Sunday, 19 September 2021

Old cemetery chapel could be turned into public store for ashes

A DISUSED chapel at the Fairmile cemetery in Henley could be turned into a resting place for ashes.

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

The council has recently 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.

It commissioned a report by architects WestWaddy which suggested four possible uses for either chapel:

⚫ A columbarium for the interment of ashes.

⚫ A combined pet crematorium and columbarium.

⚫ Accommodation for either holiday or long-term rent.

⚫ An office.

The report said a columbarium would be the most appropriate new use as it was “highly compatible” with the cemetery and the “least intrusive”. The store could include about 500 bookcase-style niches where urns could be kept.

The cost of the conversion would be about £125,000 but could bring in hundreds of pounds a year in rent.

Members of the council’s recreation and amenities committee backed the idea.

Councillor Jane Smewing said: “My feeling is the columbarium is the right thing. Even though it’s the most expensive, it’s the most appropriate.”

Councillor Julian Brookes said: “It is the most expensive but it gives the best return. Do we know what demand is like?”

Town clerk Janet Wheeler said: “It’s something that’s very popular abroad and there are some around the UK. I can see if any other councils run them. Each one is unique so it’s difficult to say what demand would be.”

Councillors also expressed an interest in a pet crematorium and suggested that the columbarium could be used for both animal and human ashes. Councillor Sam Evans said: “If people are buying a slot then who are we to say you have to put a person in them?”

Mayor Kellie Hinton suggested also designating an area of the cemetery for pet burials but Councillor Sara Abey said a special licence might be needed to inter animals close to humans.

Councillors ruled out using the chapels as residential properties as they believed they would struggle to get rental value in a cemetery.

The cemetery was taken over by the town council from South Oxfordshire District Council in 2009.

Three years later the district council agreed to amendments on 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.

Last year, Mr Burness-Smith agreed to look at alternative locations for the visitor centre.

Councillors will continue to consider the options before making a final decision.

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