Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Former chapel at cemetery to be turned into columbarium

ALMOST £175,000 is to be spent by Henley Town Council to repair two chapels and transform one into a columbarium.

The former Gothic non-conformist chapel at Fairmile Cemetery is owned by the council, which wants to bring it back into use along with an Anglican chapel at the site.

Funding for the project to create the columbarium with 230 glass-covered niches for storing funeral urns has been approved by the council’s finance strategy and management committee.

Residents will be able to rent a niche for a relative’s ashes, which will remain on display for a period depending on how much they pay.

Councillors appointed their preferred contractor to undertake preparatory work at a cost of £37,905, subject to no other quotes being received by today (Friday).

This work will involve tackling a damp problem in both buildings and will take place in April or May.

The same company, which has not been made public by the council, will then undertake the main works to convert the first chapel, which is Grade II listed, in the autumn at a cost of £130,000. A report to the committee said: “As there are equivalent concerns regarding damp at the second chapel, it makes economic sense to tackle both chapels at the same time using the same contractor for these ‘enabling’ works.”

The work would need to include the reinstatement of all existing earthing infrastructure, replacing rotten battens under the first row of tiles with new treated timber and replacing sections of the asphalt membrane in the roof where it has partially perished. This will allow the new fixings to be bedded in new, sound mortar.

The report said the company had a thorough understanding of all aspects of the work, including the risk and potential extra work resulting from issues such as damp, remedial works to the tiled floor and the precise specification and finish of the niches that would be needed to achieve a high quality and lasting refurbishment.

The council will also pay its contract administrator WestWaddy £5,000.

The report added: “The expenditure in this project represents a new income-generating venture for the council and should be considered as an investment of the council’s funds.”

It suggested a charge of £1,000 to rent a niche for 25 years, plus £250 for a plaque or engraving with higher or lower charges for 50 years or 10 years.

This would be lower than the costs associated with a traditional burial at the cemetery.

The town council applied for a £120,000 grant to the Oxfordshire LEADER scheme, part of the Rural Development Programme, but was told the project was not suitable for funding.

The scheme was then scaled back from 408 niches to save money.

Councillors felt a full winter period should elapse before work was undertaken following efforts to reduce the damp.

The town council took over responsibility for the cemetery from South Oxfordshire 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 but the project was delayed indefinitely due to the organiser being unwell.

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