Living in Brislington, we are so lucky to have the beautiful Arnos Vale Cemetery on our doorstep. With its 45 acres of trees, wildflowers, open spaces, classical architecture and more than 300,000 people who are buried or remembered there, from much-loved members of ordinary Bristol families to those who changed the world or sacrificed their lives in war, it is a great place to visit.
Jos said, ‘Four years ago, I was asked to become a trustee of the cemetery and to be honest, I jumped at the chance. Like many people in the area, I have fond memories of time spent wandering around, looking at the graves and enjoying the calm surroundings. When my son was small, we would go into the cemetery and have ‘adventures’ because at that time the place was unloved and quite neglected’
Jos and Andrew witnessed some of the anti-social behaviour firsthand on a tour of the site with cemetery staff.
When the Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust took over the running of the site, things started to improve, but with no financial support from Bristol City Council the registered charity needs to generate all its own income through events, weddings and burials. Unfortunately, as with many other organisations, the pandemic has had a severe impact on Arnos Vale Cemetery and its finances. All events have been cancelled and it has had to restrict opening times to visitors. To make matters worse, during this period there has been a dramatic increase in anti-social behaviour and mindless vandalism, adding an unbearable, additional expense for this charity.
Last week, Jos and Andrew witnessed this vandalism first hand when they visited the site to discuss the issues with the CEO, Ellie, and a senior member of the maintenance staff, Liam. Firstly, they visited the Underwood Centre, a beautiful space used for weddings. Recently, the adjacent wood store was broken into and wood taken for bonfires. This theft not only deprived Arnos Vale of an important revenue stream in terms of wood sales, but the fires also cracked and destroyed an expensive stone table used during the wedding ceremonies. Secondly, they took a look at the community garden, which Jos opened last year in her role as Lord Mayor. Unfortunately, this has suffered repeated vandalism over the last few months, which is incredibly disheartening to the small team of staff who work so hard to maintain this beautiful space. Damage has also been done to the external stone walls, which will be very costly to repair. Finally, during the walk back to the main gates, a large crashing and banging sound came from the café area. Upon inspection a small group of people were observed pulling down stacked tables and damaging them in the process. Andrew said, ‘What we saw today is only a snapshot of what is going on day after day. We reported the incident we witnessed to the police but the worry is, the cemetery will not be able to sustain this level of vandalism for very much longer’.
If you know anything about these incidents of criminal damage or have any information about vandalism at Arnos Vale Cemetery, please call the police on 101. If you are able to donate to support the work of the cemetery, please text ARNOS to 70085 to donate £5 (this costs £5 plus a standard rate message). Alternatively, go to the Support Us page on their website https://arnosvale.org.uk/support/
By Jos Clark, Local Councillor (Brislington West) & Andrew Varney, Local Councillor Candidate (Brislington West)