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This is a dream coming true. Please join me on a journey which takes us from RAGS to RICHES in four stages.

Twenty one years ago the Friends were a small group of volunteers working from a long neglected building in the Cemetery with snail trails across the floor every morning and buckets in key positions when it rained, Similarly the Cemetery was severely overgrown, the buildings in a poor state, the Chapel roof leaking, and the land overrun with bad anti-social behavior, making many local people afraid to enter.

Stage one in this joumey was work by the Friends to clear acres of four to eight feet high brambles and ivy growth. Hard work, sometimes with unsettling discoveries of bad things left by people, but also with triumphs, like the discovery of the unknown grave of Princess Gourama, an Indian girl from a distressed noble family who was sent to England and became a god-daughter of Queen Victoria. As more ground was cleared we brought in more social behavior such as guided tours, lectures, drama, and social occasions, gradually marginalising the anti-social. More people became confident to enter and enjoy the Cemetery. We also gained the confidence of the Royal Parks who agreed in 2002 to form a Joint Working Group in which we still work together planning and monitoring improvements in the Cemetery.

Among many excitements we had fun with the press about the grave of Sir George Everest, after whom the great mountain is named, which several letters to the Times revealed not to be here but in St Andrews churchyard, Hove. Sir William Russell of the Times, the first great war correspondent, did even better with a rededication service of his restored grave taken by the Journalist’s chaplain, attended by the Editor and ten staff, with two large articles and pictures in the Times on consecutive days. We still have fun with Beatrix Potter, and with Tardis, the Time Machine.

Stage two in this journey started when the potential in the cemetery became clearer and the Royal Parks applied for a grant from the Heritage and Big Lottery Funds.  Huge thanks to the Funds, and to the Royal Parks, including the  Project Manager Nigel Thorne, and to all the wonderful staff and donors and supporters who have made this Restoration Project so successful. You have done this place proud.

Soon we will start stage three in our journey, securing the Legacy for the Project. For that we the Friends need to double our volunteer base over the next two years so that we can more fully deliver the many cultural and other activities which enable people to discover what this wonderful place has to offer.

And if I may say so the Royal Parks need also to strengthen their resource on site. As well as providing strong leadership in the Joint Working Group, we strongly recommend that you employ a full-time Cemetery Manager, resident on site, who as well as being a good manager should particularly focus on developing the recently agreed landscape strategy which will take years to bring to fruition, and on developing the funeral business to fulfill the Business Plan which aims to establish the Cemetery as self-financing in the long-term.

We are pleased that Halima Khanom will be replaced with a half-time role up to November next year when she leaves later this month. This will carry forward much of her very good work as Partnership and Community Engagement Officer,  and will give us time to strengthen our ability to continue the work into the future as a key part of the Legacy for this Project.

And then after some years perhaps stage four in this journey can start, developing the site’s potential in ways we cannot now fully visualize, just as twenty or even five years ago people would not have visualized the position we have reached today.

Surely our ambition is that this place will be flourishing in 150 years in ways appropriate to those far ahead days. Let us fully discard the RAGS and increasingly discover the RICHES which our wonderful cemetery can offer.

Arthur Tait

11 July 2018

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