FAMILIES devastated by the death of their babies say the poor state of a cemetery has compounded their grief.
Stillborn and premature babies are laid to rest at a baby garden in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery.
But parents of the children often have to wade ankle deep in mud, amid broken and scattered plaques, to pay their respects to their loved ones.
Craig Stewart’s son Brandon was laid to rest in the garden after being stillborn in October 2011.
The 41-year-old, from Downhill, who is a regular to the garden with partner Kay Stockley, 30, said: “Because of the bad weather in the past year, the baby garden has got into a terrible state, it’s really boggy.
“It’s got to the point where we have to take a spare pair of shoes when we visit.
“It’s been neglected in the past, but we’re hoping to change that.”
Bereaved parents have now teamed up with Wearside charity 4Louis, which supports families going through the trauma of stillbirth and neonatal deaths.
After the charity got on board, plans are in the pipeline to renovate the existing site with the help of the council, while also creating a new site nearby for future use.
Bob McGurrell from the charity, which was set up after his grandson Louis, from Houghton, was stillborn, said: “The first time I visited the garden I was horrified.
“It was a quagmire and looked like such a tip.
“These families are suffering enough as it is, so to have to visit their children in these conditions is horrendous.
“Louis isn’t at the site as he was cremated but, I know it sounds awful, I’m glad he isn’t.
“We have joined forces with stillbirth charity Wearside and Durham Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) to pay to replace plaques that are damaged and other work. These children deserve respect.”
Planned improvements include benches, garden works, wheelchair access to the site, and the creation of a second baby garden 500 yards from the original.
Families and the charities are also liaising with the council about using a chapel on the grounds, which has stood empty for 12 years, for funeral services.
Councillor James Blackburn, Sunderland City Council cabinet member for city services, said: “Bereavement Services have been approached by the charity, 4Louis, regarding the baby grave section in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery and how this area could be enhanced and improved.
“Meetings have taken place between the council and charity representatives in order to understand the charity’s concerns and explore further what improvements can be made.”
l 4Louis would like more families of those with loved ones in the baby garden to contact them. They can do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.