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Social Cemeteries – The changing face of community engagement


We have all heard the joke about the cemetery being the dead centre of town – but what if your local cemetery is actually the social centre of town? It may sound odd but cemeteries, crematoriums and memorial gardens are needing to engage in their communities in a new social way for several reasons.

Firstly, by engaging with the local community in a different way cemeteries, crematoriums and memorial gardens are promoting their services and creating relationships with the local community – all before their cemetery services are required.

Secondly; many cemeteries are finding they have a reduced revenue stream so allowing their facilities to be used for event hire, memorial and other activities provides additional income and promotion of their venue.

The word cemetery comes from the Greek κοιμητήριον, meaning 'sleeping place' - but as society changes and the expectations of the industry broadens, cemeteries cannot afford to be just a cemetery, crematorium or memorial garden any longer. Therefore cemeteries are being used for events other than funerals allowing the local community to see their cemetery in a different light and change their perception of the space. Many people will only visit a cemetery when they have to; for funerals and not for fun or social activities.

The idea of using cemeteries more as community spaces is not new; during the 18th and 19th centuries in America, Europe and England particularly cemeteries were built to be places of beauty, remembrance and worship. They were designed as parks to encourage the community to use the space for leisure activities. Some of these historical cemetery parks are still open, whilst they may have run out of grave sites, they are still well frequented by visitors.

Cemeteries, crematoriums and memorial gardens often hold celebrations around significant days like Mothers and Father's Day. By offering local celebrations a cemetery is providing a family friend event allowing relatives to remember lost loved ones. Similarly religious celebrations are often made into social memorial gatherings.

Some larger cemeteries offer their gardens and venues for weddings and other functions. Why not utilise the space? They usually have everything required for a large event and making the venue available for hire provides an additional revenue stream for the cemetery and brings in a new audience and potential customer base. As these events are generally celebrations the mood is very different to that of a funeral.

Cemeteries are becoming more innovative and catering to the changing world, needs and expectations of their audience and communities. Some other ways cemeteries are promoting their space for the local community and visitors are:

  • The Blessing of Pets; this custom is conducted in remembrance of Saint Francis of Assisi's love for all creatures and falls early in October.
  • Celebrity tours; visit your favourite dead celebrity or historical figure at their final resting place. Certainly not a new idea but still a very popular one.
  • Cemetery Tourism; the rising interest of genealogy has bought about a huge curiosity in visiting relatives and their final resting place. We are now even seeing some cemeteries offer digital mapping so you don't even have to visit in person to see a grave site.
  • Ghost tours; are growing increasingly popular particularly in older historical venues.
  • Pet burials; some cemeteries are providing designated areas for pet burials, or even allowing pets to be buried with their owners.

Expect to see more from your local cemetery, crematorium or memorial garden in the coming years. The industry is embracing change and a new social way to engage in local communities. Attitudes to death are changing and the traditional concept of a funeral is also rapidly evolving - cemeteries, crematoriums and memorial gardens are also changing. It seems only practical to open these places up for other events and effectively utilise the space and services already available in a community friendly way. 

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Sunday, 16 June 2019

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