The South Downs Natural Burial Site has today been presented with the award for the Best Natural Burial Ground in the UK. Lucy Siegel, journalist, author and presenter on the BBC's The One Show presented Al Blake, the Manager and his team, the award as patron for the Natural Death Centre Association.
Situated in a 55 acre woodland at The Sustainability Centre in East Meon, Hampshire, the non-profit making organisation has been performing low-impact environmentally friendly burials for over 13 years. The organisation also donates any surplus funds to the environmental education programme at The Sustainability Centre.
The beautifully carved award was presented to Al Blake and his team in the outdoor classroom at the centre, built from timber on the site.
"It is beautiful to be in this amazing structure," Lucy said, "and to pay tribute to the incredible work you do here. The commitment and compassion you give here really is priceless. It is amazing how you merge life and death and your profound respect for nature."
"I was frequently moved to tears reading the submissions and comments from bereaved families who have buried a loved one here. Nothing can take away the pain of losing someone close to you. But it is clear that Al Blake and his team have the necessary knowledge, compassion and commitment to support families and friends properly (and again authentically). Crucially, they understand the part the natural world plays in death and life. Outstanding.”
"If you ever need any help in the future please ask, but I don't know how you can improve."
"We are, of course, elated and also rather humbled by this award," Al said. "It is a testament to all the dedication, hard work and commitment by the team. Our aim is to allow our families as much time as they need and the freedom to do whatever they choose to do, be it conventional or otherwise, and to guide and support them through that process.”
The People’s Awards is held by The Natural Death Centre Association to recognise the personal service received when someone aranges a burial in a natural burial ground and the impact that the manager or owner had on the bereaved families. The award was decided by over a thousand members of the public who had buried a family member in a natural burial ground throughout the UK, with the association scrutinising written accounts.
The presentation was attended by staff of the centre, volunteers, supporters and members of the Board of Trustees. Maddy Harland, Chair of the Board, a co-founder of the centre and editor of Permaculture magazine was overwhelmed with pride. "They are amazing and they always move me. I am deeply proud of what they do. Thank you guys for being, quite possibly, the best in the world."
The organisation have performed over 1,200 natural burials on the site which was once a conifer plantation with poor biodiversity as part of a Naval base. The replanting of southern broad-leaf species after a burial has encouraged native flora and fauna, with families encouraged to plant native wild flowers on their loved-one's plots. This creates high biodiversity to support an abundance of wildlife.
The grounds and the centre are open for visitors at all times with staff on site from Monday to Friday.
Photo credit: Gail Harland
Visit The Sustainability Centre's website at www.sustainability-centre.org