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From the organisers of

No more staking or toppling

15 November 2008
The days of tieing and toppling are coming to an end

In October the government’s Burials & Cemeteries Advisory Group met to discuss new guidelines for burial authorities on dealing with unstable memorials. It should lead to the end of the days of the topple test

The days of burial authorities toppling memorials in cemeteries or securing them piecemeal to stakes could be coming to an end. The government’s Burials & Cemeteries Advisory Group (BCAG) has met to discuss proposals from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) for practical advice to burial authorities on assessing and dealing with the safety of memorials.

The HSE wants burial authorities, who have already been told by the ombudsman to stop knocking memorials over, to take a much more relaxed approach towards the dangers posed by memorials in cemeteries. They say a visual inspection in many cases will be sufficient, accompanied if necessary by a simple hand assessment of whether the memorial is safe or not – no topple testers and no pushing over of memorials.

It is difficult to calculate the damage to the stone memorial industry that has been caused by the sight of memorials laid down or strapped to stakes all over the country during the past decade, but as most people’s choice of memorial is influenced by what they see in cemeteries, it cannot have been insignificant.

Ironically, however, it may just have helped members of the National Association of Memorial Masons because they have emerged as the experts in memorial fixing.

They have developed their own fixing system and their Code of Practice has been incorporated into BS8415 for fixing memorials. The British Register of Accredited Memorial Masons (BRAMM) that they instigated, although it is run separately from NAMM, has helped NAMM’s training programmes that have attracted cemetery authority staff as well as memorial masons.

And as training courses are half price for NAMM members and the subscription to NAMM can be recouped if two people attend a course, it has helped grow their membership both from among memorial masons and cemetery authorities, who can belong as associate members, as more than 100 have done.

Ian Gostling, NAMM’s National Executive Officer, admits that training cemetery staff to fix memorials could be seen as conflicting with the interests of their traditional members but says that as councils will fix and re-fix memorials themselves, it is better they do it properly and that NAMM benefit from supplying the training rather than someone else.

The latest guidelines for cemetery authorities, which will be issued by the HSE after their latest draft (the sixth) has been seen by BCAG, is expected to refer to the NAMM Code of Working Practice, saying new memorials should be designed and installed in accordance with the Code and BS 8451 that is based on it.

The latest draft from HSE had not been circulated as NSS went to press, but it was expected to be similar to the previous one.

It points out just how low the risk of death or serious injury in a cemetery is – eight deaths and a similar number of injuries in 30 years. Given the number of people who visit cemeteries, that makes them proportionally safer than walking along the average high street.

The draft says: “There is no need for the routine use of a calibrated test instrument, such as the ‘topple tester’.”

It says memorials should be part of an overall risk assessment of a cemetery that includes risks posed by traffic, trees, walls and slipping. The individual detailed assessment of every single memorial is not necessary. It says the enforcing authorities “view the risk as so low as to place memorial safety outside their [the authority’s] main proactive priorities”.

It points out that memorials are owned by the families of the deceased and if a memorial is found to be faulty, attempts should be made to trace the family who own it in order for them to effect repairs.

Once the new guidelines have been issued NAMM say they will contact their members and ask for any cases of toppling or staking to be reported to them so that they can take up the issue with the authority.

Some have accused the HSE of a U-turn on cemetery safety, although HSE denies it ever told cemeteries to lay memorials flat or secure them to stakes.

However, the whole issue of memorial safety stemmed from the HSE requiring improvements to be made in Preston and Cardiff cemeteries following injuries. It cost Preston £650,000 to make the improvements and Cardiff £425,000. That led to the Knapton Report and the ground anchor fixing system that was first introduced by Sam Weller when his PR agency led MAB.

That in turn led on to the topple tester and local newspaper stories all over the country as the bereaved were faced with the memorials of loved ones being laid flat by councils.

NAMM have also been working on behalf of their members to get period guarantees replaced with a Certificate of Conformity, which says a memorial has been fixed to the accepted best standards of the day, which are currently those specified in the NAMM Code of Working Practice.

NAMM members have been required to give 10-year guarantees on their work, but councils started wanting extended warranties of 30 or 40 years. Some wanted even longer.

NAMM took legal advice that assured them the requirement for such extended warranties was illegal. The alternative they have produced is the Certificate of Conformity. This will be supplied by masons to burial authorities certifying that they have fixed the memorial according to best practice.

For now, NAMM members are still required to give the 10-year guarantee, but from January the Certificate of Conformity will replace all time-specific guarantees. NAMM members who are asked to give time-specific guarantees are advised to contact NAMM who will take up the case of their behalf.

The Institute of Cemetery & Cremation Management (ICCM), which represents the cemetery and crematoria authorities, has accepted the Certificate of Conformity.

These were some of the talking points at the NAMM conference and AGM in Skegness in September, which this year went back to the idea of a weekend meeting, including a golf tournament, rather than a one-day meeting of the past few years. It seemed a popular move with around 75 people attending.

Much of the business of the AGM was taken up with internal organisation of the Association. The constitution of NAMM has been changed from time to time over the years and no two people seemed to have the same version of it. So it has been re-written with any anomalies removed. The new version was accepted unanimously by the meeting.

Chief Executive Officer Ian Gostling said it had only been possible to spend time looking at the constitution because of the appointment of Lisa Jones as Senior Administration Officer in April.

For many of the members the conference was their first opportunity to meet Lisa, who should be succeeding Ian Gostling as National Executive Officer when Ian retires next year. Lisa’s background is with the ombudsman who told cemetery authorities to stop knocking over memorials and set the ball rolling for the change in attitude towards health & safety in cemeteries that seems to be taking place now.


Memorials by Artists publish new guide

Journalist and broadcaster Libby Purves spoke of her own experience of commissioning a memorial from Memorials by Artists at the organisation’s launch of their 20th anniversary guide to commissioning artist-designed and -made memorials – the fourth edition of the publication and the first new version for 10 years.

Memorials by Artists was set up by Harriet Frazer as the result of her own difficulties finding an artist-lettercutter who could make a suitable memorial to her step-daughter.

Since then she has championed the cause of artist-lettercutters and through Memorials by Artists, the company she formed and runs to put the bereaved into contact with artists, has helped almost 3,000 people commission individually artist-made memorials.

One of them was commissioned by Libby Purves in commemoration of her son and Libby spoke about the experience of commissioning the memorial at the launch of the new Memorials by Artists’ guide in St Bride Foundation off Fleet Street, London, last month (September).

The new guide (ISBN 978-0-9515711-4-9, price £12), written and designed by Nicholas Sloan and edited by Harriet Frazer, includes more than 100 illustrations, including one of the stone commissioned by Libby.

Harriet met Libby when Libby wrote about the exhibition of memorial arts staged by the Memorial Arts Charity, which grew out of Memorials by Artists, at Blickling Hall in Norfolk in 1998.

Ever since that exhibition, the charity has been working towards establishing a permanent display of contemporary memorial art. Part of its efforts have included fund raising, and the launch of the new MbA guide in London was followed in the evening by an auction, mostly of work by the artists involved with Memorials by Artists.

In the 21/2 years since they started fund raising, the charity has so far raised more than half the £700,000 needed to stage a permanent exhibition, which is enough to get it off the ground.

The first part of it is due to open in the arboretum of West Dean College, in Chichester, West Sussex, on 3 April next year.

West Dean is well known for its courses that include stone carving and restoration. It also offers lettercutting courses.

The original intention was to establish a permanent exhibition of memorial arts at a single centre, but that has not proved possible and now the plan is to have the exhibition at several places around the country. As well as West Dean, there will be displays at Blair Castle in Fife, in Canterbury Cathedral Memorial Garden and Birmingham University Botanic Gardens. It is also hoped to have one in Lincolnshire.

Harriet told NSS: “In many ways it’s better to have more than one site because it means the exhibition will be in various parts of the country.”

Fund raising continues and donations are gratefully received. Details of how to contribute are on the website.


Tradex back at the funeral exhibition in 2009

The NAMM Tradex exhibition of members and their Craftex competition for the best memorial work will be back as part of the National Funeral Exhibition at Stoneleigh Exhibition Centre, Warwickshire, 12-14 June 2009. There will be more demonstration areas at the exhibition this time, a family day on the Sunday and a rock’n’roll night on the Saturday for exhibitors and their guests to give the event a social element that should help oil the business element. All the necessary information for visiting or exhibiting is on the website.


MAB announces Cemetery of the Year and prepares for Most Unusual Memorial Award

The main event in the Memorial Awareness Board (MAB) programme to raise awareness of stone memorialisation is their Cemetery of the Year Awards, now in their 11th year.

There were more than 60 entries in the Awards this year and the winners were announced at the end of September at Chesford Grange Hotel in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, during (as usual) the annual conference of the Institute for Cemetery & Crematorium Management (ICCM).

The Awards were presented to the winners by Howard Hodgson, the entrepreneur who turned his family funeral business into a £90million publicly quoted company in the 1980s and then wrote about how he did it in How to Become Dead Rich. He was supported by MAB Chairman Gerald Priestman, MD of memorial firm Odlings in Hull.

Cemeteries and crematoria entering the contest were judged on their design, maintenance, facilities, the freedom of memorial choice and the improvement of site regulations.

The awards’ main aim is to raise standards in burial grounds and to encourage cemeteries to allow more choice for the bereaved. It is a nation-wide competition for cemeteries, crematoria, green and pet burial sites.

Awards Administrator Maria Jose Ovalle from the PR company One, who co-ordinate the MAB campaign, says: “The Cemetery of the Year Awards aim to give our national burial grounds, and the people who care for them, the recognition they deserve.

“The purpose of the awards is to set standards for excellence and reward those sites that make a valuable and recognisable contribution to their community. We were extremely impressed with the high quality and volume of the entrants received this year.”

MAB also run a separate Most Unusual Memorial competition, the winner of which for this year will be announced in November and if you want to enter you have until the end this month (October) to do so.

The competition is sponsored by the Roland Academy at Walsall College, set up in 2006 to teach sign making, display graphics and engraving. The winner will receive a day’s training on the academy’s new SignLab for Stonemasons course and a copy of CADlink SignLab for Stonemason software.

The aim of the competition, open to any mason, is to raise awareness of the craftsmanship and creativity of memorial masonry and highlight the variety of memorials available.

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