Two years volunteering in a Cemetery?

When I tell people that I volunteer at Liversedge Cemetery and also Morley, I typically get similar responses – raised eyebrows and a look of confusion. That is not unjustified as it can, at first glance, seem strange to someone who doesn’t understand what we do and why we do it. I would like to dispel some of these thoughts and perceptions I have encountered and try, if it is possible, to explain to you why volunteering has been so positive to myself whilst also illustrating how critical voluntary work is in any form in protecting our collective local heritage.

Liversedge Cemetery in May 2021

Off the bat, you certainly don’t have to be a taphophile (a person who is interested in cemeteries and gravestones), interested in the history of death, nor do you have to be a macabre or gothic person. Some, including myself, are genealogists and interested in all forms of history – local or otherwise – but even that isn’t necessary. Nor do you even have to have family buried in the cemetery. At the Friends of Liversedge Cemetery, for example, we have a range array of people who either fit some of the prior points but others who volunteer for other reasons. Some like to get out and get some fresh air, and others enjoy gardening and a nice chat, but we all collectively have one goal in mind – giving back to our community and keeping our cemetery tidy.

I decided to join the Friends of Liversedge Cemetery group for quite a simple reason. It was rumoured that my Grandad’s Grandma, or my Great Great Grandmother, was buried at the cemetery, and I thought it would be great to meet some people who may be able to assist in finding her plot. I also felt that it was right for me to do some volunteering in exchange for any information or assistance and would generally be a net positive for everybody. What I didn’t expect was that I would still be going up every other Sunday two years later!

In February 2022, we were able to mark Betty’s unmarked grave after about 88 years,

Being a little self-indulgent here but volunteering at the Friends of Liversedge Cemetery has been a roundly positive experience for me. I have met many different people of all different backgrounds and ages and made many friendships that wouldn’t have ever come to fruition if it wasn’t for the group. Partly by setting my One Place Study of Liversedge Cemetery, but also by meeting people at the tidy-ups, I have become even more informed about our local history. It has also been from the unique perspective of people from a range of different backgrounds, occupations and social classes. I am also now quite a good strimmer and weeder and have more gardening skills than before, but I certainly haven’t inherited the green fingers yet! I also have been able to give back to my local community and can say that I have made a difference. Regular volunteers or not, anybody who has worked with the group at Liversedge Cemetery has also made a difference.

As part of my One Place Study and also my EPQ project at school, I wrote a book on all known graves at Liversedge Cemetery that have soldiers buried in them or commemorated on them. This isn’t a usual thing volunteering at Friends of Cemetery groups, don’t get me wrong, but without my time up at the cemetery volunteering and the regular Remembrance Day events we hold, the book wouldn’t have likely happened.

Myself with a copy of my book at Cleckheaton Library in March 2022

Some would argue that it is the council’s obligation to look after and tidy our cemeteries. Sure this is true, but we have to consider that our local authorities are now quite large. Kirklees, my local authority, for example, is by area the third largest metropolitan district in England, behind Doncaster and Leeds. The council has to look after fourteen cemeteries in this area, and I am sure you can see why people feel like our cemeteries are neglected. It is not that the council is of fault necessarily, but they simply cannot fulfil the work to the standards prior to the 1970s local government reorganisation. This is where organisations such as the friends of Liversedge Cemetery are so vital because we can step in and do what is necessary to keep the cemetery as tidy and as beautiful as can be. The problem with this, of course, is that we are volunteers and not paid to do this.

If we want our areas to look beautiful, to feel cared for and want to protect the heritage of the said areas, it is necessary to create organisations and volunteer. Nobody will do the work for us. I personally do not care to throw the blame at anybody – I simply want to make things happen.

I would recommend if you’re on the edge of wanting to volunteer in any similar organisations, or even the Friends of Liversedge Cemetery itself, that you give it a go. What is the worst that could happen? If it’s not for you, simply do not go again! But, on the other hand, you may enjoy it, you may also enjoy the company it brings, and it could become quite a regular thing for you to do.

Some of our volunteers at Liversedge, including our local MP, Kim Leadbeater

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