The UK is an ethnically and religiously diverse country, shaped by longstanding ties with communities from the New Commonwealth, and other dynamic flows of international migration, particularly within Europe.

National and local government, and other service providers, play an important part in the well-being of established minority groups and migrant residents within this multicultural society. For instance, they play a key role in the provision of social housing, education, employment and lei-sure facilities. Likewise many migrants and successive generations work in public sector services such as the NHS, as well as for private companies.

The Deathscapes and Diversity research project has focused on a little discussed but important dimension of migrant and minority experiences in England and Wales: cemetery and crematoria provision. These important spaces and services, including their gardens of remembrance, are provided and managed primarily by local authorities, alongside some private providers including faith groups (e.g. Church of England/ Wales) and commercial services. Planners play an important role in forward-planning for and mediating negotiations around the location of local services.

 

In the UK as a whole more than 70% of the dead are cremated, the remainder being buried and a small percentage repatriated internationally, a pattern broadly replicated in England and Wales. Whether buried or cremated, the bodily remains of family and friends are widely deemed to be ‘sacred’ and where we bury the dead and practice remembrance is of deep significance to many. Funerary and remembrance practices in general have become increasingly personalised and life-affirming in character.There is a strong emphasis on the lifestyles, voices, and preferences of the bereaved, the deceased and the wider community, resulting in tailor-made ceremonies that are supported by the funeral services industry.

Having the ‘right’ sort of burial, cremation and associated rituals is important for the respectful treatment of the deceased and for those mourning them. As society becomes more culturally diverse, so too do the requirements for funerary spaces and practices.The Deathscapes and Diversity research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Eco-nomic and Social Research Council, highlights the varied cultural and religious funerary needs in England and Wales, the associated challenges and the ways in which both communities and service providers (e.g. cemetery managers, town planners and funeral directors) respond to them.

 

Although many service-providers work to accommodate migrant and minority needs to the best of their ability, our research highlights various challenges in practice. It is notable that cemetery and crematorium provision in England and Wales is uneven, and provision for different ethnic-religious groups can likewise be uneven and inadequate. Furthermore, there is a need for understanding not simply diverse cultural and religious practices, but of ‘diversity within diversity’ (e.g. denominational and regional differences) and how these are mediated through local and personal circumstances.

Based on extensive interviews and focus groups with local communities and service providers in four case study towns in England and Wales, we have written a briefing report and briefing note. These documents outline the challenges, examples of good practice and creative opportunities for cemetery and crematoria providers and users. We argue that diversity-ready cemeteries, crematoria and remembrance sites are a necessary but currently neglected aspect of an inclusive and integrated multicultural society; addressing these issues will contribute to greater social well-being and a more inclusive civic culture.

The briefing note on the research project can be found on this website. Please contact us to receive the longer briefing report.