In this article we ask Steve Barnes the manager of Tithe Green Natural Burial site in Nottinghamshire why it has taken 13 years for his site to join the Association of Natural Burial Grounds.
Tithe Green Burial Ground, is privately owned by Oxton Estate and was first opened in 1999. It is approximately 9 miles north of Nottingham City, near to the villages of Calverton and Oxton and is part of historic Sherwood Forest. The site comprises approximately 36 acres (of which about 8 acres is currently in use) and is being developed to include both wild flower meadows and woodland areas for burial.
Tithe Green was initially managed by the Oxton Estate farm manager, but by 2010 the site had become much busier and the owners decided that it had reached a stage whereby it required a dedicated manager who could concentrate fully on the site and its future development. I applied for the job and started as the manager in March 2010.
By this time the Burial Ground had unfortunately become prey to a certain level of inappropriate memorialisation, which was beginning to detract from the beautiful and peaceful site originally intended. Families and visitors had begun the practice of placing vases in the ground to hold flowers as well as leaving various trinkets both on graves and hanging from a small number of memorial trees. Part of my remit when I first started at Tithe Green was to bring it back to its original concept of being a ‘natural’ burial ground and a haven for wild flowers and wildlife.
Shortly after starting as the manager at Tithe Green, I attended the first UK Natural Burial Conference at Sheffield University in March 2010. It was a very informative day and it was at this conference where I heard of the ANBG. I also found that Tithe Green wasn’t the only Burial Ground having issues with memorialisation! I decided at this time that, after learning how to contend with the day to day running of a Natural Burial Ground and getting on with the task of converting 11 years of paper records to an electronic database, I would also need to focus on bringing Tithe Green back to a more natural state by reducing the current type of memorialisation, before applying to the ANBG for membership.
In order to make the changes as delicately as possible, I initially started out by just talking to as many visitors to the Burial Ground as I could come across, introducing myself as the new manager and informing them where the Burial Ground was intending to go and how together we would be able to achieve this by such things as reducing inappropriate memorialisation, amongst other measures. We would actively encourage the planting of wild flowers in and around the graves as an alternative and Oxton Estate would also plant wild flowers and bulbs each year in areas where there were no graves. The word subsequently began to spread and I found that a few people were then approaching me to discuss the changes and even ask what flowers they might plant etc.
We also remodelled the car park, creating a small bank which we seeded with wild flower and grass seed and installed a notice board where we displayed the Burial Ground Terms and Conditions, along with other ‘seasonal’ notices. Throughout the spring and summer the bank in the car park came to life with some amazing wild flowers (see photos) and this then become very much of a focal point convincing people of the benefits of what we were trying to achieve.
In April 2011 a request was placed in the notice board asking that vases, ornaments, toys, baskets etc. be removed from the Burial Ground by June, after which time remaining items would be stored for collection. Surprisingly there was very little objection to the de-memorialisation with only two families wanting to take the matter further and eventually an agreement was reached. After June all the remaining objects were removed and retained but nothing was ever collected. (There was a small amount of recurrence with vases etc., but having left the notice in the notice board for the remainder of the year and having removed anything I came across, this has now reduced to practically nothing.) The end result is that we now receive more ‘positive’ feedback about the Burial Ground than we have ever had before.
Over the last two years we have operated a Christmas ‘amnesty’ for wreaths and other discreet memorialisation. We publish a date in the Burial Ground notice board when we intend to remove such items and this allows us to carry out a full clear up of the site including any inappropriate items that may have been placed throughout the year which we have missed. During the clear up in January this year there have been almost no other items found.
We have also recently re-designed our website, bringing it much more up to date and including such things as a photograph gallery, latest news and testimonial pages as well as printable application forms for use by both Funeral Directors and families. Again, this has received positive feedback from those visiting the website.
The site never stands still and there are always challenges thrown at us by ‘Mother Nature’, but we are now happy that Tithe Green is on the right path. Following the positive experience with encouraging people to memorialise differently, the Christmas amnesty, new website and other improvements, we now feel that the time is right to be a candidate for membership of the Association of Natural Burial Grounds. We are proud of how Tithe Green has developed in recent years and are constantly looking at ways to improve the site for the years to come.
Although it has taken 13 years for Tithe Green to join the merry band at the ANBG, I am sure we will now be able to make a positive contribution and look forward to a enjoying a good relationship with our new friends.
When I started at Tithe Green, I found the prospect of dealing with funerals a daunting one and was initially without doubt, very nervous. I believe it is extremely important to get everything right for family and friends, both at the funeral and afterwards and to always be considerate of their grieving. As I have gained experience, I feel that I am now much more confident in providing this.
I very much enjoy just chatting to people on site, which I know can be of great comfort and have listened, with interest, to all manner of stories about people buried at here. I have found that often just to be there, to listen to someone when they are at a low point, is an essential part of managing the Burial Ground.
All of this provides me with a high level of job satisfaction and of course the Burial Ground itself is a beautiful and peaceful place to spend time. I hope that I will be able to continue to grow in my role and provide a service worthy of the people who visit and those who are visited.
Tithe Green Burial Ground
The ANBG looks forward to receiving Steve’s customers’ feedback forms and putting them into the melting pot at the next round of the People’s awards.