Grieving families were left distraught on Mother’s Day after chaotic scenes at a west Cumbrian crematorium hit by cuts, a councillor has claimed.
Gillian Strickland, a Lowca parish councillor, said changes at Distington Crematorium have left an “unacceptable” level of service at its chapel of remembrance at weekends.
Copeland council axed staff cover on Saturdays and Sundays to save cash, leaving the site unmanned. It also removed the book of remembrance at weekends, with plans to replace it with a computerised version.
But Mrs Strickland, who has led a campaign against the changes, said that when she visited the crematorium at the weekend to check how the new arrangements were working, she was horrified.
She said the new digital book of remembrance had not yet been installed and a photocopy left instead.
And she says a lack of vases meant mourners had to put flowers on the grass, or in some cases take them home.
She has now gathered a 600-name petition calling for Copeland Council to reinstate the weekend service, when the chapel of rest was open and manned from 11am until 4pm.
“It was awful, especially on Mother’s Day,” said Mrs Strickland. “There were no vases left after about 1pm on Saturday and Sunday.
“People were turning up with flowers and there were no vases to put them in; they had to lay them on the grass or take them home.
“There were children crying because they weren’t able to leave flowers. The digital book of remembrance hasn’t been put in yet so there was just a photocopy – that’s not good enough.
“People pay a lot money to go in the book and they want to look at the original, not a photocopy.
“Everybody I’ve talked to about this has said: ‘The system was running perfectly before, why change it?’ I know there have to be cuts, but this is such a sensitive area; it is penny-pinching in a way that is insulting to grieving families.
“The money saved is a pittance and is not worth all the heartache it is causing.”
Copeland had originally considered closing the chapel completely at weekends as it battles to find £1.7m savings. However, it backed down after a campaign led by Mrs Strickland and Copeland councillor Brian Dixon.
Pat Graham, Copeland Council corporate director for people and places, said: “We are making (the) changes as part of our response to the unprecedented budget reductions we are faced with.
“We recognise that we will have to make some difficult choices as we look to meet our savings targets, however at all times we will look to minimise the impact on our customers.
“We will shortly be installing a new electronic book of remembrance. Until this new system is installed we are using high quality printed copies of the book of remembrance.
“We accept that this is not entirely satisfactory, but it will ensure the protection of the book of remembrance.
“Mothers’ Day is always a busy time at the crematorium and this year was no exception.
“Our full complement of vases was in use, as is the case every year. This was unaffected by the new arrangements.
“We have invested significantly in the crematorium facilities over the last two months and our staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that the improvements have been implemented smoothly and professionally.”