A series of courses held in Orkney recently has bolstered the availability of Council staff and local construction firms trained in the inspection, maintenance and repair of headstones in the county.
The provision of the training will allow the Council to work with a range of local contractors to speed up the process of reinstating the stones laid down last year - with the Stenness and Hoy kirkyards due to be completed shortly.
The training was carried out by Tomasson Consultants, a well-established Glasgow based SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) approved training and qualifications provider. They employ fully qualified industry experienced memorial masons to deliver a wide range of memorial masonry training courses including memorial safety inspection and assessment, headstone or memorial fixing, headstone or memorial repairs and restoration.
Two training courses were held covering the safety inspection and assessment of headstones and the dismantling and refixing of memorials.
The training firm were also asked to provide an independent opinion on the quality of safety inspection work which had already taken place in cemeteries and kirkyards on the islands.
The safety inspection course, which was attended by eight council employees, covered all aspects of Memorial Safety Inspection including the law and the requirement upon the inspectors to make any unsafe memorials safe.
A dismantling and re fixing of memorials course then took place over three days. The course was attended by five OIC employees, one Shetlands Islands Council employee and four private contractors. The course covered the theory of memorial dismantling, preparation and reinstatement, followed by comprehensive practical training in the use of tools, equipment, lifting equipment and methods of repair.
During that training course a further two unsafe memorials discovered in Warbeth Cemetery were made safe and seven memorials previously laid flat in Stenness re-erected.
Douglas Swan from Tommason Consultants said: "During the training process we observed that Orkney's kirkyards are maintained to a very high standard. Memorial inspection and testing is a delicate process carried out across the UK – and it is not uncommon that a memorial has to be laid down to render it safe. It should be noted though that this is a temporary measure and the council, family or relatives should be able to have the memorials re-instated to present day standards. Our training course will have assisted greatly with this.”
In May 2018, it was announced that Orkney Islands Council would be carrying out a statutory safety review of all its cemeteries, with any headstones deemed to be at risk of toppling laid flat.
The intention was that only those stones deemed by the Council to be at the greatest risk of toppling would be laid flat and that, where the Council's records would allow, families would be contacted in advance. However these intentions were not met - and a full apology was issued by the Council to those affected in February.
The Council will now be proceeding over the summer to re-erect as many as possible of the stones which have been laid flat. If any family members do not wish the Council to re-erect stones then they should contact the Council to advise of this. Work will also be continuing to identify and make safe stones in the remainder of Orkney’s kirkyards as part of a continuous programme of public safety over the months and years ahead.
Council Convener Harvey Johnston said: “It’s important that as a Council we learn from the mistakes that were made with this situation - and a power of work has been done over the last few months on this. These training courses, involving both council staff and local contractors, have allowed us to get on a much more even footing for the reinstatement works and will help us move forward from this alongside the local industry.”