Saving Your Cemetery with the University of York

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As part of Dying Matters Awareness Week the CDH co-organised Saving Your Cemetery or Churchyard a day long workshop for those wishing to document and to preserve burial spaces in their own communities. The event was well attended by a wide range of individuals and groups including family history and heritage societies, university researchers, local government officials and commercial archaeology units. The event sought to inspire new approaches to cemetery documentation and management and to challenge existing preconceptions about what can be achieved through collaboration and creative thinking.

The day was aimed at anybody who wanted to learn more about how to document, conserve and manage a burial site as part of a community group and we were fully booked with more than 30 participants. The morning saw presentations from guest speakers and the afternoon was filled with a practical demonstrations of digital techniques which can be used for cemetery documentation by staff and students from the CDH, the University of York Department of Archaeology and the Re-reading the British Memorial Project .

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In the morning talks by Felicia Smith from Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust and Susan Buckham from Kirkyard Consulting provided wonderful examples of initiatives which have placed burial spaces back at the heart of communities. Felicia’s talk described the extraordinary transformation which has taken place at Arnos Vale since the Cemetery Trust took over the management of the site. As well as providing access to the public the Trust’s efforts have placed the cemetery back at the heart of the community. The talk dealt with the challenges involved in balancing the need for generating revenue against the role of the cemetery as a community space and heritage site. Susan spoke about her role overseeing the improvement of five cemeteries which form part of the UNESCO Edinburgh World Heritage Site;  Greyfriars, Canongate, St Cuthbert’s, New and Old Calton. Susan’s talk emphasised the importance of community stewardship and provided many examples of the ways in which efforts on the part of local communities can transform burial spaces into valuable community resources.  

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