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Barrow Voice is published by Barrow upon Soar Community Association. Opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed by the editorial committee or the Community Association.

Barrow Community Association is a registered Charity No: 505692.
Barrow Voice Team
Advertising Deadline
24th January 2005

Spring Copy Deadline
31st January 2005
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The Editor
17 North Street
Barrow upon Soar
Leics LE12 8PZ


On October 8th 2004, the Leicester Mercury published an article which started an international ball rolling: Barrow and the River Soar suddenly appeared on the map. Since then, there have been national newspapers, Radio 4 and television telling the world that the traditional ceremony of the Sprinkling of Ashes now takes place with official approval just up-river of Barrow. By the time you read this, BBC World News may have filmed a local Hindu or Sikh family conducting the ceremony from one of Barrow Boating's boats.

With no information available for the public, it is understandable that there have been a number of anxious enquiries and complaints: how can the already congested area at the bottom of Mill Lane possibly cope with a huge influx of extra traffic- even buses? Where will they all park? What damage will be done to boats by the coconuts, caskets, garments and plastic toys that are scattered into the river along with the ashes? What happens when the river floods and washes human remains over the banks? Will a day's tranquil fishing be ruined? Why weren't the people of Barrow consulted before this 'licence' was granted?

Barrow seems to have been given a golden opportunity to promote multicultural relations and it would be a terrible pity if there wasn't confident community support just because of a lack of accurate information and control. So Barrow Voice has done some delving to find out more about this fascinating story.We have been in touch with the Environment Agency, British Waterways and Barrow Boating as well as an Asian Funeral company and the Leicester Interfaith Council. We hope to inform our readers with some of the facts that we have unearthed.

First, the ceremony itself. Most of us are familiar with the Christian tradition of cremation followed by the scattering of the ashes, usually quietly and privately. Most commonly the ashes are scattered in the crematorium grounds or on a family grave or by a favourite tree or in a river. Amongst Hindu and Sikh families, the family must scatter the ashes in the river so that the spirit of the loved one is set free as the ashes are swept to the sea. Only then can mourning cease.The river has traditionally meant the sacred Ganges in India but for many, this has been impossible and so there has been a growing demand to use UK rivers.

Any scattering of human ashes on rivers is regulated by the Environment Agency working with British Waterways. Before about two years ago, the Environment Agency routinely refused permission apart from in tidal waters, on the grounds that so much water is extracted for drinking from our rivers that there could be a pollution implication. Consequently, if Ashes Ceremonies were carried out, it was without regulation and without permission. Local traditional practice often includes throwing coconuts, fruits, flowers and caskets into the water with the ashes.A Barrow Voice reader who has lived in Barrow all his life told us 'as kids, we always knew where to go to find coconuts. We used to walk along the river to find one of the backwaters where there was hardly any water movement. Sometimes I could come back with two or three.' A representative of British Waterways agreed that this practice.unregulated. is still going on.

However, as Jeff Dolby, from the Environment Agency says,'we were receiving so many requests from Hindu and Sikh faith groups that it was becoming an issue.We decided to be more pragmatic and actually look at the sites. In the last two years, we have concluded that there are many stretches of river up and down the country where water pollution simply isn't a problem. Our concern has been to devise criteria that are acceptable to the general public.We would really like to encourage debate to create an acceptable code of conduct. One important aspect that we knew couldn't be acceptable to anyone was the issue of the 'peripheral' scattering - the flowers, the coconuts and so on.We consulted the Asian Funeral Service and several Hindu and Sikh temples to find out if this was a vital part of the ceremony. It seems that it isn't and we were able to agree that only the ashes should be put into the water.'

So when Frank Reeves, owner of Barrow Boating, approached the Agency about six months ago, Jeff came out to Barrow to see the proposed site for himself. Barrow Boating fulfils all the current criteria admirably: the public has access to the river from this site; there is parking for fourteen cars of boating customers; there are toilets including disabled toilets; the chosen site, well beyond Meadow Farm Marina, where the Wreake joins the Soar, is far from habitation; fishermen are unlikely to walk so far up-stream and there is a good water flow. Perhaps even more importantly, Frank is well aware of the need to control what is put into the water: 'I work closely with Asian funeral services so families know exactly what is permitted and what is not.The only thing to be put into the water is a portion of the ashes. Being entirely mineral, they either dissolve or get dispersed into the water.Their effect is trivial. Occasionally the bag they came in blows into the river. I go back and retrieve it after the ceremony is over so I don't disturb the family. Nowadays, the objects that you find in rivers come from irresponsible tipping of waste, particularly garden rubbish.'

When Frank was asked about the possibility that the Ashes Ceremony might cause serious traffic congestion in the area, he replied 'On average, there are between two and three a week.There hasn't been any increase since all the publicity although I have had lots of enquiries from the media. Each ceremony usually involves one boat - that's up to twelve people. It's rare that there are more than three cars.The ceremonies take place in the day time and mostly at weekends: generally not at times when the pub attracts lots of extra customers.These are quiet, dignified, family affairs amongst grieving relatives. '

Frank is proud to be doing his bit for multicultural relations. 'To provide this service following acceptable guidelines is an excellent way of improving relations between people of different faiths. If people once come to realise what joy and happiness the ceremony brings to a bereaved family, then understanding is generated.And, of course, this river facility is open to all. The river is a peaceful and soothing place to be and it is increasingly common for river users of all races and creeds to request it as the site for their own ashes.'

We all have the opportunity to engage in the debate opened up by the Environment Agency. By December you can have your say by logging on to www.environmentagency. .You can read an excellent document 'Funeral Practices and the Environment', make suggestions and express your opinions. Perhaps we should suggest that local debate would be a healthy part of identifying suitable stretches of river.

Our researches have pointed overwhelmingly to the need for regulation. Far from creating a problem, regulating river use at sites all over the country will allow people to use the sites with confidence and in the knowledge of an acceptable code of conduct.The philosophy of the Environment Agency is summarised in their statement: 'We aim to respond positively to those members of the community who wish to scatter ashes on water, but we need to ensure that they do not harm the environment or upset other river users. We expect that our policy will contribute to a healthier environment and better quality of life by:

  • protecting the environment and river users from any harm or upset caused by spreading ashes;
  • taking account of beliefs and concerns of diverse groups and sectors;
  • providing guidance on funeral practices that everyone can understand and that people will comply with.

The Environment Agency has clearly some way to go: the Leicester funeral service we contacted was apparently unaware of the 'agreement' to restrict the Ashes Ceremony to just ashes but was fully aware of the list of licensed boating companies. Similarly, there seems to have been little dialogue at a local level between the Environment Agency and other statutory bodies.At the moment, noone is accountable and no-one is monitoring what actually happens.There is no mechanism to ask boating firms to consult with angling clubs; no guidelines for funeral directors and priests. Let us hope that Barrow is the place that stimulates dialogue between all interested parties so assisting the Environment Agency in achieving its admirable aims.