2 January 2020

Deathly Duties

The Cost of Dying....

Personally I have no bone to pick with graveyards, I take the air there willingly, perhaps more willingly than elsewhere, when take the air I must.....

Samuel Becket
First Love

The fees - and ways to avoid them 

Cremation: £832
Burial: £2,174
The alternative: You can be buried in your own garden, but the location of the grave must then be written into the deeds of the house.The local council’s environmental health department would need to confirm the chosen site is acceptable.
Clergy or officials: £159
The alternative: A friend or family member can act as a celebrant to officiate at a less formal ceremony.
Funeral Director: £2,595
Typically includes storing the body; the coffin and hearse. Can also provide professional services, such as organising venue hire, orders of service, flowers and announcements.
The alternative: Care for the body at home, though it is advisable to take advice from charity The Natural Death Centre (naturaldeath.org.uk). Private ambulances and taxis can be used in place of hearses and limos. Flowers and other arrangements can be handled by the family.
Memorial: £824
The alternative: Scatter ashes at a favourite spot, though check there are no restrictions on doing so – and be discreet.
Catering: £362
The alternative: Relatives can hold a highly personal funeral gathering at home at minimal expense.
Figures from Sun Life cost of dying report 2018.

Total (2018) for funeral and cremation: £4,772....

Having recently been responsible for arranging my mother's funeral, it is clear that there has been inflation in the death business.  Without going into personal detail, our bill surpassed the above figure, and that is without interment or memorial, which themselves are likely to come to over £1,000.  

With this in mind, I made enquiries about the purchase of a burial plot near my parents' grave, which is in the Chilterns and very close to woods I walked and played in as a child.  Being something of a sentimentalist this seemed a good place to be laid to rest, and one where, should anyone care, they could visit me and my parents to think about things, or to pray (or to dance....)

However, since I no longer live in the borough where I grew up and went to school, the price of the lease (75 years) of a burial plot would be over £6,000, and that, dear friends, is without any memorial, any funeral or, most importantly, any refreshments.

So, sadly, I came to the conclusion that I should perhaps seek an alternative location for my earthly remains. And with this, and Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg, in mind, I decided to go green, as it were.

Some time ago I had been attracted to GreenAcres Chiltern Cemetery and Ceremonial Park, which is at Potkiln Lane, Jordans, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, HP9 2XB, which is not too far from where I grew up.  This park 'nestles' in the heart of the Buckinghamshire countryside and has, apart from two halls where gatherings and ceremonies can be held, a number of different options to ensure that the park is open to people from all walks of life and all budgets.....

So, let's see.... the cheapest option is a 25 year lease on a single plot at Bronze level (Acorn Glade, Beech Wood, Silver Wood) which will set you back £1,590 if you are recently deceased. Add to that £650 for interment, and £350 for an hour in the hall, and then your funeral director (and the refreshments) and your basic costs are going to be in the region of £5.000+ and that's only for 25 years (and, well, you will be dead for ever!)

If you want the top of the Prestige range, at Diamond level (that's in the Woodland Glade), however, you pay £23,440, and for that you get your interment fee thrown in and the option is for the life of the park....  (though there's still the hall, the Fun.Dir. and the refreshments....)

So I thought to look elsewhere.

A quick trawl of the internet took me to the St Albans Woodland Burial Trust, seemingly a good idea since I live close to St Albans.  Curiously, however, the Trust, which is a not for profit charity restoring native woodland, fauna and wildlife in conjunction with woodland burials, is nowhere near St Albans - its address is St Mark's Church Community Centre, Calder Rise, Brickhill, Bedford, MK41 7UY.

Anyway, I decided to visit.  An hour or so's drive and some fractious searching, I eventually found a sign directing me through an Equestrian Centre, which was precisely in the middle of nowhere, in a featureless landscape, half way between the M1 and the A1.  

The site itself is actually very peaceful, and the graves, marked with wooden memorials, are laid out in glades named after birds, with trees and hedges separating the plots, and some gravel paths to walk along.  The place is well-maintained and as a place to rest it has a lot going for it, not least that the chances of anyone visiting or disturbing your slumber would be minimal!

A burial plot here (by the way, cremation tends to be cheaper, but it's not for me) will set you back £850, and a dedicated tree will add £100.  If you are looking to be really eco-friendly, you can get a Premium Cardboard Coffin for Adult Burial or Cremation - Caramel Manila - for £193 on Ebay.  There will be an interment charge on top of this, and, of course, if you use one, a funeral director will still set you back a couple of grand.  (And there there's the refreshments.....)

However, whilst at this site, I happened to pick up a leaflet from the Association of Natural Burial Grounds, a registered charity, established in 1994, whose useful website is www.naturaldeath.org.uk 

The ANBG seeks to assist people in the process of establishing natural and woodland burial grounds. To provide guidance to operators and to represent its members as a whole.  Not least the Association has a Code of Conduct for members, thus providing the public with assurance of best practice.

The Association also promotes The Natural Death Handbook (now in its fifth edition, at £20) which includes a collection of essays on death by eminent writers and a directory of natural burial grounds in the UK and Ireland, progressive funeral directors and suppliers of green coffins, shrouds and urns.

Anyway, through this association I discovered Chesham Bois Burial Ground, Bois Moor Rd, Chesham HP5 1SU, which was Silver Award Winner in the 2019 Cemetery of the Year Awards. This, I thought, could be for me.

Silver Award!

So we motored down to see, and, indeed, only a few miles from my parents, "nestling" in the Chiltern woodlands just outside Chesham, is this rather lovely site, first established in 1924, with a neat little chapel, and three sort of parallel grounds sloping up to the woods on the crest of the hill.  That's the Original Formal Burial Ground, the New Formal Burial Ground (added in 2006) and the Woodland Burial Ground, for natural burials (2008).

In July 2017 a survey was undertaken by the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Wildlife Sites Project to assess the flora, and this identified 112 species.  In 2018 an invertebrate survey recorded 101 species in the daytime and 176 in the evening. Adjacent to the Woodland Burial Ground there is a meadow where the Chalfont Beekeeper's Society has its hives.

If you happen to live in the parish, a full-size adult plot (99 year lease) will cost you £450 (family plot £850), with an interment fee of £350, and £75 for the chapel.  If you don't live in the parish unfortunately the fees are double, but it is still good value....  Gravediggers, Minister, casket, flowers, FD, memorial and refreshments, etc all extra, of course, but....

What's not to like?  The Chesham Bois Parish Council website  (www.cheshamboispc.org.uk) has more information.

And we worry about the cost of living.....  

Yes, they'll all come to see me
In the shade of that old oak tree

As they lay me 'neath the green, green grass of home

Curly Putman

Green Green Grass of Home

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