The UK’s first indoor burial facility

In 2019, just 25 minutes away from central London, the UK’s first private indoor burial facility will be opening in Orpington, Kent giving British people the opportunity to be laid to rest in a way which is already popular in America and parts of Europe. Brightwater Memorial Park, set up by Bill Heasman, founder and managing director, is an indoor, community mausoleum aiming to give people a modern alternative to current burial and end of life options. “It’s essentially a facility that’s similar to a cemetery or any other burial facility with the difference that instead of the family coming to pay their respects or attend a service outside, everything is conducted inside,” Anthony Rockliffe, director of operations, says. “There are existing indoor burial facilities outside the UK but in the UK, this is the first.”

Founder Bill Heasman comes from a property development background and has gained inspiration from around the world for this landmark facility. “I have been involved in the probate sector for many years, but neither of us come from a specific funeral background,” says Rockliffe. “We both however have suffered personal losses that motivated us to want to offer a new way of looking at death and remembrance.”

Even though the indoor burial concept is well recognised in other parts of the world, the local authority seemed reluctant to give Brightwater the go-ahead, taking four and a half years to finally give the company planning permission to build the facility on the site it had owned for eight years and was previously the site of a landscaping business. “I think the local authority didn’t really understand what we were trying to build,” Rockliffe says. He goes on to say some of their concerns were around the amount of smoke the building may omit – despite there being no crematory on site.

Brightwater Memorial Park is essentially a mausoleum, offering clients the choice to be laid above ground, in a coffin or have cremated remains stored in the crypts. The 14-acre site will have two buildings and an overall capacity of 690 individual coffins, or a larger number of cremation urns as each chamber can hold up to six urns, which Rockliffe states is good for “families who prefer to be cremated but like the idea of being inside with the service that comes with our facility”. Bearing in mind the unpredictable English weather which doesn’t wait for the right moment, he continues to say: “If you’re going to see a loved one’s grave and it’s raining heavily, you’re probably not going to spend the time that you would at our facility. But you’re inside – you can have a cup of tea, you can sit, reflect, remember”

As well as allowing visitors to escape the elements, the appointment only facility gives them the chance to remember their loved ones in their own way, without feeling self conscious or like they are intruding on anyone else. Brightwater Memorial Park also brings modern inspiration, with the installation of screens and speakers, which can display and play whatever clients wish. “If they want to provide us with a USB stick with any videos or photos or memories of loved ones, then they can do and we have that constantly scrolling when they attend the facility” Rockliffe says. “On the speakers it’s exactly the same. They can provide us with a playlist, we have Spotify or they can give us songs they want and we can compile something we feel is appropriate.” Having the space completely to themselves, Brightwater hopes this will allow clients to freely remember those who have passed with soft, mellow music or loud, uplifting tunes – whichever suits their preferences. “They don’t need to worry about how that would affect any other mourners.”

Although the site will be open to the public, privacy will be one of the standout features of the facility which sets it apart from other burial sites. This is upheld through a booking system which allows clients to book slots to commemorate their loved ones in their own way. “If we have a request for a booked slot, we will ask the other people to come 15 minutes later or earlier, so everyone has the facility to themselves.” This way, funerals and anniversary events can take place with no interruption. They will also offer a collection service for those who do not drive.

Further to this, high profile people and families or those who simply want a little more privacy can book specific parts of the site where enhanced security can be arranged to ensure no one knows they or their family members have been laid to rest there. Security is not just available for the privacy of clients however, as it also addresses vandalism concerns which may be found at other outdoor burial sites which are easily accessible by the public. “We have quite high security features on the site which have then been amplified for the fact this is a cemetery. We have the ability to lock and secure our facility when it is closed. We have alarm systems and CCTV systems – which address strong security issues because of the type of clients that have gone on to reserve their crypt.”

In contrast to the element of privacy offered by Brightwater Memorial Park, the site owners also want to turn it into a place of togetherness and comfort, where those who are mourning can be offered support and helped to heal through the grieving process. “On days like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas and Easter we’ll be opening the facility and having community days for people to come and share their memories,” Rockliffe explains. He goes on to say that such events will “hopefully bring people together as they cope with their losses and realise death is not the end and there is an opportunity to remember their loved ones in a peaceful, uplifting setting”.

This community spirit and support will be further enhanced by the staff the facility plans to hire. As well as having a reception desk and giving visitors the ability to order refreshments giving the venue a welcoming feel, the people who have applied for roles at Brightwater so far have all had backgrounds in the nursing or care sectors and the owners want people from the funeral trade to apply, as it is important that whoever works there is “deals with the bereaved in a compassionate and understanding manner”.

Cost-wise, Brightwater’s operators will price the crypts in line with burial options local to them. “Because we’re privately owned, it doesn’t matter if you’re from Tooting or Timbuktu the price range remains the same. This will include the headstone, the engraving, the crypt itself and any subsequent visits by family and friends. They start at a little over £10,000 depending on the length of lease and the position you are in the building. The first two which are eye level and slightly below, are the most expensive and the cheapest is the fifth level. People can also pre-buy, securing their space at our facility at today’s prices and giving them and their families peace of mind.”

Brightwater Memorial Park, at the time of writing, is under construction and set for an early 2019 opening to give funeral directors time to rest during the busy Christmas period. The crypts have been imported from Italy and are earthquake proof, meaning they are resilient and able to withstand varying conditions. The modern facility – as with many contemporary end of life alternatives – seeks to address the growing problem of burial space in the UK. Although the above ground option does not cater to all religions and traditions, Rockliffe says: “Our crypts are five high, the ceilings in our facility are a little over 13 feet high. If you were to try to bury that number of people in the ground with the laws about how far apart the graves have to be, it would take six or seven times as much space as in our facility.” Outside of the crypts which have already gained permission, the site’s owners are also pondering different options on the vast grounds. “There’s definitely potential to add other remembrance options. Woodland burial is something I’d like to consider because it’s a nice natural final resting place.”

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