Monday, 20 August 2018

Families could pay to display ashes at old cemetery chapel

FAMILIES could pay to display their relatives’ ashes under plans to transform a disused chapel at Fairmile Cemetery in Henley.

They could rent “niches” at the columbarium for the ashes, which would remain on show depending on the amount paid.

The Gothic non-conformist chapel, which is owned by Henley Town Council, fell out of use due to changes in funeral practices.

The council has carried out repairs to the building and at an Anglican chapel at the cemetery and is now looking to find a new use for them both.

Michael Gray, of architects West Waddy, gave a presentation on the proposed columbarium to the council’s recreation and amenities committee.

It would have 265 glass-covered niches for urns, some at low level beneath windows and others full height in front of walls, and some would be lit. There would be a seating area and a free-standing niche cabinet.

Mr Gray said: “The plan is very simple — line the sides of the chapel with niches which you rent out for various periods of time depending on how much individuals want to pay. It’s very much about displaying the urn rather than just having a plaque on your bookcase.”

Mr Gray said that chapels falling into disuse was an issue across the country and a columbarium was the “obvious answer”.

“You’re trying to offer an alternative to burial which is a little cheaper but gives you some place to go to remember your relative,” he said. “They are essentially very special bookcases.” He said the building would need to be kept secure to prevent vandalism and possibly be alarmed.

Mr Gray said it would be up to the council to decide what to charge in rent and to agree a policy for a case where at the end of the rental term there were no relatives left alive.

Town clerk Janet Wheeler said: “There would have to be a policy in place. It would be up to us to look at what processes are in place already and decide what we think is appropriate for Henley.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith said the rental charge should cover the council’s costs, adding: “I don’t want us to make money out of it.”

Mrs Wheeler said the entire £125,000 cost of the conversion could be paid for with a grant from the Oxfordshire LEADER funding programme, which is part of the the Rural Development Programme for England.

The committee agreed that the columbarium project should proceed and that an application for funding be made.

The rental charges will be considered at the committee’s next meeting.

The council had already ruled out converting the chapels into residential rental properties.

Fairmile Cemetery was taken over by the town council from the district council in 2009.

Three years later the district council agreed to amend the covenants on the site to allow the non-conformist chapel to be converted into a visitor centre for the Henley Orwell Charitable Trust.

However, the project was delayed indefinitely as organiser Peter Burness-Smith was suffering from ill health. He later agreed to look at alternative locations for the centre.

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