Monday 5 May 2014

In Memoriam - at a price: welcome to Easycrem ... Capita's money making plans for Hendon Crematorium begin

Gone and now to be forgotten - memorial benches at Hendon Crematorium, dumped by Capita

*Updated 8th May with video: see below

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,

         Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;

Along the cool sequester'd vale of life

         They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Yet ev'n these bones from insult to protect,

         Some frail memorial still erected nigh,

With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
        Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

The need to mark the ending of a life is an instinct common to all traditions, all cultures, and all periods of history. 

Usually the privilege of a permanent memorial is reserved for those with means, of course, and for those less well placed in life, in death too, their memory is less likely to be given the honour of remembrance in any material form. 

It is only relatively recently that the families of ordinary working people could afford to erect headstones for departed relatives, and the increase in use of cremation means that memorials are now likely to be in the form of plaques or other tokens of tribute, and grief.

Many residents in Barnet have family members laid to rest in Hendon Crematorium. 

They may be interred with a headstone, or their ashes may have been scattered there. 

If the latter, it is likely that the families have marked their passing with a plaque or perhaps a memorial bench. 

It is no doubt the case that when these arrangements were made, it was on the understanding that this was a permanent act of memorial.  

If so, the families of those remembered in this way are mistaken, and many of them face the deeply distressing possibility that they will come to the Crematorium grounds to mark an anniversary, or simply to grieve for their loss, and find that the bench has simply disappeared.

We know this because of a short article in the local Times paper this week, in which it was revealed that any benches deemed to have been 'abandoned' will be removed from the grounds. According to the council this is on the grounds of 'health and safety', as many of these memorial items are breaching regulations because they are 'broken, have mould growing on them, or are in a state of disrepair'.
Memorials manager David Aspiris said: “We are concerned some people might visit once a year on anniversaries so we’re making a note of that and keeping the benches in good condition safe. 

We can’t say how long they’ll be kept for – I’ve got absolutely no idea – it depends on how much storage we’ve got.

But those which aren’t maintained are clearly not safe, and if something happens health and safety wise, it will be on our shoulders.” 

On their shoulders. 

Of course there are many thousands of instances every year of death and serious injury resulting from grieving relatives sitting on a bench in a memorial garden, and Mr Aspiris and his colleagues are quite right to interfere in this way. 

If only these benches had been maintained to a standard that reaches the level of safety that would allow the memorials to remain. Oh: hang on - why have these benches not been maintained, anyway?

In fact, why has the Crematorium, its incinerators, and its grounds, been neglected, over so many years, by our Tory council?

Why was the Crematorium added, at the last moment, to the DRS/ Re contract, as a 'sweetener' - an inducement to increase the sweaty palmed desires of companies bidding for the business?

Why did our supposedly cash strapped council vote to award £2 million to the Crematorium for improvements, as soon as they had agreed to add it to the tender, having deliberately underinvested in it for so many years?

Who won the contract, Mrs Angry, you may be wondering?

Let me remind you.


Why was the addition of the Crematorium such a deal breaker?

Because in this world, as we know, the only certainties are death, and taxes, and a Capita run Easycrem can make great fat wads of cash from both sources, if given a free reign, and now that Broken Barnet is transformed into Capitaville, that is exactly what the company has: free reign, and a licence to print money. 

As explained in this post: 

... there is a business plan ready and waiting to be put into action, so as to maximise the level of profit that Capita can extract from our deceased relatives, and our grief.

Of course, the council has already approved increased charges for burials and other related services. But the new plans by Capita? These, as the contract makes clear - if you bother to read it, which our Tory councillors did not - include having more funerals, quicker funerals, floodlit funerals, live streamed funerals, funeral dvds. They will provide services like flower tributes, after marketing them 'sensitively' to the bereaved. 

And, as one strongly suspects, the sudden interest in removing memorial benches is part of a wider scheme, to charge families for such forms of remembrance, or probably for 'maintenance'.

Time to make a visit to the Crematorium, and check what was happening.

This is not a place I like to visit, for one very good reason, a personal reason. 

When my own mother died, due to a 'misunderstanding' between the undertakers, and the Crematorium, her ashes were scattered, without our consent, in the 'Garden of Remembrance', rather than kept for collection and taken to the Catholic churchyard in Durham where most of my grandmother's family are buried, since they came over from Ireland.

This 'administrative mistake' (pre-Capita) caused me deep distress, and boy, would my mother have been furious. After it happened, I made a visit to the memorial garden, and sat there in tears, on one of the benches, for a long while. It is of course, the sort of place where people do sit, in tears, for a long while.

Yesterday I went there again, reluctantly, as it makes me feel so guilty. I had rung the Crematorium office in the morning to enquire about other relatives interred there, and a very helpful woman had produced a list of their known locations, and took my details, in case, as I had pointed out, there were any attempts to do anything which might affect their remains, or memorials. In the end, it transpired there are no memorials to remove - or so it seems.

Again I sat by the 'garden', and eventually became aware that there were a large number of benches around the edges -some with floral tributes, or cards, or personal items - and they all had laminated notices on them. The distribution of these notices in itself is grossly insensitive, in my view, and intrusive.

Walking around it became clear that these benches are most certainly not in a dangerous condition, nor very old, and the tributes left on many of them are relatively recent.

Normally I would not publish personal details, but in this case I think that the relatives of these benches ought to be alerted -this has a plaque for an Arthur and ?Ena Fitzgerald:

You can see that this bench still has a card from a grandchild, and other rather touching offerings tied to it. Other benches have photos, or religious material - this one below, with a prayer offering from Knock, for Mark and Sadie May, from the Mahon family:

None of these benches are in need of anything other than sanding down and a coat of varnish. Some of them were quite new looking, and it was impossible to see any argument for removing them: 

The 'mould' referred to in the article on some of the older benches is actually lichen, and perfectly acceptable, indeed an indication of the ecological value of the surroundings, an area fringed with old trees, and with a tiny brook running through it. The variety of birds in the quieter parts of the grounds speaks of the importance of maintaining the site in its natural state: what chance of that, though, post Capita? Remember that they intend to have the Crematorium grounds listed as an 'open space' - an ominous warning of what is to come.

The notice which is left on these benches claims they have been 'identified' for removal due to the 'development of this area for further memorialisation'. It says nothing about their state of repair, and it would suggest very strongly that these benches are being removed on a false pretext, and in order to facilitate Capita's own ambitions for income generation. No doubt they will try to impose charges for replacements, and maintenance. Why not? That's how they make profit for their shareholders.

The dead have always been a valuable commodity, of course. 

In the early nineteenth century, the risk of graverobbing by 'resurrection men', who made their living selling corpses for anatomisation by medical schools, was a real fear amongst the bereaved, with some graveyards driven to hire full time watchmen. 

Now we have private companies like Capita, at the invitation of our Tory councillors, preying on the opportunities offered by their lucrative new contract. 

From Easycouncil to Easycrem: the logical conclusion, after all.

I'd known my grandfather Charles, who died during the war, was interred at Hendon, but I had imagined he would have been cremated, like everyone else in the family. But records showed he was buried, in a plot located in a far corner of the grounds. 

The woman in the office had helpfully pointed out, giving me a rather disconcerting look, that my grandfather was seven foot under, and there was room for another burial. Clearly she had no idea I already have the promise of a blogger's discounted pre-used grave, written into the Capita contract.

It was a long walk to find my grandfather's burial place, trailing along a rather melancholy route,  through the Chinese and Greek sections - the benches there considerably older, but noticeably not festooned with threatening notices.

Impossible to tell which of the unmarked graves is his, only within a small area, right by the far edge, beautifully left to its own devices,  surrounded by ancient oaks, watched only by a large crow, sitting on one of the headstones. I stood in the late afternoon sunlight, suddenly touched by the proximity to a grandfather who died long before I was born, and spent most of his life away from home, at sea, a virtual stranger to his own children, and never known by any of his grandchildren.

A tranquil place, as yet untouched by the grasping intrusion of Capita's development plans, and only spoilt by the PA noise wafting across from that other corporate giveaway, the rugby stadium given to Saracens by our Tory leader, at a peppercorn rent, while they clean up with a sponsorship deal from the former Nazi supporting Allianz insurance company.

Et in arcadia ego.

No record of my grandmother's memorial, nothing for my aunt, or my uncle, or my great uncle Percy, who died after being gassed in the trenches of the first world war: disappeared without trace. 

Does it matter, leaving no trace? 

I think so. That's why I put a headstone for both my parents, and all the other members of my family who have no other memorial, up in that churchyard in Durham. My father's ashes I scattered partly there, and partly in Cornwall, in a place of significance to him. His own garden of remembrance, unsullied by the hands of Capita. When I pass through there, I rejoice in the fact that now he is part of the landscape he loved so much, in the wild, and free. But his name is recorded elsewhere.

When someone dies, you need somewhere to go, to mark your loss, and remember their lives. 

Otherwise, what are we, once we are gone? A name in a ledger, forgotten. 

And if for some people, their way of marking their loss is a fading card, or some artificial flowers tied to a bench, who has the right to remove that? 

As I left the Crematorium, I turned left out of the entrance - and something caught my eye, while I was regarding the delapidated state of the original Gatehouse and offices. A hole in the fence, and then - a curious sight, captured in the photograph at the beginning of this post. 

A hoard of hijacked memorial benches, at least a couple of dozen of them, stashed in a dark corner, some with plaques still visible, and still displaying tokens from family members. 

This is where memorial benches go to die, in Capitaville: held to ransom, and then quietly disposed of, if no one pays the price.

And here, in perfect form, we have a metaphor of everything that is wrong, in Broken Barnet: a devolution of responsiblity to the private sector, where everything has a price, if it must survive.

This is how we live now, in this borough, thanks to the Tory administration which brokered the billion pound contracts with Capita, and used my dead grandmother, and grandfather, and mother, and maybe yours too, to seal the deal.

If you think you have relatives buried or remembered here, you are advised to phone the Crapitorium and make sure they respect the last resting place or memorial of your loved ones: 020 8359 3370.

Oh, if you have problems getting through, as I did ... the phone lines? Also run by Capita. 

And if you are not happy about the use of your family members to boost Capita's dividends for its shareholders, you know what to do, don't you?

Don't vote for the same Tory council, on May 22nd. Vote for a Labour administration, and hope for a better future, and a past that is honoured, and remembered, rather than exploited for the last penny of profit.

*Updated 8th May:

Here is a press release from Barnet Alliance, followed by a brilliant musical tribute to Capitaville, with footage filmed this weekend in the Crematorium, sung by an enthusiastic choir of residents including the marvellous John Sullivan - Selling our souls to Capita:


Barnet Alliance for Public Services

How crass, how insensitive, how money-grubbing does an organisation have to be before the press will expose it?  Capita’s heartless removal of memorial benches from Hendon Crematorium is another outrage of privatisation that deserves more than a bland notice in the online local press. 

Barnet Alliance for Public Services has fought against Barnet Council’s ‘One Barnet’ programme because it recognised that private companies put their profits before the people’s interests. Bad enough when our Conservative council resorts to outsourcing services for the most vulnerable people in the community to enable private companies to make bigger profits out of care, but can the current councillors sink any lower than allowing Capita to squeeze extra profits out of grieving families? 

The facts have been presented in the Broken Barnet blog by Mrs Angry and the Barnet Eye blog by Roger Tichborne, both well known in Barnet. But Capita is a national, indeed a multinational, company, and people throughout the country should be made aware of its principles, its lack of ethics, its callous attitude. This is what you get when you privatise council services.

We are two weeks away from local elections on 22 May and people should be shown what will happen if they return Tories to power in local government.

This issue, a striking example of how services to residents will be run when privatised, is also highlighted in this video. The song, performed by resident John Sullivan and the Barnet People's Choir, is about the £16 million that Barnet Council told residents Capita was investing in the borough's IT systems … when in fact the council was actually giving Capita £16 million of taxpayers’ money for this purpose.

Mr Cameron sees Barnet as a flagship borough, spending taxpayers’ money to line shareholders’ pockets. The facts are easily available. The question is will Barnet residents allow this to continue, or will they use their vote to change their fate?



Anonymous said...

"|It is no doubt the case that when these arrangements were made, it was on the understanding that this was a permanent act of memorial." - what evidence do you have for this preposterous claim? Maybe the inept in-house staff possibly gave such an impossible commitment?

Looks possible that Capita have for the first time actually thought about how these benches are to be managed. Isn't it about time? Why has the situation be left to rot and decay under in house provision? Why not ask that?

Anonymous said...

Surely a typo, "In fact, why has the Crematorium, its incinerators, and its grounds, been neglected, over so many years, by our Tory council?
should read

"In fact, why has the Crematorium, its incinerators, and its grounds, been neglected, over so many years, by our the indifferent in house council staff?"

Unless you are seriously suggesting that a strategic policy decision was taken over how benches at a crematorium by Councillors?! Why do you always let your laid back Council staff buddies off the hook? Private sector can do no right, in your eyes, but the precious public sector can do no wrong?

Mrs Angry said...

Only a Tory, and someone as totally insensitive as you could leave such remarks: really, even by your standards this is awful. I can't be bothered to reply in detail: read the contract section that deals with the ways in which Capita proposes to screw money out of bereaved residents. As to your second comment: quite obviously the investment which was not made in regard to the new incinerators, years ago, when the problem was first raised, is nothing to do with staff, but a political decision.

Red Sonia said...

Will we be renting benches by the day/week/hour - or maybe "hot benching": one name on a bench one day, another name the next ...

These seats were often paid for by a grieving spouse who would visit regularly - then the spouse dies, no-one else cares or knows, but other people, similarly grieving, use them too - something that the spouse would have found comforting surely.

But, wooden benches do have a natural life and I have an answer! On a local seafront, wooden benches, lashed by storms last year , have been replaced by plastic benches that look like wood.

Now, personally, I prefer the natural materials BUT just to be bloody-minded I would love to donate one at Hendon, knowing it might last for a hundred years needing no attention or maintenance, being no health and safety hazard (I well remembet when I once brushed against a bench and almost -well nothing...) and watch Crapita squirm as it realises it isn't going to make any money out of me!!!

Mrs Angry said...

God, I hope no one from Crapita picks up on your 'Hotbenching' idea ... what next? Hot plotting: laid to rest for five years guaranteed, then turned out to make room for a new resident, unless you pay a premium? The possibilities are endless.

John S said...

They are throwing out the benches so how long before they throw out the remains, and sell the plot on to others.

When you are dealing with uncaring money grabbing companies such as Capita, it would be as wrong to assume the plot is for life . Have no doubt they will be keeping track on unvisited graves over the next couple of years, the digging them up and flogging them off.

They might say different but what is to stop them, after all such a question would be deemed contractually sensitive.l

Mrs Angry said...

I think the implication about my grandfather's grave is that I could buy the plot above (a cheery thought)- although I suspect my grandmother paid for both, and the family forgot about it as she died much later. There are rather creepy references in the contract to pre-used and virgin plots, so God knows what they have in mind.

Red Sonia said...

You get a "virgin" plot only if you are related to a Crapita employee or a majority councillor perhaps, the rest of us getting "pre-used".

Or maybe it's "Virgin" plots and reserved for Richard Branson and his family! ... at a price.

Anonymous said...

As well as his own "typos" many authorities lease memorial benches, with the offer to renew both bench and lease. Hardly an arrangement in perpetuity, but certainly not preposterous as he suggests.

Where he is correct, the controlling authority must have the ability to manage and maintain said memorial, if only to condemn its condition. And it is for this reason you will no doubt find the Capita coffers ringing their approval. Pardon the pun, but should said memorial not reach the required Capita benchmark then it is reasonable to assume they are requesting further monies and/or making space for new memorials.

Whether they themselves are additionally investing in the upkeep of the graveyard to equal standards I will leave you to decide, along with the validity of condemning various benches which may for example be structurally sound, but equally may not fit Capita's 'gleaming' corporate image. In other words there are no doubt financial incentives to condemn each and every bench and as often as possible. Or as Daniel 'No' Hope might put it, a policy which "your laid back Council staff buddies" could only dream of, assuming of course money was the ulterior motive.

One assumes therefore (heaven forbid) that Capita will equally apply the 'lichen test' to the headstones and will shortly be jet washing everything in sight, perhaps even including the trees, except who would pay? Call me old fashioned...... but I like lichen and the weathered look and neither would stop me using a bench.

Anonymous said...

Mrs A is there really so little you can think of trumpeting about your party's election campaign that you - in a coordinated attack with your pro-Labour blogger buddies - sink down into the gutter to play politics with the dead?

You and Roger writing the desperate articles and the increasingly preposterous Mr Reasonable tweeting the story at national media figures and broadcasters.

Spinning and twisting a mundane story about managing benches into accusation of 'selling the dead' for a few Labour votes is the surely the worst type of negative campaigning?

Mrs Angry said...

Anon 20:18 - of course there are financial incentives. Why else is Capita involved? Why are crematoria so appetising to the outsourcing industry? Because there are easy profits, in a market which self evidently is guaranteed to continue to prosper, when all else fails.

I can assure you there was no health and safety risk in any of the benches I saw, and the notices on the benches made no reference to condition, merely to the proposed 'development' of 'memorialisation'.

And yes, I like lichen, and the weathered look, and I like wandering around overgrown churchyards, and I don't want to see them tarted up and turned into ghastly corporate spaces, manicured like some sort of golf course.

Mrs Angry said...

And as for you, Mr Hope, you are beyond words: the fact that you can read this and think that my feelings about the place where my mother's ashes were scattered, and my other relatives,are some sort of 'playing politics' says so much about your own nature, and your own lack of emotional response. What a vile thing to say.

Charles Cowling said...

I feel your fury, Mrs A, and I share it. Big money is moving into the death business bigtime and too many local authorities are ceding their crematoria to the private sector. New crematoria are springing up everywhere and, of course, the bereaved are being exploited. The bereaved comprise an eminently exploitable sector, grief being what it is. Oh, and of course, there's money in benches -- and other 'memorialisation' products.

Over and against this, the public sector does, actually, have some questions to answer. Service values have not been as high as they might, best practice has not been shared as it ought, and the terrible business at Mortonhall has highlighted a very grievous neglect of the needs of parents who have lost a baby.

This can be put right, and it in no way invalidates your argument that to feed the bereaved to sociopathic big business is manifestly wrong.

Mrs Angry said...

The English way of death is confused, I think, by self consciousness, at what is really a taboo subject. In other traditions, Catholicism, Judaism, death is observed in emotional outpourings, wakes, and ritual mourning, not a tight lipped service and a glass of sherry afterwards. Local authority cemeteries can be run perfectly well: the place where two of my aunts are buried in Durham is run by the local council in exemplary style, and is beautifully maintained, discreet, with a great deal of effort taken to create a respectful and attractive environment. The difference is perhaps that it has always been a Labour controlled authority, and values a sense of community and history above profit and ideology.

madaxeman said...


I've met Mrs. Angry on more than one occasion, and this bit about being willing to exploit the dead for political purposes? I don't recognise that description of a woman who has indeed tirelessly devoted herself to her community, and the fight to preserve it.

Mrs. Angry is god's gift to scrutiny - particularly of things that others definitely don't want scrutinised. Is this why you don't get along?

I confess, I too am a blogger - and not that it's any of your business, but I won't be supporting either Labour,the Conservatives or the Lib Dems. Opinions vary, but in my opinion, the above parties do not deserve support.

However, were Mrs. Angry to put herself up as a candidate down there, and were I to live in the area, Mrs. Angry would have my vote without question.

Public life needs more people who actually care.

Anonymous said...


Those who know Mrs A in these parts know her to be a robust and stalwart campaigner to get the Labour Party elected in May.

She'll have to answer why these sudden outbursts of 'genuine fury' over this and Mapledown School have come to be on her blog not when the decisions were taken but a few weeks before the election and how managing neglected and often rotten wooden benches is 'profiting from the dead' more than pretty much all funeral arrangements. Do the Coop do free 'not for profit' funerals?

Am sure it's just a coincidence...

Anonymous said...

Mrs A I am sure you have very strong and loving feelings for the memory of your Father. Who would have the audacity to challenge that? That really isn't the point and you know it well!

What I am challenging is firstly your sudden interest in missing benches (that you have publicly derided the local media for reporting on this past year!) and the fact that this old story about the professionalisation of the services at the Crematorium is suddenly run by with emotion laid on thick 16 days before the election.

Really would have expected a stream of articles with you, in detail, explaining why Labour is worth a vote. Maybe you, like your dwindling band of bloggers, just can't think of any good reasons to vote for them?

Mrs Angry said...

The only reason I am publishing these comments, Dan Hope, is so people see what a little shit you are, and how typical of the Barnet Tory mindset: no empathy, no understanding ... if you bothered to read the piece properly, you would see that it is my mother who has the misfortune to be scattered over the 'memorial garden' at Hendon Crematorium, not my father. Only you, or one of your sort, could not see how offensive your remarks were, but then that is of no surprise to me.

Sorry to spoil your blathering comments with a factual response, but I have been writing about the Capita plans for monetising the Crematorium, since they outlined them in the contract: see the link to the post entitled 'The Loved Ones'.

And really: I wrote about Mapledown as soon as I knew about it. Clearly the plight of disabled children is of little interest to the Barnet Tory sensibility, where the profit motive rules all else.

If all these chickens are coming home to roost now, that is no conspiracy, but the logical end to years of neo-Thatcherite misrule by a bunch of swivel eyed loons masquerading as Conservatives. Your kind of people, in short.

John Sullivan said...

Surely it is sensible to completely ignore the comments of Mr Hope who never attempts to make a constructive contribution,apparently only capable of voicing vile right wing opinions often not relative to the items he chooses to abuse. Judging by his bullying right wing analysis of everything non Tory,it is fair to suggest he wholeheartedly supported Cornelius and co over the last four years in their refusal to consult with Barnet residents on any subject including One Barnet. Therefore as he feels like Cornelius and his team those with differing views to them,have no right to an opinion or a voice. Is it not time this sad little unimportant nobody was ignored completely.Because from where I am standing as the parent of a 50 year old disabled daughter who attended Mapledown, who has parents and a young brother and many friends buried at Hendon. His opinions are not worth a minutes thought, so why give life to the comments of this nasty little nobody by responding to his right wing crap. Your time is far more valuable being used informing us Barnet residents of the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, which is what you do. Something this little Mr nobody
appears to be incapable of doing.

Red Sonia said...

Bloody marvellous: Tories can hype themselves up 24/7 and blatently lie through their expensively privately glowing perfect gnashers at election time and that's just them being - what - reprehensible little shits actually.

And as for you, Mrs Angry - you are SO naughty because you must have done something truly shocking to get Mapledown School on the Barnet Tory agenda just in time to blog about it before the election!

Come clean: which of them was the recipient of your favours!

Mrs Angry said...

Desperate though I may be for attention, Red Sonia, and believe me, I am, I am not likely to bestow my favours on a Barnet Tory, or indeed any Tory, although clearly some of them would relish the prospect. Probably the only sort I appeal to now.

Have you any men in Somerset going spare, with all their own teeth, some degree of lingering sexual urge, and don't vote UKIP?

I thought not.

I suppose you have to go to Devon and Cornwall for that sort of thing.

Red Sonia said...

No, you have to cross the Channel for hot blooded men like that these days or wait for an EU immigrant to slip (perhaps literally) under the radar into the UK ...

But relieved to hear you are sticking to your principles!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant video!!!

What next..... A single, Later with Jules?

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, Anon: I believe a Capita: the movie is in production, as we speak ...

Thank you for the tip, Red Sonia. I believe Abroad has always been a reliable source of red bloodedness,and a refreshing contrast to the lukewarm ditherings of Englishmen lurking about in the Home Counties, waiting for their online purchase from Pfizer to drop through the letterbox. I must renew my passport.