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Community / Council to carry out extensive repair programme on graveyard memorials

Memorials secured with wooden bracings at the graveyard at St Mary's Chapel at Sand. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND Islands Council is set to spend quarter of a million pounds on repairing almost 700 burial ground memorials situated on the isles’ 70 graveyards, and it hopes to recoup at least some of the cost from living relatives.

An inspection of the safety of the isles’ graveyards took place in 2019 following the tragic death of a child at a burial ground in Glasgow in 2015.

Subsequently, around 1,300 memorials were fitted with wooden bracings after they were found to have failed their safety test.

On Tuesday a report to councillors by environment and estate operations manager Carl Symons said the council had to act now “to ensure our burial grounds are safely accessible to all” after just 20 per cent of relatives had taken up the opportunity to commission remedial repairs to their family’s memorial.

Councillors were given three options to choose from, including leaving the wooden bracing in place, laying unsafe memorials flat, or embarking on a programme of repair work for 697 memorials falling into the most urgent priority category one and two.

The repair work will be contracted out using the council’s network of trained and approved memorial stonemasons.

Symons said the council may well find it difficult to recoup the estimated cost of £350 per memorial repair from relatives due to the lack of up-to-date lair holder records.

“The extensive administration involved in identifying lair holders in the first instance may not be currently feasible, while attempting to recover these costs in historic graves may not be successful,” the manager said in his report.

Moved by meeting chairman Ryan Thomson, councillors unanimously agreed to a programme of memorial repair which will get underway in the next financial year.

Westside councillor Catherine Hughson said she and her constituents felt strongly about the issue.

“We have to remember that is where families go to see their loved ones, the spend time there, and I think we should be proud about our graveyards – a lot of them are in a really good order,” she said.

Thomson added that he had been contacted by people visiting Shetland on how well maintained the isles’ burial grounds were.

The decision to go ahead with the programme of repair work will have to be confirmed by the policy and resources committee next Monday.