms Maughan said the issue was an emotional one and the council would do its best to secure monuments for the future where it could.

She said: “We appreciate its upsetting for the families, it’s a contentious issue and also these stones are part of the borough’s heritage and we don’t want to lay them down, but there will be cases where we simply have no other option.”

If a memorial is found to be unsafe, council work will see “the majority” be temporarily supported by steel bars, while others may be staked and banded or socketed into the ground.

A letter will then be sent to the grave owner if the contact information held by the council is less than 30 years old, who will then have six months to arrange a permanent repair.

If this does not take place within the period, it will be made permanently safe by the council “as soon as possible”, which could include socketing the memorial, or laying it down flat if there is “no other suitable method”.

However officers did stress they would be happy to work with cemetery volunteer groups to permanently repair different memorials, although they would have to provide funding themselves.

Ms Maughan added: “We’re very open to that approach and we’d welcome any plans from groups to do that and we’re very happy to work closely with those groups.”

Cllr Ann Best, speaking at the meeting on Tuesday, June 14, praised the council’s approach stating “getting that balance between sensitivity and practicality is really critical.”

Cllr Geraldine Kilgour, chair of the committee, added it is “really important” they involve community groups, noting many of the memorials are “beautiful and magnificent”.