‘I can’t visit my husband’s headstone on our anniversary because the council won’t open the gates’

By Jonathon Hill

A 76-year-old woman says she can’t visit the headstone of her husband of more than 50 years for their anniversary because the council won’t open the cemetery gates.

Lilian Parsons, who lives in Newport, lost husband Roger Parsons in late 2019 due to complications with rheumatoid arthritis.

Prior to the pandemic Mrs Parsons visited her husband’s grave at St Woolos cemetery most days in the week, but that ended when Covid restrictions came into play in the spring of 2020.

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She said she had no issues with the restrictions and understood their importance at the time, but almost two years later Lilian says she is still told she must book an appointment if she wants to visit her husband’s grave in the week by car.

Mrs Parsons, who also has arthritis and a heart condition, says she cannot walk to her husband’s grave from the entrance to the cemetery without becoming unwell.

Newport council said the cemetery is now open to walkers on all days of the week, while cars are allowed into the cemetery on weekends. The council said the restrictions are to allow “for the safe operation of machinery used in the preparation of graves”.

Lilian and Roger Parsons. Lilian lost Roger in late 2019, and says she feels upset she has been unable to see his grieve often over the last 18 months due to council restrictions (Family handout)

Mrs Parsons says it means she cannot visit her husband’s grave for what would have been their anniversary on Monday, January 10.

“I desperately want to go there to spend some time on Monday, and I keep phoning them but I get no answer,” she said. “It’s open on weekends and bank holidays but that is it. They say you can book an appointment but I’ve never been able to. It’s packed on weekends because it’s the only time so many people can get in because they rely on cars. I paid a lot of money for the plot and we get this.

“There are many others in my position struggling because of these restrictions.”

The same restrictions apply to Christchurch cemetery in Newport, and a petition has been set up by Kerry Seal to oppose the rules.

Kerry said the rules are “not fair on disabled people and the general public that need to drive in”.

Gates closed to vehicles at St Woolos cemetery, Newport (Jonathon Hill)
The sign outside St Woolos cemetery in Newport informing drivers it is not open to vehicle access in the week (Jonathon Hill)

“It’s not good for people’s mental health, keeping loved ones from their deceased family,” she said. “Even though the council said we can ring the cemetery and they will open the gates, I have tried and never got an answer.”

Mrs Parsons’ son Nigel said the family have been left bemused at the reasons given by the council.

“This isn’t happening anywhere else in Wales, so why is it happening here,” he said. “Prior to Covid we had no issues at all [with heavy machinery] and the cemetery was always open, so what has changed? It’s a big cemetery and there is plenty of room for everyone.”

Mrs Parsons said the situation has had a significant effect on her mental health.

Walkers are allowed into the cemetery every day (Jonathon Hill)
St Woolos is a particularly large cemetery and Lilian says she is not the only person impacted by the rules (Jonathon Hill)

She added: “It does make me very sad, it’s hit my mental health. I’d very much like to go in on weekdays and have some time in peace there. It feels so wrong.

“Monday will be upsetting, very upsetting - because I know I should be there and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Local campaigner Michael Enea says he has spoken to various residents with similar concerns in recent weeks. He said: “Why does Newport City Council still operate a ban on vehicle access mid-week to its cemeteries - when almost every other Welsh council allows vehicle access every day?

“I’ve read Newport council’s explanation, but this hasn’t affected vehicle access to other cemeteries across Wales. Why is it only in Newport?

“The grieving families I have spoken with are deeply upset. There is a feeling that the council’s reasoning for the ban on vehicles is excessive. The council has overreacted. It needs reviewing urgently and it needs to be relaxed.”

A spokesperson for Newport council responded: "Pedestrian access to Newport cemeteries is available throughout the week

"Vehicle access in St Woolos and Christchurch cemeteries is restricted to Saturdays and Sundays, public holidays and special religious festivals. The gates were open over the Christmas period, for example.

"Pedestrian-only access during the week, except for funeral corteges, helps to ensure the safety of all visitors and to allow for the safe operation of machinery used in the preparation of graves.

"It also offers mourners and visitors opportunities for quiet reflection, undisturbed by noise from vehicles.

"If specific access is required due to mobility issues, residents can contact the council during working hours on 01633 656656 or info@newport.gov.uk ."

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