Coronavirus: Islington Council urged to review cemetery closures after government says they should reopen

PUBLISHED: 18:08 20 April 2020 | UPDATED: 18:17 20 April 2020

Islington and St Pancras Cemetery. Picture: Edmond Terakopian/ PA

Islington and St Pancras Cemetery. Picture: Edmond Terakopian/ PA

PA Archive/PA Images

The leader of Islington Council says the town hall lacks the resources to reopen and staff its cemeteries in Barnet during the pandemic.

But communities secretary Robert Jenrick said on Saturday that local authorities must “keep open or reopen cemeteries and grave yards”.

Islington and Camden councils took the decision to close Islington & St Pancras and Trent Park cemeteries, which they manage together, to the public on April 7.

Cllr Richard Watts told the Gazette the town hall is “looking through the implications” of Mr Jenrick’s announcement.

He added: “The cemetery was closed because we had rather unhappy incidents where people disturbed funerals and mourners by treating it as a park with kids climbing on benches and a whole range of others stuff.

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“It’s taken a very significant staffing effort to keep our parks open through having people on hand to guard them. While we just about have the resources to do that in our own parks, we simply do not have the resources to do that in our cemeteries outside Islington.”

Islington’s sole opposition councillor Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East) has called on the town hall to review its decision to close the cemeteries in light of Mr Jenrick’s announcement.

Cllr Russell says she was told by officers that more funerals and cremations are happening at both cemeteries during the pandemic, and this is expected to rise to as many as 20 per day at Islington & St Pancras. The officer told her that the additional footfall of people using the park to exercise makes it hard to enforce the government’s social distancing rules. Similarly, the council had struggled to enforce the rule that no more than 10 people should attend a funeral while the cemeteries were open to the public.

She said: “I raised the issue of the [Islington & St Pancras] cemetery closure last week with council officers after I was contacted by residents upset that they could no longer use their exercise time each day to visit the cemetery.

“Bereavement at this time of social distancing is particularly hard as people are dealing with their grief alone, which means that opportunities to visit graves and seek solace at the cemetery are especially valued.

“I understand that the council needs to protect cemetery workers from exposure to Covid-19 and that it is hard managing funerals with strict limits on numbers attending, but we have worked out how to get people in and out of shops safely so hopefully a solution can be found that works for the cemetery.”

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