Gravedigging Students Get Stuck In

A group of students were given their first practical lessons in the art of grave digging yesterday.

They were at Eden Lane cemetery, Peterlee, County Durham, as part of the new course being run by East Durham College. Four students are taking part in the Short Course which lasts four days, with a final assessment on day five.

The first day of the course is classroom based, covering a range of areas such as health and safety, standards, planning and protocol. The second day covers manual digging and the last two days focus on mechanical digging.

At the end of the course, following assessment, the students will receive a certificate from the College for passing the first part of the course and for the mechanical aspect they will gain a City & Guilds NPTC (National Proficiency Tests Council) qualification. NPTC are specialists for agricultural land based qualifications.

Following the announcement back in November 2009 that the course would resurrected after a 4 year break, the College has been inundated with enquiries from around the country.

A spokesperson for the College said: “We are delighted, if not a little overwhelmed, by the interest this course has generated. We can only take up to six people on the first part of the course and only four at a time on the mechanical side – so it does present some logistical and manpower issues to try and satisfy the demand. But we are working hard to accommodate as many students as we can, as quickly as possible.

David Miller, Grounds Manager at the College, who is teaching the course, commented: “There is a lot more to gravedigging that simply digging a hole. A good gravedigger is expected to know every inch of their cemetery, prepare up to a week in advance of a burial and will not finish the job until about six weeks afterwards once the back-filled soil has settled.

“It’s very demanding work, carried out in all weathers, but it can be very rewarding – especially when you know you have done your little bit to ensure a burial goes smoothly at what is a very upsetting time for the relatives.

Brendan Arnell, Parks Supervisor at Peterlee Town Council, added: “We identify, that due to a number of staff retiring or moving on, that we had a training need to up skill our workforce in gravedigging. I’d been trying to find some official training for ages and was facing the prospect of having to send the team all the way to Glasgow or the Midlands, which was just not practical and of course expensive. So I approached East Durham College and they devised a qualification for us.”

Andrew Gardner, one of the students on the course, is self employed and runs Woodland Enterprises in Bishop Auckland and had previously studied at Houghall on a National Certificate in Arboriculture. Andrew said: “I’m qualified in a range of trades from tree surgery to building fencing for point-to-point. But as some of my work is quite seasonal I want to become a freelance gravedigger as it will offer year round demand.”

When asked if it was not a bit macabre, Andrew added: “I’m very happy to make a living out of a shovel. I enjoy the peace and quiet of working outdoors and you can’t get much more peace and quiet then in a cemetery.”

To find out more details please call Julie Carmichael, Short Courses Administrator on 0191 375 4700.