Crematorium takes difficult decision to restrict access during COVID-19 pandemic
UPDATE: The Ministry of Justice has today (April 21) confirmed that it will no longer be requiring the closure of burial grounds to the public.
As part of COVID-19 legislation issued in March, the Government ordered anyone responsible for a crematorium or burial ground to ensure that, during the emergency period, the crematorium was closed to members of the public, except for during funerals.
However, we received written instruction today that this part of the legislation could be disregarded.
As such, we can now reopen the grounds of Yeovil Crematorium from tomorrow to those seeking the solace of visiting a grave privately.
The MoJ has also been clear that social distancing guidance should be followed in cemeteries and burial grounds, as with other places.
In light of Government guidance, South Somerset District Council has made the difficult decision to suspend public services at Yeovil Crematorium effective from Monday 23 March.
This is to protect the public, funeral directors and crematorium staff from potential exposure to Coronavirus (COVID 19). While cremations will still take place, Government advice regarding social distancing, along with the need to ensure our highly skilled team can continue to operate, means that public services will temporarily be halted.
Therefore, the waiting room, chapel and office will be closed to the public. Staff will still be on site to respond to telephone calls and email enquiries.
It is prudent to take these measures in order to maintain the efficient running of an essential service.
Cllr Peter Gubbins, portfolio holder with responsibility for Yeovil Crematorium, said: “This has been an incredibly hard decision for us to make but the safety of the public and those that operate the site has to be our priority.
“The risks of continuing to hold public services at this time are too great and we will be working with local funeral directors to ensure they are fully informed.
“This is not something the council wants to do, nor takes lightly but, given these difficult the circumstances is a sensible course of action.”
Funeral directors are being notified and they will communicate this to families enabling them to make alternative arrangements.
Can't you make exceptions for just a small group of family members?
We have decided to not make any exceptions but this decision will be constantly reviewed. The chapel is compact and cannot be deep cleaned nor surfaces wiped down after every congregation has attended. The size of the venue means those attending are in close proximity to the crematorium and funeral directing staff.
Every service, no matter how many people attend, carries a risk. It is vital that this facility - which is one of only a few in the region - is able to continue to operate during the pandemic and we only have a small number of highly trained staff able to operate it. We have to protect the health of the public and this team.
Can you offer webcasting?
Yes, we can offer a secure webcast from within the chapel.
Can services take place in the grounds?
The chapel is closed, we appreciate that some close members of the deceased's immediate family may wish to witness the coffin arriving under the porte-cochere and then being withdrawn from the hearse. We're happy to accommodate this but this must be restricted to the immediate family, with social distancing being observed.
An officiant has asked if a few words could be said away from the buildings in the grounds of the crematorium. The rose garden is available for use for this purpose and this can be arranged by funeral directors. If used, numbers must be limited to an absolute minimum, again social distancing must be observed.
Why have you taken this decision?
This has not been an easy decision for anyone concerned and we greatly sympathise with any family that has been affected. We ask you to understand that a crematorium is an essential facility, particularly during this COVID-19 pandemic and, as such, is different to churches, supermarkets or other buildings that remain open. We have to take all necessary measures to ensure this facility, one of only a few in the region and operated by a small, highly trained team, can remain operational.
Cremations can now take place on Saturdays and are available to the funeral directors in an effort to help ease the likelihood of future demand.
The decision was not taken lightly, but with predictions of increasing cremation numbers over the coming weeks this operating procedure was taken to protect mourners, vulnerable visitors, funeral directors and this vital service. As with all services and areas of work some of the staff at the crematorium and their family members fall within the vulnerable category.
Does this make a difference to the fees you charge?
Funerals will not incur the chapel fee.
When will you lift these restrictions?
We are following all Government guidance and the decision is constantly under review. We do not know at this stage how long the pandemic will last and we will continue to make decisions which protect the public and our team.