Funeral chief calls on Leeds Council to lift crematoria mourner ban

The head of one of Britain’s biggest funeral directors has criticised Leeds City Council for its social distancing rules at funerals.

Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 1:27 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 1:29 pm

Co-Op Funeralcare’s director of funerals has called on the authority to “rethink” its decision to ban mourners at its crematorium buildings around Leeds, suggesting it was “contradictory” to government advice.

According to council guidelines on direct cremations, only the funeral director and one officiant is allowed to enter a crematoria chapel building. But mourners are allowed to view the coffin being moved from the hearse into the chapel, so long as no more than 10 people attend and are from the same household or are close family members of the deceased.

Leeds City Council claims the decision had been made due to local pressures on health services, adding that families can defer services until the end of the lockdown measures.

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Co-op Funeralcare's David Collingwood has called on Leeds City Council to relax its restrictions on attending cremations.

But David Collingwood, director of funerals at Co-op Funeralcare claimed the measures would deny thousands of mourners the chance to properly grieve.

He said: “Although heartbreaking for families and loved ones, attending a funeral is an intrinsic part of the grieving process.

“Although we all recognise social distancing is vitally important, the council’s decision in Leeds will result in thousands of the region’s mourners being denied the chance to pay their respects and to say goodbye to loved ones.

“An attended service with a maximum of ten mourners per service would mean that council staff are under no more risk than when going out for food shops or during permitted exercise, providing social distancing is observed.

“It is a tragedy that communities in Leeds have been denied the chance to grieve and we don’t yet know what the long-term psychological effects will be for families unable to be with loved ones as they die. This trauma will be compounded if they are also denied the right to attend even a limited funeral service.”

Co-op Funeralcare says its current policy allows ceremonies to continue, as long as mourners adhere to social distancing measures, with colleagues dedicated to help support clients and communities through this time of loss.

Mr Collingwood said ‘a number of’ other councils have reconsidered their decisions to ensure that families can attend funerals.

A Leeds City Council spokesperson said: “In light of the coronavirus outbreak, we have had to make incredibly hard decisions to continue to provide essential services. Given the pressure on our health and care services, the health and wellbeing of Leeds residents and our staff must be considered first and foremost at this time.

“Our approach, in line with other councils in the region, has been to carry out direct cremations instead of funeral chapel services. Mourners are not banned, and small numbers are welcome to attend crematorium grounds to view the procession of the coffin into the crematorium buildings.

“Officiants can also deliver short blessings outside the chapel at this time.

“Families may wish to make alternative arrangements with other venues or funeral directors, or can defer a service until social distancing rules have been lifted. Our deepest sympathies go out to anyone who loses a friend or family member at the current time, and we hope to resume full funeral services as soon as it is safe to do so.”