"Removing personal items will hurt a lot of people" - Mum's upset as family ordered to remove 'unauthorised' tributes from son's grave
A mum from Sunderland has expressed her anger and upset after families across Wearside were told to remove ‘unauthorised’ tributes from graves as bosses announce improvement and maintenance work.
Sunderland City Council is carrying out a safety survey of all memorials and grave stones in Wearside cemeteries, and requiring ‘grave holders remove any unauthorised items such as enclosures, fences, gravel and planting’.
Bosses said unauthorised items are preventing effective grounds and lawn maintenance, and hindering efforts to provide a ‘safe and accessible environment to all visitors’ and should be removed by October 31.
But Michelle Hopps says her family have created a “special place” with personal items placed on her son Christopher’s grave after he sadly took his own life aged 26 in August 2012.
The mum, from Chilton Moor, said: “Christopher’s grave is a safe place that we go, it’s personal and sentimental to us so it’s heartbreaking to think of it all disappearing.
"I understand what the council are saying, it would look tidier and help with mowing the lawn but people are really going to be hurt by this, it will really effect a lot of people, especially with the world at the moment – it’s taking away something extremely personal.”
Sunderland City Council said cemetery regulations ‘continue to allow personal items on lawn sections but they must adhere to permitted sizes, and materials, and not hinder other cemetery visitors and maintenance teams’.
Signs reminding grave holders to check their plots have been put up in cemeteries.
Michelle added: “I don’t know of any complaints about the graves and everyone has their own thing in the cemetery, it’s just something nice to have for each family to remember their loved one. Some people who don’t know about the removal, might come back in a few months and everything will be gone, it’s awful.
"The only way to keep items is to get a marble surround but it can cost around £1,000 – a lot of people don’t have that kind of money.”
Bosses said the reminder about unauthorised items and memorial safety survey are part of a wider Bereavement Services Improvement Programme at Sunderland’s ten cemeteries.
A Sunderland City Council spokesperson said: “The Bereavement Services team are keen to work with grave owners to allow the continued opportunities for families to personalise the graves of their loved ones. This is in a manner which supports the cemetery functions and promotes a safe environment for all visitors.
“Grave purchases include the right to determine who is buried within a grave or Exclusive Rights of Burial within a plot, and not the land itself.
"Cemetery land remains the property of the council and we are seeking support from grave owners to work with us on improving our cemeteries by only enclosing graves to the permitted size and in the correct regulated manner.
“Enclosures meeting the requirements of the National Association of Memorial Masons help provide a safe and secure memorial while allowing maintenance to be undertaken without risk.
“As in this instance, we are meeting with grave holders and families to talk through and discuss ways in which we all work together on enhancing our cemeteries. Grave holders can contact Bereavement Services through sunderland.gov.uk and 0191 520 5553.”