The National Federation of Cemetery Friends (NFCF) represents groups of volunteers interested in conserving cemeteries large and small. Cemetery Friends give their time clearing and maintaining areas, often working with local ecology groups to maintain a balance between wildlife and heritage. In some cases local groups formed specifically to influence public opinion against a threat to a particular cemetery and later started researching the heritage and ‘promoting’ the site with guided walks. In other cases the Friends formed either to preserve the flora and fauna or to make the cemetery more widely appreciated by leading walks, publishing guide books and giving talks. Many now work with schools to encourage educational visits, hold open days and work on projects with Historic England and other organisations. Some groups have restored memorials and chapel. Most work with the cooperation of their local authority but our members now include groups and charities who bought and manage a burial ground as a trust.
The Federation was set up in 1986 with about 12 members and now has over 120 groups throughout the UK actively caring for cemeteries and churchyards as well as associates with complementary interests. Associate members include councils while they set up the Cemetery Friends, and interested individual members who share our values. The Federation is represented on the government’s Burial and Cremation Advisory Group (BCAG) within the Ministry of Justice and has contributed to research on cemetery management and burial legislation. European links are established through membership of the Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe (ASCE).
In order to draw attention to cemeteries as a local asset and the work of the volunteers, the NFCF organises a National Cemeteries Week which presents us with the opportunity to draw attention to the work of voluntary groups in their local cemeteries, to emphasise the benefits to their area and raise awareness of an important local amenity. Local authorities or owners without Cemetery Friends are also welcome to join in.
For help in starting and running a Cemetery Friends group, the NFCF publishes Saving Cemeteries, a handbook which covers most aspects and problems as well as useful case studies showing how successful groups established themselves. Specific advice is available to members on request and other information is provided through the website, the Newsletter and other email communications. The book is also helpful for established groups who are looking for ideas to influence the bodies that operate cemeteries, seeking ways to help cemeteries, devising activities for groups, fundraising and applying for external funding.
The Cemetery Friends meet for the Annual General Meeting, hosted by a member group in a different location every year, with the added incentive of a guided walk around the host's cemetery. Members welcome the opportunity to visit stands of other societies, share problems and learn of updates on current issues such as monument safety or digital memorial recording. New Members are made very welcome, and often helpful contact and friendship is established between Friends groups and they exchange visits.