Dear Mr Duignan
Re: Petition regarding Condition of Burngreave Cemetery
I have received a petition which was handed to the Council on 6th November regarding the condition of Burngreave Cemetery and with you cited as the principal petitioner. Please allow me to expand a little on our maintenance plans for this unique, historic site and important local green space and any progress we have made to date in putting those plans into practice.
Like Norton and Darnall Cemeteries, Burngreave was one of the earliest cemeteries to come under municipal control and was very heavily used until it became closed to new burial thirty years ago. Nowadays very few burials in family graves take place but of course a core of visitors tend to family graves particularly in sections of the cemetery where the most recent burials took place. Legally and ethically the site is a burial ground and respect to the dead and their families is still the foremost concern for the Council.
The Cemetery is also the largest green space in there Burngreave area and fulfils an important function for very many people who use it for exercise and recreational purposes. Provided this usage does not interfere with those whose reasons for a visit are more traditional we welcome it and would encourage more people to come and value the cemetery as part of the local heritage and recreational ‘offer’.
Indeed, it was with a view to this and in particular to preserving and enhancing the superb chapel buildings that the Friends of Burngreave Chapels and Cemetery group was formed almost ten years ago. This group, as I’m sure you are aware, has involved itself in much historical research and contributed significantly to the maintenance of the Grade 2 listed chapels. Indeed via the agencies of Sheffield City Council and Burngreave New Deal for the Community a grant was obtained in 2003 to conduct a full condition survey, to prepare drawings and to explore possible future uses of the buildings. This development work was matched by remedial maintenance work undertaken by the Council particularly in terms of cleaning and making safe the north chapel and cleaning out the south chapel which had stood in a condition of neglect and gradual deterioration for many years. This deterioration has now been halted in both buildings.
It also needs to be stated that Burngreave Cemetery is a landscape listed by English Heritage as being of significant historical status for the City, sharing this status with City Rd Cemetery and Sheffield General Cemetery, both of which come under the guardianship of Sheffield City Council. Again, as part of the funding agreement brokered between the Council and BNDfC a Heritage Analysis and Restoration Report was commissioned and delivered in January 2007. This work was undertaken by a local landscape historian with substantial experience in sites of historical significance including, incidentally, Sheffield General Cemetery.
The report is very detailed but the recommendations are clear and, it is our intention, will inform the development plan for the cemetery landscape. The report makes thirty three recommendations on the best way forward with the management of the site. In brief these relate to –
• Maintaining the historical character of the cemetery • Conservation and maintenance of gates, walls and boundaries • Control of vehicular access • Conservation and maintenance of monuments and gravestones • Improvement to paths and roadways • Careful selection of planting options for both trees and low growing shrubs • Review of the level of maintenance in certain areas and the creation of wildlife conservation areas • Possible new seating and information boards • Litter and waste management • Educational outreach and development work both with schools and the local community • A programme of events such as guided walks • Development of interest groups and community involvement
Clearly there is a long way to go before all of these objectives are achieved and, needless to say, whatever is undertaken needs to be done with the priorities of those families with relatives buried in the cemetery as a foremost concern and therefore with the appropriate degree of consultation. However, some of the objectives cited above particularly those relating to community involvement are already undertaken through the efforts of the Friends Group.
In terms of current maintenance regimes I would list the following activities which are routinely undertaken by Bereavement Services
• Inspection, making safe and reinstatement of memorials • Mowing of all areas of the cemetery between April and October • Collection of all litter and waste • Management of fly tipping • Locking of the cemetery gates at night • Management and reporting of anti social behaviour • Removal where appreciate of self set saplings and the lifting of intrusive tree crowns • Application of herbicidal treatments where appropriate • Management of rose beds round the chapel • Tree safety inspection and remedial work • Tree planting in selected areas
Routine maintenance of the chapel buildings and of all walls, gates and boundaries is also subject to annual investment from the Council.
We take on board the comments about extra strimming round graves but the site is very large indeed and there are restrictions on what can be done by staff from a health & safety point of view given the high levels of vibration involved in this activity.
As you may be aware some months ago we forged a partnership with the Probation Service and agreed a programme of minor works which would be undertaken by people undertaking community reparation work. Initially this work involved the removal of self set saplings, an issue which was highlighted by the petitioners as being of particular concern. Further work was scheduled to level uneven ground via the application and distribution of subsoil where appropriate. This work was discussed with the Friends Group and the Parks and Countryside Department and a letter welcoming the partnership approach from the Chair was published in the Star of 15 August 2008 wherein he stated that “The Friends are pleased to have been consulted and look forward to future co-operation with the Council on the management of this important and historic site.”
I think it would be fair to say the tree work ‘got ahead of itself’ somewhat and I admit there have been residual cuttings waiting to be chipped or shredded in various areas of the cemetery. These will be cleared as part of our programme of winter work. The ground levelling project has also been put on hold pending further discussions with the Probation Service on the best way of managing this work and meeting the expectations of cemetery visitors. Therefore I have temporarily suspended all the activities of the Probation Service in the Cemetery although I still believe it can be a mutually beneficial partnership.
I hope these thoughts give you the confidence that maintenance of the Cemetery is an issue we take seriously. The challenge is immense and progress will necessarily be gradual rather than spectacular but with the recommendations of the Conservation Management report forming our guiding principles I believe we can arrive at the best solution for the Cemetery both as a historical burial ground and an important community resource.
Martin Green Senior Bereavement Services Manager