Grieving Yorkshire families face heartbreaking funeral choices as crematorium restrictions vary with social distancing future of services unclear

Families in Yorkshire are having to make the heartbreaking decision of where their loved one should be cremated - somewhere that was meaningful to the deceased, or somewhere more mourners can attend the funeral under covid restrictions.

York funeral director Hayley Owen said families are deciding whether to have fewer mourners at York Crematorium or more at Harrogate
York funeral director Hayley Owen said families are deciding whether to have fewer mourners at York Crematorium or more at Harrogate

One York funeral director has said that around a dozen of her clients since the start of the pandemic have chosen a crematorium in a place that had no links to the deceased, in order to fit more mourners in.

Government restrictions mean that funerals are limited to 30 mourners, which includes all family.

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But councils are tasked with deciding how many mourners their crematoria can hold safely whilst social distancing is still advised.

And the Government are yet to confirm when social distancing will end at indoor services, meaning there is a possibility that funerals at crematoria could continue to be restricted even post legal restrictions lifting, which is due to happen on June 21.

York Crematorium is currently allowing 18 mourners to attend its socially-distanced services in its White Rose Chapel.

But Stonefall Crematorium in Harrogate, a drive of some 22 miles, allows 20 mourners, meaning some York families have chosen to travel the extra distance to allow two more mourners the opportunity to attend.

Hayley Owen, 32, whose funeral business is in York, said: “To be able to have those two extra mourners, some families have decided on Harrogate. It means they have to set off earlier, travelling miles further on a long and difficult day, but if they are willing to do it, we are too, and we totally understand why they are doing it.

“York Crematorium is being sensible, it’s been very good during all of this.”

Other crematoria across Yorkshire are also allowing less than the Government’s legal limit of 30 to attend services due to social distancing implications.

None of the three crematoria run by Leeds City Council are allowing 30 mourners, with Armley allowing 20, Cottingley and Lawnswood 14, and Rawdon 18.

Skipton Crematorium is only allowing 30 mourners if families are already in bubbles, with only 15 mourners able to attend services otherwise.

And in Bradford, a maximum of 15 are able to attend services at Nab Wood Crematorium.

All the region’s councils have stated they are waiting for government guidance before allowing any extra mourners to attend services.

Pauline Stuchfield, assistant director at York City Council, said: “Whilst the guidance around numbers for funerals has recently changed the guidance around social distancing still remains at 2 metres. Until central government update their guidance around distancing we are required to follow the 2m rule”

“To support those families mourning the loss of a loved one we have continued to provide recordings to share the service with those unable to attend, and have reduced the cost for services to reflect the current restrictions.

“As further government guidance is announced over the coming weeks and months, we will review this position.

The Government has promised a review of social distancing will be undertaken before the next stage of the roadmap lifting is due on May 17, but could not confirm to the Yorkshire Post if distancing for funerals is still being considered post June 21.

Covid status certificates are being mooted by Whitehall as a means to open up indoor and large events more quickly, but funerals are not forming part of its Events Research Programme over the next month.

It comes after 22 scientists wrote an open letter published at the weekend urging the Government to scrap social distancing and face masks in June.

The experts said distancing should be ended to "allow people to take back control of their own lives."