Headstone safety testing continues across the Borders

If there is an immediate safety concern, the memorial will be made safe as soon as possible
If there is an immediate safety concern, the memorial will be made safe as soon as possible

The next phase of the headstone safety testing programme is to get underway this month.

Safety checks on memorials in four cemeteries are due to begin, with further inspections continuing across the Borders on a rolling basis to ensure these graveyards remain safe places to visit and work in.

The latest phase follows testing of around 17,500 memorials in 18 cemeteries in the past 12 months.

All memorials in the following cemeteries are next to be tested:

Weirhill, Melrose

Bowden Churchyard

Lauder Old Churchyard

Legerwood, near Earlston

The testing is carried out by qualified staff and is undertaken with due respect and only where absolutely necessary.

The testing begins with a visual inspection to check the general condition of the memorial which aims to identify any obvious signs of damage, wear and tear or lean.

It also includes an assessment of the foundation, where visible, and the surrounding area such as tree roots and steepness of the ground.

Once the visual inspection has been completed, a physical assessment is undertaken via a hand pressure test.

If a headstone is deemed unsafe, staff will aim to socket the memorial, which means it is kept upright with a section being dug into the ground at a lower height. This ensures the majority of the inscription is still visible for families and visitors to read.

If not possible to socket, the headstone will be laid flat or carefully placed beside the foot of the memorial.

Updates on the headstone testing programme – including the latest phase – have been provided to groups such as community councils, Councillors, MPs and MSPs, churches, family history society and faith groups ahead of testing beginning in their local area.

Signage has also been put in place at each cemetery at least 28 days in advance of the testing beginning.

A dedicated section of Scottish Borders Council’s website is also available which includes schedule timetable, frequently asked questions and video to keep the public informed.

Unfortunately, due to the scale of the programme, and the fact a number of the headstones are so old that there is no identifiable owner or next of kin, the Council is unable to contact all family members in advance of testing taking place.

Councillor Sandy Aitchison, Scottish Borders Council’s Executive Member for Neighbourhoods and Locality Services, said: “We know how emotive cemeteries are for local communities, with many being the final resting place for much loved family members and friends.

“However, the Council has a responsibility for the safety of 154 cemeteries in the Borders, and we take this responsibility seriously. This is why we are continuing with these safety inspections of headstones across the area.

“I can also assure residents that staff will carry out their work sensitively and only where absolutely necessary.

“We are trying to be as proactive as possible in terms of letting people know about testing in their area, and this will continue as the programme moves on.

“I would encourage anyone who is seeking more information to visit our website for further details or get in touch directly if you want to check whether your family memorial will be tested.”