Bereaved families now CAN attend York Crematorium – but must wait outside at all times

York Crematorium. Photograph © Google Street View
11 Apr 2020 @ 8.49 pm
| News

City of York Council will now allow families to say a last goodbye at York Crematorium – but they must wait outside.

The council has adjusted its restrictions, following an outcry over the earlier decision to ban funerals and mourners completely.

In a statement this evening (Saturday, 11 April), the council clarified it’s position and confirmed that they would allow:

  • a faith officiant present at the crematorium to undertake the committal of the body according to the appropriate religious rites
  • celebrants or a minister to read mourners’ words during the private cremation and that this will be recorded for families

The council said it had been in further discussions with faith leaders and those working in funeral services about York Crematorium and will now allow:

  • the immediate family to attend York Crematorium, remaining outside to pay their respects, whilst following official social distancing guidelines.

The council suspended funeral services at the crematorium to help prevent the spread Covid-19. It says: “This exceptional measure is essential to protect the public, funeral directors and bereavement services staff, is in line with other local authorities including in West Yorkshire, and the advice given by public health authorities.”

The decision has caused a lot of heartache for bereaved families, sparked a petition with more than 3,000 signatures and ‘incensed’ York Central MP Rachael Maskell, who says a government minister has issued a rebuttal to the council.

No mourners inside

The council says it will ensure that services of remembrance at York Crematorium will be offered to all families when restrictions are lifted – and a city wide multifaith remembrance ceremony will be held, supported by local faith leaders and the council.

A duty rota is being put in place to ensure that funeral directors will always be able to find an available officiant at the crematorium.

Celebrants representing those with no faith will also be allowed to carry out a non-religious committal if desired by the family, but in all cases no mourners can be present inside the crematorium.

Graveside burial services for York residents at Fulford Cemetery are still permissible as long as families follow the rules in place which limit the number of mourners outside to 10 people, who must at all times observe social distancing.

‘Agonising decision’

The Venerable Sam Rushton Archdeacon of York

Council leader Keith Aspden said: “We know that the necessity of unattended cremation services will cause distress to many grieving people. The council took the agonising decision extremely reluctantly, but it is a policy that will ultimately save lives.

“We hope the arrangements to have a faith officiant or celebrant at funerals, confirmation that immediate families can attend York Crematorium and Fulford Cemetery, remaining outside, and that services of remembrance will be offered to all families, will offer people at least some comfort that their loved ones will be given the funeral rites appropriate to their religion, although they can’t be there with them.

“This exceptional measure is to protect the public, funeral directors and bereavement services staff, at a very difficult time for all.”

The Venerable Sam Rushton, Archdeacon of York Minster, said: “At this difficult and distressing time, we, as church leaders, are committed to working closely with our colleagues at York Crematorium to make sure we can offer a fitting tribute to those who have died and as much comfort as we are able, within the current restrictions, to those who are mourning the loss of a loved one.”

But York Central MP was not appeased by the changes:

Is the risk lowered when fewer people attend?

Unfortunately, the risk is not lowered by lowering the numbers attending – the risk is related to close family members that could have symptoms or be carrying the Coronavirus.  Whilst social distancing and cleansing has been taking place in the recent funerals, this was at a point when cases were lower and families were not allowed to visit the deceased in hospital, so likelihood of the infection spreading was lower.  A week ago it became clear that death in communities, including at home and in care homes, were increasing where the medical referee was certifying the death could be related to Coronavirus.  A death at home will mean that family members are likely to have come into contact with the deceased and staff at the Crematorium are only alerted to this 24 hrs before the funeral when the medical certificates are sent through.  At that point there is no way of knowing whether family members have symptoms, are carriers or have self-isolated for the required number of days before attending the funeral. This significantly concerned funeral service staff as soon as they became aware that families were attending where a Coronavirus related death had occurred in this way.

How will you ensure the resilience of Crematorium services?

The modelling on death rates is not an exact science and will depend on the infection rate, which itself depends on adherence to government guidance.

Crematoriums are fundamental to the regional Management of Mortality Plans, which is the council’s emergency plan to dispose of large numbers of the deceased in a pandemic. Any over exposure of staff to the Coronavirus, across local authorities in our region, could threaten these plans and present a different Public Health issue as the number of bodies could back up at Funeral Directors sites and at temporary body storage facilities.

Why are we making the changes at such short notice?

We appreciate this is very short notice, but we must take clear public health advice to ensure everyone is protected and that we limit the risk to the public, our staff and partners, including funeral directors.

There can be up to 14 services a day, with up to 10 or 5 people at each service, meaning that in one day, over 150 people could potentially visit the crematorium. It is vital that the number of people visiting the crematoria is kept to a minimum, in order to minimise the chances of spreading coronavirus.

We also have a very small skilled team providing a critical service, if they became infected we would have a further public health risk in not being able to undertake cremations at all. These changes are in line with a number of other local authorities who have taken the same action, in some cases earlier, during this unprecedented situation.

Will there be more than 14 services a day in the future?

We can increase the number of services significantly by working overnight as well as in the daytime should this prove necessary during the national crisis.

What happens if we have a service planned at the Crematorium?

Working with your funeral director you may have some of your wishes met through small celebrant-led ceremonies in chapels of rest before the cremation. 

The cremations will continue as planned but unfortunately, this means that services in their current form will not be able to go ahead. The celebrant/minister can still attend and we will still provide a short video within the chapel free of charge for those services that have been booked.

The immediate family may wish to attend York Crematorium, remaining outside to pay their respects, similarly at Fulford Cemetery, whilst following official social distancing guidelines.                

Will services of remembrance be offered?

City of York Council will ensure that services of remembrance at York Crematorium will be offered to all families when restrictions are lifted and a city wide multifaith remembrance ceremony will be held, supported by local faith leaders and the Council.

What about future York Crematorium service bookings?

At the moment, any new bookings will be undertaken as ‘Direct Cremation’ only. However, the option for a 10 minute service by a celebrant/minister can be added.  

Are there any exceptions to this new rule?

Sadly not – these are unprecedented times. We want to ensure that the bereaved families have the opportunity to celebrate their loved one’s life and we are working to seek support from other faith agencies across the city to do this once the coronavirus outbreak is over.

 What is considered to be immediate family?

There will be a limit on the number of mourners outside to 10 people, at both York Crematorium and Fulford Cemetery, who must at all times observe social distancing.

 Will we be able to collect our loved one’s ashes?

Yes, the ashes will continue to be available for collection and where the families wish to scatter these in the grounds we can arrange for this to happen once it is safe to do so.

Does this decision impact on burial services at Fulford Cemetery?

Graveside burial services at Fulford Cemetery are still permissible as long as families follow the rules in place which limit the number of mourners outside to 10 people, who must at all times observe social distancing. For further details see the link below:

www.fulfordparishcouncil.org.uk

For more information:

All the latest information on the steps the council is taking during the corona virus outbreak including York Crematorium are available on the link below: www.york.gov.uk/coronavirus