The Good Funeral Awards

Winchester Death Day 14 May 2011

16 May, 2011

I didn’t know what to expect at Winchester Death Day, organised by Winchester University. It seemed like a highbrow gathering of formidable intellectual thanatophiles. It turned out to be huge fun. The opening keynote was by Tim Morris, Chief Executive of the Insitute of Cemetery & Crematorium Management, who raised at least half-a-dozen major issues around death and dying. He talked about the problem of reburial – how a lack of space in churchyards makes re-use of plots a necessity, but it’s fraught with controversy.

He contrasted the UK problem with Germany where they have a 30 year lease on the plots – and after that they are cleared away. He also showed how if Tesco need to build a car park they can usually just clear the site – but he showed a slide of where two war graves were preserved in a car park. He also questioned whether foetuses that are disposed of before 24 weeks should be classed as ‘clinical waste’.

He went through the problems of wasted heat energy in crematoria, and the question about what to do with metal pins and joints that are left behind after the body has been incinerated. (They like to recycle them and give the money to charity – but this has been challenged in the courts). Are you allowed to put cremains in running water? The answer is yes, because ashes are inert.

I also heard a talk about C S Lewis and how The Magician’s Nephew is about the death of his mother. I met a shaman and a lady called Anna King gave an account  of the connection between mountaineering, death and spirituality. Later I watched Hannah Rumble’s film about woodland burials, which we’re hoping to show during the Six Feet Under weekend.

Christina Welch also organised a display of coffins, which inspired me to do an exhibition at the convention. It was a splendid day out. Death gets people talking and bonding. It’s also helped me visualise how the Bournemouth weekend will work.