Grieving families demand fitting resting spot after Sunderland baby cemetery branded ‘a quagmire’

Bereaved parents are forming a group to raise money to rennovate the Baby Garden in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery.
Bereaved parents are forming a group to raise money to rennovate the Baby Garden in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery.
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UNITED by grief, parents scarred by the death of their children are teaming up to fight for their memory.

Families are campaigning for Bishopwearmouth Cemetery’s baby garden – in which stillborn infants and babies who’ve died before reaching full term are buried – to become a fitting memorial for their children.

Over the years, they say they have seen it turn into a quagmire which is not a fitting resting place.

Charlotte and Daniel Malley, from Houghton, lost their son Noah in January and are one of 15 families who have teamed up to improve the garden.

“The first time I went, we could see broken plaques on the ground and it just broke my heart,” said Charlotte, 22.

Daniel added: “We have to go through mud to get to the graves, and it’s so bad that my grandma can’t visit as she’s in a wheelchair. That’s one of the things we want to change: to have disabled access.”

The group, Sleeping Angels, has teamed up with 4Louis and Sands (Stillbirth and Death Society) to appeal to Sunderland City Council to repair the garden.

They are willing to pay costs themselves and have been fund-raising to pay for workmen, a memorial bench and landscaping.

Angela Beck, 48, from Grindon, has visited the garden every week since her daughter Grace was stillborn 12 years ago.

“It wasn’t great to begin with, but it’s really deteriorated over the years,” she said. “They put bark chippings down, but now they have gone to mulch and it’s just like a quagmire.

“There’s no drainage so it floods, and every winter it gets worse. It doesn’t matter how nice you make the individual grave when the area around it is a mess. We have said to the council we will pay for repairs and can find people who will do it, but we are waiting to hear back from them.

“Now, we want to put as much money as possible aside so that it’s there for when they come back to us.”

Fund-raising events include a sponsored walk in Herrington Park, a charity night at the Roker Hotel, and Asda in Grangetown is giving customers the chance to vote in the green token system for the fund throughout this month.

The families are also hoping the council will consider using a derelict chapel in the grounds to hold services for neonatal and stillbirths. Currently, those affected by deaths of this kind are only offered a graveside service.

Coun James Blackburn, portfolio holder for city services, said: “Following discussions with the charity to canvass their thoughts and ideas, we are now looking at the possibility of installing hedges to better delineate the baby grave sections at the cemetery.

“We have also agreed that we would like to relocate the entrance to the existing section and introduce some hard landscaping into the area to improve access, together with the appearance.

“The next steps will involve finding the resources to carry out this work and looking at how we can work with the charity as a ‘friends of’ organisation to make progress on the plans.”

l Anyone who would like to join Sleeping Angels, which meets weekly at The Chesters, can search for them on Facebook under ‘Sunderland baby garden.’