Minority religious communities ‘neglected’ by lack of diverse burial facilities in some UK towns

Shiva statue at crematorium (Brenda Mathijssen)

Many of the four million people from minority ethnic and religious communities in the UK struggle with funerary needs due to the lack of provision for appropriate and timely burial and cremation services.

This is the argument being made by a team of researchers from the University of Reading, UCL and UWE in their report, Diversity-Ready Cemeteries and Crematoria in England and Wales. They are calling on councils and planners to review and address the currently neglected need for burial and cremation provision that meets the requirements of religious and ethnic minorities. The researchers argue that addressing these issues will help to make communities more inclusive.

Based on good practice by some providers, recommendations from the report include:

  • Flexible diversity-ready designs for future cemeteries and crematoria
  • Wider weekend access to public services such as registrars and coroners
  • Local Authorities using local population data on religious observance to plan for dedicated burial practice (e.g. a growing Muslim population will require more dedicated burial space)
  • Local authorities and planners working with local Hindu and Sikh groups, wider communities and the Environment Agency, in order to identify and designate more suitable river sites for cremated ash scattering
  • Moveable religious symbols in crematoria and cemeteries
  • TV and webcam facilities to allow international mourners to attend funerals, as well as those unable to attend for other reasons e.g. poor health
  • Community engagement and liaison through meetings and events

Community initiative to discuss increased burial fees (Danny McNally)

Dr Avril Maddrell from the University of Reading said:
“While larger cities are better equipped to cater for minority ethnic communities’ needs, smaller towns are patchy in their provision, with some neglecting a significant group of their residents by not providing diversity-ready cemeteries and crematoria.

“In our research looking at four towns in England and Wales, we have seen real issues where the specific rites of certain religious communities are not addressed. For example, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs all have a religious requirements to conduct the burial or cremation promptly after death, but many public services, such as crematoria, registrars and GPs, are not available over the weekend, holding up funerals and leaving mourners feeling as though they have failed their loved ones.”

“Making changes can be a challenge for austerity-hit local authorities, but some cemeteries and crematoria have devised creative approaches to improve inclusion, such as community liaison, flexible timeslots, moveable religious iconography, and webcam facilities for large funerals and family overseas – these sort of innovations can benefit the whole  community, not just those from minority ethnicities.”

Following the launch of the report at the University of Reading in June 2018, Dr Daniel Slade from the Royal Town Planning Institute said:
“I’ve always thought death is a kind of shared experience across humanity. But through this report, I have realised just how diverse such experiences are, and just how important it is to understand it is for planners. Inclusivity is a key objective for the RTPI – and it is valuable to remind ourselves to plan for diverse communities” (DanielSlade, Royal Town Planning Institute).

Events, documents and further information: 

  • There will be an exhibition and design activities in Huddersfield Art Gallery on July 20 and 21sthighlighting these issues and creative solutions from Huddersfield and the other case study towns (Swindon, Newport and Northampton)
  • The research team will be working with Royal Town Planning Institute and the Institute for Cemetery and Crematorium Management, community leaders and project participants to develop further ‘best practice’ guidance and training materials for Diversity-Ready Cemeteries and Crematoria.
  • The project’s briefing note, Diversity-Ready Cemeteries and Crematoria in England and Wales, can be downloaded here
  • A case study about provision in Huddersfield is available on request
  • Further contact: Tim Mayo, University of Reading, 0118 378 7110 or t.p.mayo@reading.ac.uk

Muslim graves at cemetery (Avril Maddrell)

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