City of London cemetery will never run out of space

An East London Cemetery is pioneering a solution to the national shortage of grave space that is reaching crisis levels.

The City of London Cemetery & Crematorium, in Newham, is managed by the City of London Corporation. It was reaching full capacity until it recently converted a waste area into space for 3,000 new graves.

This new capacity, coupled with its ground-breaking grave re-use policy, means that the cemetery will become the first in the UK to offer burial space forever.

Grave re-use, which involves placing a new body into an existing grave, could be the solution to the UK’s burial space crisis.

A 2013 local authority survey found that almost half of England's cemeteries will run out of space within 20 years. A quarter said cemeteries would be full within a decade.

Many said they will run out of space within five years. In London, the problem is at crunch point, with some local authorities stopping burial services altogether.

Graves chosen for re-use must be over 75 years old. The cemetery contacts families to ask for consent and public notices are erected on or near the graves.

Posts are made on the cemetery’s website and advertisements are run in local newspapers. Any families who do not want a grave to be re-used do not have the grave re-used.

If any remains are found, they are placed deeper within the grave. The existing memorial is turned around, so that what was the front becomes the back, making space for a new inscription.

Gary Burks, the City of London Corporation’s Superintendent at the cemetery, said:

“Overcrowding in UK cemeteries forces families to travel away from their communities to bury or pay respects to their loved ones.

“It can separate family graves, preventing them from being buried in the same place as their relatives.

“This is an important step in resolving the UK’s burial crisis, which is reaching acute levels and depriving people of the chance to be close to their kin.

“We are in a position now where we can provide families with grave space, forever. We are the UK’s first sustainable cemetery.”

More than 1,500 graves have been recycled at the site since 2009. They are a popular choice, with over 60%, of burials at the cemetery now in reused graves, partly, because they are cheaper.

Legislation is available to London’s councils to enact the policy under the London Local Authorities Act, but the law does not apply outside the capital.

The cemetery works with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to make sure that the graves of those who died of war-related injuries in First World War and the Second World War, and civilians who died as a result of enemy action during WW2 - including the Blitz - are not re-used.

The City of London Cemetery & Crematorium is Europe’s largest municipal burial ground. It has reached almost 800,000 burials and cremations since 1856. It is Grade I-listed and contains eight Grade II listed buildings, as well as the remains of footballer Bobby Moore, victims of Jack the Ripper, Dame Anna Neagle, and Winston Churchill’s nanny.