Amongst its many unique characteristics and qualities West Norwood Cemetery is also a unique public open space. Although it’s not designated as a park, common or recreation ground, and is managed for very different purposes, it still provides an important role to the people of Lambeth and West Norwood as a vital ‘green lung’ – it’s a safe and beautiful place to visit, walk and enjoy whilst still respecting its function as a place of burial, cremation, bereavement and reflection.
In recognition of this unique role, West Norwood Cemetery is the holder of a ‘Green Flag Award’, and so able to proudly fly the coveted ‘Green Flag’ at the cemetery entrance. It has held this highly coveted designation since July 2016, and has successfully continued to meet the strict criteria of the Award since then. It is now one of 17 sites across Lambeth that flay the Green Flag, which includes other notable sites like Brockwell Park, Clapham Common, Kennington Park and Streatham Rookery.
The Green Flag Award scheme is run in England by the environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy under licence from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The Award, which operates across the whole UK and 14 other countries around the world, has run for more than 20 years. A Green Flag is visible evidence to the general public that a park or other open space boasts the highest possible environmental standards, is welcoming, safe and well-maintained, and has excellent facilities for the visitor or regular user alike. The scheme also places considerable emphasis on sites that are protecting wildlife and heritage, and enabling people to interpret and appreciate this, and to engage with it including through volunteering. More information on the Award and what it means for a site can be found at www.greenflagaward.org/about-us/benefits-of-green-flag-award
The Green Flag Award scheme actively welcomes sites that are designated and managed as churchyards, burial grounds and cemeteries, in that these all play a vital role as spaces not just for people to visit and experience, but as places that often have a rich diversity of features that not only have significant heritage importance but also provide homes – ‘habitats’ – for numerous wild plants and animals, many of which are often under threat elsewhere from inappropriate development, such as birds, bats and invertebrates.
West Norwood Cemetery is a place that meets all of the criteria for a Green Flag Award, and more besides. It is a place that wonderfully manages to balance the needs of people and nature with the need to protect and respect its rich heritage and ecological value – it’s on the Historic England Register of Historic Parks and Gardens and is a Borough Grade Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation for Lambeth for these reasons. Previous visits by Green Flag Award judges have repeatedly praised the incredible richness of its burial architecture and monuments, but also the diversity of trees, plants and other wildlife features which integrate into the landscape.
The ongoing Lottery-and council-funded restoration of West Norwood Cemetery has been widely welcomed by Green Flag Award, in that it will continue to drive forward additional improvements to not just the visual, structural and heritage quality of the site, but will enable the public and other site users to have a greater understanding of the cemetery and its contents. It will also help with creating a greater sense of both community ownership and responsibility for protecting and looking after West Norwood Cemetery, which Green Flag Award are always keen to recognise and celebrate.
Finally, once the restoration works are completed, as well as continuing to retain the Green Flag Award, the aim is to also apply for a Green Heritage Award for the cemetery, which is an accreditation supported by Historic England. This additional award will recognize the cemetery’s unique historic status but also how this is explained and celebrated through the wide range of projects and activities that are linked to the restoration programme, including volunteering, interpretation and education.
For more information on Green Flag Award in Lambeth, and how to get more involved in helping keep Lambeth’s parks, cemeteries, churchyards and other open spaces clean, green and safe, including applying for the Award and similar schemes for your local open spaces, please contact Lambeth Parks on 020 7926 6209 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article by Dr Iain Boulton, Lambeth Environmental Compliance Officer