Some thoughts and suggestions for planning a baby memorial garden


The Ashford Baby Memorial Garden is set within the main Memorial Park in Ashford Town Centre. At the time this was one of the first gardens to be created right in the centre of town, readily accessible to everyone. The project involved a lot of work, a considerable amount of fundraising, one or two challenges along the way, but a lot of fun for and sense of achievement for us all. The garden was opened in July 2013 and is now an established, and important part, of the town centre. The following notes reflect some of the things we learned along the way ? we hope they are helpful to others planning a Baby Memorial Garden. We are more than happy to talk to anyone who would like more details, and to share names of suppliers etc. ? just get in touch.


1.1 The first step is to be clear the purpose of the garden. Is it going to be somewhere for families to come to remember, or will it be a special place where we can raise awareness of stillbirths and neonatal deaths? Or both? In terms of location, is a crematorium the best place or is there somewhere closer to the community that could be suitable? Cemeteries and crematoria tend to be out of town and often require a special trip. They usually are fairly quiet and places and options for a baby memorial garden, and for related activities such as the 'Wave of Light' may be very limited. Bear in mind that a lot of families may already have memorials or graves in local cemeteries, or sometimes further away as families move house.

1.2 It may be worth talking to the local council to see whether they would be willing to allow part of an established park to be used, as we did in Ashford, Kent. It could be helpful, first, to get a councillor or two on board, to help with this. Most councils are facing financial pressures and someone offering to take on part of one of the council's parks is likely to be listened to! It is obviously worth having some ideas already before approaching the council, and a day spend looking round may well be necessary. We identified an area within a Council park that was quite empty and found the Council's Open Spaces team extremely supportive of our plans - indeed they have been very supportive throughout the project.

1.3 Is the intention to have babies' names recorded somehow? If so, options could be bricks, wall plaques, bronzes, etc. Be aware of costs of this but also potential opportunities for using this for fundraising (with appropriate delicacy). Perhaps aim to keep costs as low as possible - many cemeteries charge extremely high amounts for their memorials, usually hundreds of pounds and these require renewing every five years or so. It is worth consider offering a one-off charge as we did, making the stone available to everyone. But be aware of the risks of vandalism and potential theft of metal plaques.

1.4 Think about what else the garden will be used for - will it be used for events (we have an annual Teddy Bears picnic). What would be allowed, and would there be access for the 7-8pm 'Wave of Light'? Are you thinking of somewhere that anyone can sit, or just those who have lost babies? We wanted ours to be open to everyone (part of the awareness raising) and designed it so that anyone could, for example, sit and eat their lunch in the garden, or families with children could run around. We often see youngsters in the garden and are able, where appropriate, to explain a bit about baby loss.

1.5 Once a site is made available (whether in a cemetery/crematorium or in a town centre park) you may need to agree a licence or lease for that site. Often funders will not provide funding for creating something on someone else's land and therefore 'ownership' is essential. This can be a major issue particularly where raising funds. We have a formal licence within the local council and this was signed on our behalf by Sands head office. Check also whether planning permission might be needed - generally this will apply only where there is a change in the use of the area and is unlikely to be needed for most gardens. But far better to check that with the Council at an early stage, rather than this coming up after the work has been completed!

1.6 Visit as many other gardens as possible and talk to as many other Sands groups as possible. This will help give ideas but equally will help identify some of the features you don't want. Importantly, visits will often show gardens once they have been established for a few years, once the 'newness' has gone, and will therefore demonstrate what your garden might look like in years to come.

1.7 Be realistic about likely costs of the garden - ours cost the best part of £30k and we could have spent much more. In reality, even the most basic garden is likely to cost in excess of £10k, and there will be ongoing costs. But equally, be ambitious as this will be a one-off opportunity to create the garden - we found that fundraising for such a good cause was relatively easy (and enjoyable) and the vast bulk of our money came from community fundraising. But this all ties in with sharing the vision, publicity, having really good and enthusiastic people involved, and publicity etc.

1.8 It is worth spending time thinking through all of these issues at a very early stage and time and energy spent early on is likely to save time, effort and potential difficulties further down the line.

People and Publicity

2.1 It is essential to get a core group of six to ten people who each are really committed to the garden to take things forward. With ten people each knowing ten others, word (and enthusiasm!) can soon spread. During the process, get as many people as possible on board and to give as many people as possible an opportunity to have a say in the garden design etc. Be imaginative around ways of involving people - whenever we do community fundraising, we can guarantee to see at least a couple of people affected by the loss of a baby, sometimes from many years ago, and often they will want to have a say in the garden.

2.2 Consider doing something at an early stage in the town centre, showing people what is being planned. Perhaps combining this with a tombola, or face painting etc. perhaps, and maybe spend a reasonable amount on things like this so that you can give out freebies (or free face painting, perhaps?). People are far more likely to stop if there is something free on offer!

2.3 Link all this to press publicity and appoint someone able and willing to take the lead on publicity. Arrange press coverage and make sure you send in a report and photos afterwards. Get quotes from people who have lost babies to talk about the importance of the planned garden. As planning progresses, make sure you send regular updates and look at any excuse to publicise what you are doing. Ideally, get a tame local reporter on board, or invite the Editor to events.

2.4 Contact sixth form colleges etc. and see whether they have students interested in getting involved. Perhaps with fundraising or with contributing ideas for the garden etc. The more people involved in different ways, the more word will spread.

Designing the Garden

3.1 Once the purpose has been agreed, the fun work of designing the garden can start. Get as many ideas as possible and involve as many people as possible. But consider getting a 'design and build' arrangement with a contractor. We came unstuck when we had the garden designed (free of charge) by an established design company, only for the contractor then to identify what he saw as flaws in the design. This meant a certain amount of tweaking (and additional cost) at a relatively late stage.

3.2 Consider having a centrepiece/focal point in the garden, perhaps a sculpture or a mosaic. We were able to incorporate the Sands 'eye' in the design with a mosaic in the centre. Be aware that any sculpture may cost anything from £10k upwards and may be a target for vandalism. We went for a mosaic and had this designed by a commercial artist who did some of the fiddly bits, with us all helping create the rest of the mosaic at a community day. This was another way of getting as many people as possible involved in the garden - children now look at the mosaic and try to spot the pieces they did!

3.3 The location and purpose of the garden might influence the types of plants etc. We wanted somewhere with as much colour as possible, but cemeteries/crematorium might, for example, insist on just shrubs or greenery, or just roses.

3.4 In designing the garden, take advice from the experts - talking to staff at nurseries and garden centres is free and helps get ideas. Remember that you will want low maintenance plants etc., with colour all the year round. When the time comes, get the most developed and strongest plants etc. available - not usually those from the local garden centre, but bear in mind they will be that much more expensive.

3.5 We wanted to include two benches for our special garden. We contacted several woodworkers and decided on two benches, individually created for us, incorporating a butterfly and a dove. These were not cheap at £1,000 each, but we have been so pleased with them and they have attracted a lot of comment. After taking advice we decided not to varnish the benches, but to let them age naturally - the problem was that if we started varnishing them, they would need regular work a couple of times a year. In addition, leaving them bare meant that in the event of any graffiti (and that has not been a problem) we could simply sand down the affected areas without any change in the appearance. It is worth stressing the importance of having really sturdy benches, and it is unrealistic to expect anything suitable for much less than £800 each!

3.6 Be aware of the need for regular maintenance and some of the practicalities. For example, is there a power supply for grass cutting, or a water supply for planting (during the early weeks, we had to water the plants almost daily, taking large water containers from home)? What about disposing of garden waste - taking it home may not be an option! Our council kindly offered to take on the grass cutting, and some other work such as trimming the privet bushes, which was a great help - maybe worth asking the council or the cemetery/crematorium whether they would do this, but be aware they may charge!

3.6 Think about litter bins (not necessarily within the garden, but are there some close by?) and also information about Sands, with local contact numbers. The garden may present an opportunity to have some information about baby loss and/or to have leaflets. There are some really good, external perspex leaflet holders that are weather proof, which are worthconsidering. Not cheap, but worth the money.

3.7 You may need volunteers to do any maintenance, watering, topping up leaflets, clearing rubbish etc., and that this will be an ongoing task, even once the initial enthusiasm may have waned. This task must not be underestimated if the garden is to always look attractive and welcoming.

3.8 Once you know what you want, get that down on paper so that everyone knows! Set out as much detail as possible, not just about what you want in the garden, but also how it will work. Include costs not just for the creation of the garden, but also for any ongoing costs. As well as making sure everyone is clear what you are proposing, it also helps identify anything you may not have thought about. Share this with anyone involved, including the Council/Crematorium, contractors, potential funders and so on. Call it your Project Plan as this will also help demonstrate to funders that you have planned properly and know what you are doing!

Creating the Garden

4.1 Any public garden will need to be designed for heavy duty use and will need to be created to much higher safety standards than our own gardens. As an example, paving etc. will usually need to be 'industrial' quality and thickness and must be laid on really good foundations to avoid any risks of trips and falls. If someone were to trip because Sands had laid the paving badly, Sands might then become legally liable. Given that any Sands activities should be covered by Sands public liability insurance, it would be important to talk to the Sands insurance people at an early stage. It may be that the insurers would insist on certain standards for the work.

4.2 Be realistic about what volunteers can do. It is easy to get volunteers for some aspects of the work on the garden, but often diggers will be needed and they may need trained people. It may be that several tons of earth might need to be moved, and very heavy paving stones might need to be handled. Although there will be a higher cost, contractors will be used to dealing with building and landscaping work and will have access to the correct tools and equipment. Sometimes it will work for the contractors to do the heavy work, leaving volunteers to do the planting and that might be an option worth considering. But again, bear in mind the practicalities of, perhaps, collecting, planting and watering in several hundred plants!

4.3 Our contractor planted all the plants, but because these needed a while to get established, initially the garden still looked a little bare. Once the contractor had finished, we arranged a community day where anyone could come along to help us plant 400 or so primula plants to give some immediate colour. As well as adding the colour, again this gave people a real stake in the garden and it was something where whole families could get involved, Again, children were able later on to come along and see how 'their' plant was doing which was nice.

4.4 Bear in mind that the work will be in a public area so safety considerations will be important - if someone was to be injured during the work, the organisers could be found to have been negligent. You need to identify risks and remove or minimise them, as much as you are able. Whatever work your volunteers undertake, you must have a risk management plan and this needs to include things like people walking around with garden tools, volunteers slipping on mud, use of machinery, electrical safety and so on. This will be just as important during a family planting day - the more people involved, and the more children involved, the greater the potential risks.

4.5 Think about timing for the work. If a contractor is doing this, it will need to feed into their other projects, but if you are doing it yourself, when are volunteers available? Volunteers may only be available at weekends and may not be able to spend hours on end digging. Work out how much time volunteers would need and then double it - things always take far longer than expected! Remember that working in the sun can be pretty exhausting and be realistic about how much time people can give - volunteering to do the heavy work may not always translate into reality!

The Opening

5.1 As part of the planning, it is important to plan well ahead for the opening event and maybe combine this with a family day. Think about inviting the Mayor or someone from Sands Head Office to perform the opening. We steered away from inviting a 'celebrity' to do the opening as we did not want them to become the focus of the event, nor did we want people to come along just to see the celebrity. We really only wanted people who had an interest in baby loss to come along. In the event we had over 400 people, all of whom had that legitimate interest.

5.2 The opening event included several readings, a speech by someone from Sands Head Office, and the release of a pair of doves. Each member of the planning team was involved and had a part to play. It was a lovely event which culminated in everyone present releasing balloons - that in itself was a real challenge - how to hold onto 400 (environmentally friendly) balloons until needed! We got a local camera club to video the whole event and also to take photos (we knew we would all be pretty busy on the day). This was free of charge and we were able to give copies of the video to everyone who came to the opening, and we also had spares for future use.

5.3 We invited all the families that we knew of as well as midwives, local community leaders, funeral directors, representatives from other organisations, people who had helped make the garden possible, and included a leaflet about the garden. We knew many people and organisations would not attend, but at least we were able to publicise the garden.

Name Stones

6.1 We wanted to have namestones incorporated within the garden and looked at a number of options for this. We chose a company which produced 'rustic' stones and these looked fine, individually. However, once they were down, because of the very slight variation in sizes, they did not look fit together as well as we had hoped. At the same time, we had initially planned for around 100 names but by the time of the garden opening, we already had more than 60 ordered, and this number soon increased to 100.

6.2 We had not anticipated how high would be the demand for the stones and eighteen months after the garden opened, took the difficult decision to replace all of the stones, with namestones that were a little smaller and more uniform, meaning we can now accommodate around 130 namestones. It is worth thinking very carefully about likely demand over the years for namestones (or plaques or any other commemorative things) and to try to build in areas where you can expand, if necessary. We really had been taken aback at the demand, but realise this was in part a result of our significant publicity as well as the attractions of the garden itself.

6.3 We were conscious that many cemeteries/crematoria charged many hundreds of pounds for memorials, usually for just a set number of years. We wanted ours to be as available to everyoneand to make sure cost did not become a barrier. We worked out that by charging a one-off £40, we were able to pay for the stones, and someone to lay the, making a very slight surplus on each. We also have been sensitive where families might struggle to find the £40 and have agreed flexible payments as necessary. Cost clearly is an important issue.

6.4 Interestingly, many people whom we have met at various events, including fundraising events, lost babies a long time ago and for many our namestones are the first real opportunity some people have had to record their babies names, bearing in mind how things were in the olden days. Dates of 23 of the current 106 stones are before the year 2,000, and seven of these relate to the 1960s's and 1970's. It is important to recognise the importance of namestones, or other memorialsto some of the older families.

6.5 The location may well influence or determine the types of memorials and it may be that the landowners, whether the Council or the cemetery/crematorium, may have rules about what they might find acceptable. There could, potentially, be issues at cemeteries/crematorium around using their own memorials services, and this is something to check out at an early stage.

Flowers and Mementoes

7.1 Related to this is the potentially difficult issue of flowers and mementoes. Families will often want to leave flowers or toys etc. but these can soon become soiled or die off. Apart from the fact that the garden could soon become messy, we were concerned about items being moved or stolen by casual visitors - this was a particular issue as our garden is in the town centre, part of a larger park. We decided, in conjunction with the Council, that we would not allow anything to be left and referred to this in our leaflet. By and large that works, although we do occasionally see a few flowers etc. left, but that we can manage and usually leave these for a few days before removing them, sensitively. Again, this links in to having volunteers able to visit the garden regularly.

7.2 A garden in another situation may not need to have such constraints but it is certainly worth thinking this through as part of the planning. We know of baby gardens with a special designates place where all flowers etc. can be left and another with a small summerhouse with shelves and spaces on the wall for cards etc. and that could be an option.

And finally...

8.1 The creation of the Ashford Baby Memorial Garden has taken an incredible amount of work and effort, quite a few aching limbs, lots of frustrations, a few sleepless nights, and hours of talking and planning. But it has been fun and the end result is worth all the work. So many families have told us how important the garden is to them, as somewhere they can remember their special baby. People use the garden in different ways - some families visit on special days and maybe just sit and remember, while others have family picnics in the garden while children play. Local workers sometimes sit and eat their sandwiches at lunchtime, taking in the lovely relaxing atmosphere of the garden, while others just visit out of curiosity.

8.2 As well as providing somewhere special for families, the garden, along with other communityfundraising and publicity, has helped raise the issue of stillbirths and neonatal deaths and has certainly helped publicise the support available through Sands volunteers. We hope other Sands groups will be able to create their own Baby Memorial Gardens.

Emma Oram and Chris Twydell

February 2015

Kent Sands