‘I can’t go to my husband’s headstone on my anniversary because the council won’t open the door’

A 76-year-old woman says she cannot lay the foundation stone for the anniversary of her 50-year-old husband as the council will not open the gates of the cemetery.

Lillian Parsons, who lives in Newport, lost husband Roger Parsons in late 2019 to complications with rheumatoid arthritis.

Before the pandemic, Mrs Parsons used to visit her husband’s grave at St Vulhos Cemetery for most of the week, but this ended when COVID restrictions went into effect in the spring of 2020.

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She said that she had no problem with the restrictions and understood their importance at the time, but almost two years later Lillian says she is still told if she wants to go to her husband’s grave by car for weeks. So he has to book an appointment.

Mrs Parsons, who also has arthritis and heart disease, says she cannot walk from the entrance of the cemetery to her husband’s grave without being unwell.

Newport Council said the cemetery is now open to walkers on all days of the week, while cars are allowed into the cemetery on weekends. The council said the restrictions are in place to allow “for the safe operation of machinery used in the preparation of graves”.

Lillian and Roger Parsons. Lillian lost Roger at the end of 2019, and says she feels upset that she has often been unable to see his mourning over the past 18 months due to council restrictions

Mrs Parsons says this means she cannot visit her husband’s grave, as Monday, January 10, will be their anniversary.

“I want to go there on Monday to spend some time, and I keep calling them but I don’t get an answer,” she said. “It is open on weekends and bank holidays but that’s all. They say you can book an appointment but I could never. It’s packed on weekends because it’s the only time so many people rely on the car. I paid a lot of money for the plot and we got it.

“Many others in my position are struggling because of these restrictions.”

Similar restrictions apply to Christchurch Cemetery in Newport, and a petition to oppose the rules has been set up by Kerry Seal.

Carey said the rules are “not fair to people with disabilities and the general public who need to drive.”

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Gates closed to vehicles at St. Vulose Cemetery, Newport

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A sign outside St. Wool’s Cemetery in Newport informs drivers that it is not open for vehicle use during the week

“It’s not good for people’s mental health, keeping loved ones away from their deceased family,” she said. “Even though the council said we could ring the cemetery bell and they would open the door, I’ve tried and never got an answer.”

Mrs Parsons’ son Nigel said the family was shocked by the reasons given by the council.

“It’s not happening anywhere else in Wales, so why is it happening here,” he said. “We didn’t have any issues before covid” [with heavy machinery] And the cemetery was always open, so what has changed? It’s a big cemetery and there’s plenty of space for everyone.”

Mrs Parsons said the condition had a significant impact on her mental health.

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Walkers are allowed in the cemetery every day

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St. Vulose is a particularly large cemetery and Lillian says she is not the only one affected by the rules.

She said: “It makes me very sad, it affects my mental health. I want to go on weekdays and spend some time there in peace. It feels so wrong.

“Monday will be upsetting, very upsetting – because I know I need to be there and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Local campaigner Michael Anna says he has spoken to various residents with similar concerns in recent weeks. He added: “Why does Newport City Council still ban vehicle use in their cemeteries in the middle of the week – when almost every other Welsh council allows vehicle use every day?

“I’ve read Newport Council’s explanation, but it hasn’t affected vehicle access to other cemeteries across Wales. Why is it only in Newport?

“The bereaved families I have spoken to are deeply disturbed. There is a feeling that the council’s argument for a ban on vehicles is excessive. The council has responded. It needs immediate review and needs to be relaxed.”

A spokesman for Newport Council responded: “Pedestrian access to Newport Cemeteries is available throughout the week.

“Vehicles in St. Vulose and Christchurch cemeteries are limited to Saturdays and Sundays, public holidays and special religious festivals. For example, the gates were open during the Christmas period.

“Pedestrian-only access during the week, except for funerals, helps ensure the safety of all visitors and allows for the safe operation of machinery used in the preparation of graves.

“It also provides opportunities for quiet reflection for mourners and visitors, unaffected by vehicular noise.

“If specific access is required due to mobility issues, residents may contact the Council during working hours on 01633 656656 or info@newport.gov.uk , ,

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