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Dying for space, Oxford proposes shared graves

by Adela Suliman | @adela_suliman | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 22 May 2019 15:57 GMT

Spring flowers bloom in a graveyard at a church in Knutsford, Britain, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Phil Noble

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With space for new graves set to run out by 2021, Oxford council has announced it is looking at the "reclamation" of graves where people could be buried on shared plots

By Adela Suliman

LONDON, May 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - While millions are struggling to buy homes in Britain, the dead are grappling with their right to find rest in cemeteries, as the overcrowded city of Oxford has proposed shared burial plots.

With space for new graves set to run out by 2021, Oxford council has announced it is looking at the "reclamation" of graves where people have been buried without buying rights to the space, which means another person could be buried on top.

"It is important to note that this does not disturb human remains," Oxford City Council said in a statement, adding that the proposal will be considered by its cabinet on May 29.

"The grave is re-opened to the deepest available depth leaving the legal requirement of 6 inches (15 cm) of soil between the last interment and the new interment."

It is a trend that a growing number of local authorities in Britain are adopting, with the City of London, Croydon and Southampton taking similar space-saving measures.

Lack of space also led the U.S. state of Washington to this week become the first to allow human composting, which involves a corpse yielding fertile soil.

Only two in 10 people in Britain are buried, with the vast majority opting for cremation, according to the Cremation Society of Great Britain, which promotes the burning of remains.

Just over half a million deaths were registered in England and Wales in 2017, official data shows.

Oxford council also plans to bring into use so-called heritage graves, appropriating plots on which burial rights were bought but never used and on which the deeds have expired.

"These proposals offer a solution that means the Council will be able to continue to offer a service into the future," said Ian Brooke, a spokesman for Oxford City Council.

Death, although a squeamish subject, is a reality for all and towns across Britain will likely have to follow suit, said Colin Fenn, vice chairman of the National Federation of Cemetery Friends, which supports the conservation of graveyards.

"It is going to be very tricky for some people to accept this," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.

Historically, people in Britain were frequently buried in shared spaces or far from where they lived - which could soon become a norm again due to a lack of space, he said.

"It is uncomfortable and the only way you can address this is by properly explaining and engaging with people," he said.

(Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org for more stories.)

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