National Lottery funding is making a considerable impact in restoring the UK’s neglected and most historic cemeteries
Historic cemeteries reveal much about the fashions and culture of the past, often borrowing designs from eminent landscape designers like Humphry Repton and Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.
Laid out in the picturesque style, with ceremonial routes for funeral cortèges, meandering paths for visitors and carefully planned vistas – these places are just as important as our great public parks in which the National Lottery has invested close to one billion pounds over the last twenty years.
Rich in architecture and sculpture, containing rare fragments of previous habitats as well as threatened species, cemeteries are as much part of our nation’s heritage as our great museums and our great cathedrals.
But as well as valuable windows on the past, cemeteries are important places for communities today.
At last we are beginning to understand and measure the wider value of urban green spaces for health, wellbeing, climate change and nature, as these spaces offer respite from city-living and critical pieces of green urban infrastructure. Their importance cannot be under-estimated.
But like the state of our public parks, in 2001 a Parliamentary Select Committee warned of the parlous condition of many of our most important historic cemeteries. Maintenance backlogs, toppling headstones, a failure to recognise their historic importance, and their consideration as liabilities rather than assets, has left many of the UK’s cemeteries in a sad state.
As a result in 2013 HLF increased our focus on cemeteries and I am delighted that Brompton Cemetery is at the vanguard of a wave of cemetery conservation projects that we have funded over the last few years.
Royal Parks need to extract and share all the learning from this project to help the many other historic cemetery and park managers who are facing similar problems right across the UK
At its outset, HLF and Big Lottery Fund recognised that this project had the potential to be much more than simply repairing monuments and buildings.
With the setting of this site, within an area generally lacking large public green spaces, we always knew this project had to deliver for local people and heritage alike.
And Royal Parks has delivered. There are many examples of innovation and imagination that make this project very special. Introducing a community café, widening the audience engaging with the site, and the scale and breadth of the activities and events, are all exemplars from which the managers of all historic cemeteries across the UK must benefit.
By sharing your learning of went well, and also what went not quite so well, you can help ensure the benefits of National Lottery funding are multiplied and magnified.
There are many more ‘Brompton’s’ across the UK and HLF can’t possibly hope to fund them all, but we can ensure we use projects like this to inspire others, to see the amazing opportunities and potential, that places like this can bring to local people and communities.
It is vital Royal Parks recognise and continue with the step change this project and HLF investment has made to the future financial and environmental sustainability of Brompton Cemetery
As well as making parks and cemeteries attractive for people, it is also a sad fact that much of HLF’s investment in parks and cemeteries has been used to address maintenance backlogs and years of past under investment. And we are determined that we don’t want to repeat the exercise in another 20 years.
That is why projects like this have to think carefully about how they will be managed and funded in future – how the effort delivered here today will be sustained long in to the future. Here, solar panels hidden on the roofs, income from concessions and events, and exploring new business enterprises, are all critical to your future and to protecting both your and National Lottery players investment. The major restoration phase may well now be complete and we can celebrate, but in a way the hard work starts now. You have achieved a step-change in the way people and communities engage and value with this wonderful place, and we very much look forward to seeing and watching that continue long in to the future.
This is a fabulous project and I congratulate the Royal Parks team that have worked tirelessly to make it work and I also thank all those people who buy their weekly National Lottery ticket and thereby enable us to support projects exactly like this.