Why ban memorials by children’s graves?

Dawn Tait with Aidan's brother and aunt, Daniel and Leanne.
Dawn Tait with Aidan's brother and aunt, Daniel and Leanne.

Grieving families have spoken of their devastation after being asked to remove memorial decorations which are close to the graves of their children.

A number of bereaved parents have been left shocked by a notice which recently appeared at Alnwick Cemetery, saying that no items should be left in or around the trees, for health and safety and maintenance reasons.

Currently, there is an array of poignant objects hung from or placed beside a large tree at the children’s burial area, including solar-powered lights, stars, animal statues and colourful windmills.

However, the notice, on behalf of Alnwick Town Council, states that items must only be left in the area of the grave itself and any decorations that remain on or by the trees after Wednesday will be removed and taken to the cemetery office. It has prompted anger and dismay from a number of families whose beloved children are buried at the site.

They say that the items help to create a warm and comforting environment and are desperate to force the council into a U-turn, or at the very least, strike a compromise.

In response, town-council clerk Bill Batey has said that action has been taken, in accordance with cemetery guidelines, following a number of complaints about the decorations.

He said that some cemeteries do not permit ornaments of any sort, even on graves, but the town council prefers a sympathetic approach and is happy for families to place items on the graves themselves.

But he accepts that it is an extremely sensitive issue and a meeting will be arranged with parents in the coming days to discuss the situation and try to find a way forward.

The parents include Karl and Vikki Smith, whose son Aidan passed away in May 2015, aged four.

Dubbed the world’s rarest boy, the Alnwick lad had the complex genetic disorder Cloves Syndrome and suffered swelling to his face and body.

Vikki and Karl hung the lights on the tree more than two years ago.

They say they appreciate that the council has an ‘extremely difficult job’ balancing issues between bereaved parents and those who object to the memorials, but are struggling to understand why it has suddenly become a problem.

Vikki said: “The notice cites health and safety, but the lights on the tree are solar-powered and therefore not a fire risk. The additional decorations are securely fastened, but if there are any particular ones that may pose a risk, we would remove them.

“We appreciate that the bright colours of the lights may not be to everyone’s taste, but we have ensured to keep them low to the trunk of the tree so they can only be seen by those either in the cemetery or looking over the wall.

“Many of the children buried in that section of the cemetery had significant special needs, and like my son Aidan, loved bright colours and bright lights.

“I had always thought that the children’s part of the cemetery was dull and not pleasant for parents to go to feel close to their children, so when my own child passed away, I was determined that I would try and create a lovely, vibrant environment that represented the vibrancy of the beautiful children buried there.

“The stars were the first symbol to represent each child and since then, other parents have joined me in putting up symbols special to their child or children.

“We are more than happy to work with the town council to try to tone things down, but would ask that the council does not make us remove everything from the tree.”

Another family to criticise the town-council’s stance are Dawn and Keith Tait, from Alnwick, whose daughter Roseanne was stillborn in the summer of 2016.

She said: “My husband and I were taken aback by the sign asking visitors not to place items in or around the trees in the children’s section

“As relatively recently-bereaved parents, it delights us to know that this area of the cemetery is distinct to the other areas in its appearance as much as in its purpose.

“It is often lit up and has cheerful characters. It is not a gloomy depressing area, it has a playful atmosphere and young children are not afraid when they visit. The movement of windmills and singing of chimes lifts your spirits. The vibrancy of the area reflects the love we have for our lost children.

“It also gives us comfort to know that there is some light in this area as, particularly in the winter months, we cannot bear the thought that our daughter resides in darkness.

“We would appreciate a further discussion around the decision to take these steps. While we have not placed any of the items in or around the trees, we are struggling to see why they should be removed and would be glad to have a more detailed explanation.”

At the end of last month, the town council, which is responsible for the upkeep of the cemetery, issued a statement via the Gazette, asking visitors to adhere to the cemetery’s guidelines.

The authority said that it does not want to stop people putting items on graves, but needs to ask people to follow the regulations with regard to ornaments and memorials.

In relation to the children’s burial area, it states that items including solar panels and lights must be placed entirely within the area of the grave surround so as not to obstruct the cemetery staff or other cemetery users.

The guidelines add that, if complaints from other cemetery users are received about particular grave decorations, the council will generally remove those items and keep them at the Cemetery Lodge.

• As part of Baby Loss Awareness Week, on Sunday at 7pm, people across the world will light a candle for one hour in memory of all those babies that couldn’t stay.

Support group Teardrop will be lighting up Northumberlandia with candles and lanterns and will welcome 200 bereaved families and friends from Northumberland and North Tyneside.

This is a ticketed event and is already fully booked with a reserve list for attendees.