By TONY EARNSHAW, Local Deocracy Reporter
Council chiefs in Kirklees are preparing for the worst of the coronavirus crisis and have vowed to handle excess deaths “in a dignified way.”
As well as paring back funeral services in line with Government advice on social distancing they have informed undertakers in the borough that bodies can be “held over” at the borough’s crematoria if operationally they are unable to be cremated.
The details were contained in an email, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, which was sent to funeral directors in the borough on April 2.
The council’s two crematoriums in Huddersfield and Dewsbury were recently refurbished in a £3m revamp.
Modernisation began in September 2018 and took 40 weeks to complete.
The two sites ran a reduced number of cremations whilst the work was carried out.
The three cremators in Fixby and two in Dewsbury Moor currently handle around 3,000 cremations a year.
From April 6 funerals held at crematoriums will be “direct service” only, meaning no mourners will be allowed to attend.
They will also take place in 20-minute time slots, between 9am and noon, rather than the current 30 and 45-minute slots running from 9am to 3.15pm.
The shorter slots allow for what the council describes as “further capacity” should it need to extend booking times.
One Huddersfield funeral director said his business was not busier than normal but added: “We are expecting to be busier if the virus lasts as long as we have been told.”
He said he and colleagues were adapting to new guidelines but trying to deliver what people wanted under trying circumstances.
“A direct service will last just 20 minutes. It’s like a committal but there will be a minister present.
“The council originally said they weren’t going to allow a celebrant to be there.
“I said that was unacceptable.
“It’s bad enough losing somebody and not being able to go, even if the service can be streamed or webcast, which is what we are doing, but it’s terrible not being able to go to the funeral.”
“At the end of the day it is what it is. And there can only be two songs, one in and one out.”
The council says pre-booked services will be honoured but the number of people in the chapel will be limited to 10 to ensure safe social distancing is observed for both staff and mourners.
The council has funerals booked up until the week beginning April 20.
New time slots will come into force towards the end of April.
The funeral director added: “Burials can have 10 people present. I am interpreting that as 10 mourners because at a cemetery you can keep people separate.
“It’s really, really sad that some people traditionally want a church service but won’t be able to have that whilst this is going on. Of course they can have a memorial later but it’s not the same.”
The email to undertakers cautions that whilst the council will do everything in its power to continue to offer families a webcast and vicar/celebrant-led service “it may become impossible to do so.”