Forthcoming COVID-19 memorials

Established in 1855, Freeman Brothers is Horsham’s longest-serving business. The funeral director now has a further three offices across West Sussex – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and maintains a reputation of providing a dignified, personalised service to local people. Part of the company’s ongoing commitment to the people it serves is a community […]

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Established in 1855, Freeman Brothers is Horsham’s longest-serving business. The funeral director now has a further three offices across West Sussex – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and maintains a reputation of providing a dignified, personalised service to local people. Part of the company’s ongoing commitment to the people it serves is a community programme undertaking a variety of local activities. During the coronavirus pandemic, the team identified a need for a public space to commemorate the experience we have shared – Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, gives an update on the forthcoming memorials…

With the anniversary of the UK’s original coronavirus-related lockdown approaching, it’s almost time to unveil our memorials marking the pandemic. Last March, on the first National Day of Reflection, we announced our intention to offer space for contemplation, and I’m really pleased that these will be available this year.

My colleagues and I wanted there to be public places where people could reflect, and share stories and memories. Many people have been bereaved during this time – whether specifically due to COVID or for other reasons – and will want a place to remember their loved ones. Those who haven’t experienced a death of someone they know may have supported someone who has, or will have felt their life change in a myriad of other ways.

We were all subjected to restrictions upon our lifestyles the likes of which we’ve never seen before. From being unable to leave our homes except for work, essential shopping, medical reasons or an hour of daily exercise, to not being able to travel to another country, dine in a restaurant, or participate in other leisure activities. Young people weren’t able to attend their schools, colleges and universities in person, and many people were impacted in terms of their employment being temporarily suspended as their industries were shut down – particularly those within entertainment, beauty, sport and hospitality.

Whilst those who live alone were completely isolated for a time, others were in the position of spending far more time than usual with those they live with, and all of us were limited in our ability to spend time with those we don’t live with. Almost two years on, many of us are hoping that this isn’t a permanent lifestyle change, but at times it has felt like one.

Knowing the impact that the situation has had on our lifestyles, plus our physical and emotional health, our gift to community is a space to remember. We’ve chosen local stones from Horsham quarry, and they’re being inlaid with Welsh slate tablets. Having discussed a variety of options for the design, we plumped for something perhaps unexpected, and created a word cloud to evoke different thoughts and feelings.

The words we selected were chosen with the aim of provoking thought and discussion, and may mean different things to different people. This is reflective of the fact that, whilst we have all experienced a pandemic, these experiences have varied widely. For some people, the lockdowns were a time of personal reflection, and a way to enjoy slowing their lives down. For others, it was a period of unbearable isolation, or high-pressure at work, or perhaps a lack of work at all and all of the worries that this brings. Whatever the situation, it was one we had no agency over, it was a case of waiting it out, and assessing the impact later.

We hope that people are able to find the spaces uplifting as well as bringing to mind thoughts of those who are no longer with us. It could also be something it becomes beneficial to those who aren’t able to remember much about the pandemic, due to being too young at the time, and a way of explaining how complex it was for those responsible for their care.

In addition to the memorial stones, each site has a flowerbed planted with daffodil bulbs. As the National Day of Reflection was set up by Marie Curie, daffodils became a symbol, as it is their logo. They are also appropriate as the spring flowers are typically in bloom towards the end of March, when the anniversary takes place. For some, they are a symbol of hope and cheerfulness, and we certainly anticipate that, when the flowers are present, they will add some bright happy colour to the area. For those who visit outside of daffodil season, each tablet also has a daffodil image carved into it, so that there is a permanent reminder of the theme.

It has always been our hope to be able to hold a Service to accompany the installation of the stones. In Hurstpierpoint, our stone is located next to the war memorial, just outside the churchyard, so it would seem that we have an ideal venue nearby. Similarly, in Horsham, our stone is in a plot next to the Hills Cemetery Chapel. Due to the ongoing nature of the pandemic and the capacity of these buildings, it remains to be seen whether a full indoor Service is immediately practicable. Whilst the weather can be unpredictable in late March, we hope that at least we will be able to gather a select number of people at each site for a speech and a blessing, as there have been various parties involved in the planning of the stones, so it seems only right to invite those who have assisted us to join us.

Details of any plans will be announced in due course, and we are looking forward to sharing these memorials with those in the community. We’ve heard of a few other memorials already being positioned in other parts of the UK, but aren’t yet aware of any other permanent sites in the locality of Sussex. In November 2021, I visited the National Memorial Wall in Westminster for the first time, where hearts have been painted and named or initialled across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament. I found it a moving experience, to gain a truer perspective on the number of people who have lost their lives to COVID-19. It reminded me of how fortunate I am, and also what so many people must have gone through, as each heart to me represented those who are left behind – and that this is an even greater number – as much as those who have died.

At the moment, it is difficult for many people to see our lives returning to the way in which we lived them previously, and that can be hard to bear. We have all been changed by the experience, and whilst the memorials are a reminder of that, they are also a chance to think about what we’ve learned, and the positives to be drawn from this learning. For now, they are a chance to remember the changes which have already occurred, and the lives lost; hopefully in the future they will be a space to remember, as well as inspiring us to keep going.

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

February 23, 2022

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