Just over the Surrey border in East Hampshire, and within easy reach of South London, Heatherley Wood is a pretty natural burial ground, where graves can be chosen in either the meadow and heathland or beneath mature trees in the woodland area.
The mixed woodland site was once part of the National Trust’s Ludshott Common, a lowland heathland of international designation, and the landscape has an open sunny aspect in the meadow area, with meandering paths among large gorse bushes that provide seclusion and privacy in the heathland area. A natural stone roadway leads down to the beautiful woodland area, where the tall trees offer shade in the summer and a peaceful tranquillity punctuated by birdsong from the treetops.
When we visited, the abundant foxgloves and wild daffodils were emerging in the spring sunlight, splashing colour among the fallen leaves. Newly planted bluebells will colonise the area over the coming years, and there are wooden benches where visitors can sit and feel the peace of being at one with nature.
The site is staffed daily during the week (and open at weekends by appointment) by deputy manager Jess Rothwell and her colleague Bianca Stacey. They can normally be found either in their little office inside the striking, purpose designed building that houses all the facilities on site, or out walking in the woodland or heathland explaining the ethos of the site to visitors.
Both Jess and Bianca are passionate about Heatherley Wood; they see how the beautiful setting and the service they can offer families has an effect on those who choose to bury a relative here. The lovely Woodland Service Hall can be used even by families who prefer cremation, as it can be hired for a ceremony before the coffin goes on to the crematorium at a later time.
There is no feeling of being rushed here. Heatherley Wood only carries out one or two funerals on any given day and complimentary tea and coffee is always available for guests. You can choose to have a reception here after the burial has taken place too, something that removes the pressure of driving between venues and allows the whole experience of a funeral to be less stressful.
Jess and Bianca are far more than just office staff. They are immensely kind and welcoming, and more than happy to talk to you about Heatherley Wood and the concept behind it. Jess is a former carer who had experience working with a funeral director, while Bianca was formerly a customer service manager in a small family owned business. Both are completely focused on providing exceptional service to clients and visitors alike.
Their roles encompass spending time with bereaved people listening to their stories and explaining the concept of woodland burial to curious visitors, on funeral days they look after all the guests and the family, operate the music system and assist the undertakers, guiding them throughout the journey, from arrival to the burial and ensuring that the bearers receive a welcome cup of tea while the ceremony is underway.
The staff always accompany the coffin to the grave, and one person will stay alongside the grave when mourners leave, ensuring that the coffin is never left alone. The gravedigger will be discretely nearby, and only approach on a signal from either Jess or Bianca when they are sure that it is time to fill the grave in.
The overall manager of Heatherley Wood is Peter Taylor who shares his time between here and the other site that he manages, Chiltern Woodland Burial Park. Peter has been with the company for eight years and has a wealth of experience looking after many hundreds of families during this time. He has an easy manner and a warmth that is infectious, and a knack of instantly putting people at ease. Peter’s management style is relaxed and supportive, and he is always at the other end of a phone for Jess and Bianca if he’s not physically on site.
Graves at Heatherley Wood are prepared to double depth, allowing two people to be buried in the same space if this is what a family wishes. If there is to be only one burial in a grave it can be prepared to single depth. Ashes can be either buried in small ashes graves, or scattered in a dedicated scattering area in the woodland. Both graves and ashes plots can be marked with a short wooden post or memorial plaque, the type depending on the location of the plot.
The 12 acre site was officially opened in June 2015 and is managed by GreenAcres Burial Parks on behalf of East Hampshire District Council, and is the culmination of an innovative project to reclaim a piece of land lost to industry and to provide a viable alternative to a local shortage of burial space.
Extensive landscaping and planting work took place before the site opened, and the surroundings continue to be enhanced by ongoing addition of wildflowers, trees and shrubs to the existing mature plants.
The GreenAcres concept of woodland burial is based upon principles of sustainability, biodiversity, quality of service and customer choice, and the company operates four other burial parks around the UK.
Heatherley Wood is all about choice. A beautiful setting, facilities and staff to assist with all kinds of funerals or memorial ceremonies, prices that accommodate all budgets and the opportunity to use the park for as long as you want, all these contribute to putting you, the client, in control of choosing exactly what kind of funeral you want.
The landscape itself offers different types of areas; the shady woodland, the sheltered heathland or the open meadow, meaning that you can choose an area where you and your family will feel most comfortable.
The GreenAcres phrase is ‘celebrate the journey’, and everything about at Heatherley Wood reflects this. The building can be used for baby naming ceremonies, and in due course will be available for weddings as well, enabling families to celebrate the whole journey through life, not just the ending.
Heatherley Wood has everything in place to provide a beautiful, memorable funeral. There is seating in the Service Hall for 60 people, and larger gatherings can spill out into the reception area and the covered forecourt if necessary.
There is a private room where you can discuss funeral arrangements or any other matters away from the main reception area, and the open aspect of the building with its unusual sloping beams and panoramic glass windows provide a memorable space for a ceremony.
Outside, the lovely surroundings and peaceful setting provide a beautiful place to return to again and again. Dogs on leads are welcome too.
This is a really attractive, well designed woodland burial ground, with a striking building sitting beautifully in the landscape around it. The genuinely nice staff are helpful and kind, and look after families and visitors alike, and there is a peaceful tranquillity as you walk through the land, most evident in the lovely woodland area.
Ongoing tree planting schemes around the perimeter will help screen the park from neighbouring properties as time goes by, and additional wildflowers and shrubs are being added to the meadows, helping create valuable habitat as well as a beautiful landscape for visitors to appreciate.
Heatherley Wood is very much a place for the living, it’s pretty, pleasant and has a lovely feel about it. The only one thing we’d suggest is adding an additional loo or two. There was quite a queue when we visited during a funeral. Other than that we think it’s to be highly recommended.
Monday 22nd May 2017 at 18.51
I had the pleasure of conducting the ceremony for a woodland burial at Heatherley Wood today. Peter was very helpful and so welcoming to everyone who arrived at the hall. The Woodland Hall was a perfect venue on a bright and sunny day – we had the doors open onto the meadowland and the birdsong and slight breeze were the perfect backdrop. The journey to the woodland burial plot was an opportunity for reflection and bird spotting and made everyone feel very relaxed and engaged with the natural setting.
With such a lovely hall for ceremonies, the land and the warm welcome, I highly recommend Heatherley Wood; it was much admired by all who attended today.