Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Deane Road Cemetery open afternoon - a triumph!

I am delighted to report that we had a massive response to the open day today. Around 250 people visited.

There was a wide variety, many were local residents who were keen to see just what was behind the fabulous (and listed) portal they had walked past so many times on Deane Road. I spoke to residents who were able to point to the house they now lived in, or one they had lived in previously, where they had had partial glimpses of the cemetery from bedroom windows. I spoke to people who live in Kensington or Fairfield and are very interested in history, also some had come from other parts of Liverpool with an interest in history because they had read about the open day on an internet forum. I dont know who posted for us, but thank you, whoever you are.

Several male visitors from the area admitted to climbing in to the cemetery in their youth to scare themselves with talks of ghosts and two very respectable looking ladies told me that as small and presumably thin children they had squeezed their way through the railings to have a look round.

One woman told me that her Dad had wanted to buy the cemetery 30 years ago thinking it was an empty building (at that time the gates were covered in metal sheets so it would not have been apparent that it was a cemetery and not a neglected building). She said he will be sad to have missed this open day but will be interested in our next one!

I spied members of residents associations in Elm Park, Fairfield, Sheil Park, Kensington and Lister Road area.

I also spoke to people who had come to Lidl to shop and had noticed our banner advertising the open day, made by our head gardener, Muriel. They were very excited to have an extra bonus to their visit to the shops.

Counting myself, 10 of the 90 Liverpool City Councillors turned up for a tour, Liam and Wendy came of course but the visitors also included several Jewish councillors who had their own personal and family interests in taking the tour and others interested in the history of the city. Jim Noakes, new councillor in Clubmoor and a lifelong Kensington resident told me that he had last been in the cemetery at the age of 8. The husband of an 11th councillor came on her behalf to show support for the project.

There were at least 3 teachers from different schools in Liverpool, thinking how they might bring children on tours in the future when the cemetery is fully refurbished.

We had visitors from the local business community - including the business members of Kensington Regeneration and both the current and former chairs of Dream High which I often blog about.

Four members of our police team popped in, not to arrest us for making a noise but to take a quick tour for themselves. Unfortunately a busy Police Helicopter overhead made the guided tour a bit difficult at times, but we managed.

Members of staff from three local RSL Housing Associations took the tour, as did two community wardens.

They were joined by residents from Friends of Newsham Park and workers from a nearby community care centre who are interested in how they can have a future relationship with us.

An Anglican vicar was our first visitor and members of the congregation from another local CofE church also came later - they had been part of an environmental clean-up a few years previously and were pleased to see the progress we have made.

Steve and Sheila from Kensington Vision came and interviewed various visitors and committee members for their Southbank Show, on-line radio podcast. Hopefully I will be able to link to that once it has been uploaded.

The committee has commissioned Michael Swerdlow to make a DVD about the project which we hope will help us to raise funds and awareness of the cemetery, and he got some wonderful footage. I saw him filming the huge groups taking the official tour from our project manager Saul Marks, and he also interviewed Rod Bromley of the Probation Service whose support for the cemetery, bringing offenders in to help with the more heavy tree and shrub clearance and the worst of the undergrowth, has made the difference between success and failure. I did a little piece about our plans for the future once the cemetery is refurbished.

Frank Dunne, well-known local politico came along and was extremely generous with his time. He took lots of photos (I think I heard someone say he was a keen amateur photographer), and then went home, downloaded them, printed them out and brought them back later in the afternoon, along with some photos of the last time he was in the cemetery in the 1990s. He took particular note to take some photos of a grave where we had just identified a descendant amongst the visitors who had not brought a camera, a very generous gesture. Thank you Frank.

Many other amateur photographers turned up, I spied at least 8 with cameras who were taking some atmospheric shots across the cemetery.

We were particularly pleased to welcome a special guest, Rex Makin, who has been very supportive of our refurbishment project. It was wonderful that he could attend and he gave the open afternoon an extra gravitas.

I was very worried about the weather forecast - rain all day, but we were relatively lucky. I was on site from about 1.30pm and the first visitors turned up at 2pm, long before we were ready. They were kept dry as were the visitors up until probably 5pm. We did have a couple of torrential downpours but even they did not deter people. We did have a few hardy folk touring in the most horrendous rain, their guide notes for the DIY tours, totally soggy.

But it dried up again and a new lot of people turned up about 6ish.

Some of the visitors were children, and two of those have offered themselves as volunteers for digging and weeding too.

I am moved beyond measure about the scale of the support today, we now have a big job on our hands, to read and assess all the questionnaires that people filled in on the way out, to find out how people can help (two gardening groups spoke to Muriel about how they could volunteer in the future), about how they would like to use a refurbished cemetery, about how they can help us to promote the cemetery in future and with some fundraising ideas.

I had thought that if 30 people turned up it would be a reasonable success, 250 was way beyond my wildest dreams.

I would like to thank the Merseymart at this point who did us proud with pre-opening publicity, many people came because they had read about the event in their free paper.

The committee is thrilled beyond compare, we were all hugging each other at closing time. Thanks to all of them too; Saul Marks our Project Manager (and resident Jewish genealogist) undertook many tours and was almost hoarse by the end, his enthusiasm, which is huge is also infectious. Everyone who took his tours were very impressed with him and with what they learnt. He roped his father and sister in to help "on the door" too, thanks to both of them. Saul's Dad should be very proud of him.

His girlfriend Leanne was great on the exit, encouraging people to complete their questionnaires and make a donation. We had a collection box from the Synagogue in Princes Road which we put out while it was dry and had to fetch in during the rain as it is probably Victorian (and would presumably have been familiar to some of those buried here) and we wanted to keep it safe. Saul is opening the box tomorrow with the Treasurer so we dont know how much we raised but there were some notable donations and we thank very much everyone who gave so generously.

Cath Taylor and Maria Curran from Kensington Regeneration who sit on our small project committee were great, bringing a display board, laminated photos of the "before" shots to show off, printing off DIY guide notes (they had to run to the C7 offices, not once but twice to print more off, given the huge numbers of visitors). They also brought brollies for the more hardy visitors to keep them dry as they went round.

Arnold Lewis, committee member and Jewish Archivist undertook tours too and interviewed Michael's guests for the DVD.

Our other committee member, Lisa Vingoe from C7 was unable to attend but offers huge support in helping with funding applications to organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund.

As he left, I did say to Ron Gould that I found myself with tears in my eyes a couple of times, just to see how much people had enjoyed their visit and how many had come.

As I drove away I reflected upon those buried in the cemetery and how pleased I hoped they would be that their final resting place was being recognised today and that so many people had come to pay their respects and learn more about the cemetery and the history of the influential people buried here.

I sincerely hope that our secret and hidden cemetery is now much more firmly on the Kensington and indeed Liverpool map.


Jim said...

Yuo should be very very proud. It was excellent. Thanfully this time I got in and out the correct way!

Robert said...

If we lived a little nearer to Liverpool we would have come along. We advertised on our Local History Online website and I will contact Saul about doing a follow up with pics of the day. Keep up the good work.

Louise Baldock said...

Hi Robert,

I hope you also approve of my news about the changing rooms in Newsham Park.

I was writing the blog partly with you in mind

Best wishes as always, Louise

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