Volunteers rallied round to help restore a Dyce cemetery after a number of gravestones were declared “dangerous” and the gates were locked in October last year.
Dyce West cemetery is one of the few graveyards not looked after by Aberdeen City Council, it was inherited by the Dyce Parish Church.
Session clerk, Raymond Mack, relies on volunteers to help him maintain the cemetery on Pitmedden Road.
The cemetery is a recognised Commonwealth War Graves Commission site as there are two graves that remember those who died in the war.
However, during lockdown the cemetery became overgrown with weeds. In October last year Mr Mack organised a group of volunteers to help bring the weeds back under control again.
One of the volunteers was a council representative who realised that some of the old gravestones were dangerous, which led to the gates needing to be closed for safety reasons.
Mr Mack recalled: “There was 24 of them declared dangerous, it’s quite an extensive graveyard and obviously weeds and stuff can get rampant. There was the onset of Covid, and then I arranged a group of volunteers, one of whom was a representative from the council and he then said ‘look I think a lot of these gravestones look a bit dangerous’.
“And so I was obliged to close the graveyard and that was a bit sad, because just when I’d embarked on the volunteer work we had to lock the gates.”
Raising the gravestones
Despite the setback, Mr Mack applied to a number of charities and was able to fund raising 23 of the flattened graves. The foundations needed to be dug out and reinstated before they could get the stones back up which was a time consuming task.
The session clerk commented: “It seems to be the policy with the graveyards now that they’re quite happy just to drop the stones, and leave them lying, and I just think that’s vandalism in my mind. I’d rather try to get the stones repaired and reinstated as a mark of respect for the folk who are lying there. That’s what’s been motivating me all along.”
After working tirelessly to get the stones reinstated Mr Mack was then faced with the new obstacle of tidying up the cemetery.
While the gates were closed no one was allowed to enter the cemetery, meaning that the grass and weeds became overgrown and the paths messy.
On Saturday (July 31), 17 volunteers visited the cemetery on Pitmedden Road to lend Mr Mack a hand alongside Lord Provost, Barney Crockett.
The group set to work on weeding and generally tidying up the cemetery, making it an accessible place for all once more.
Mr Crockett said: “It was absolutely fantastic, it was an inspiration to see so many people turning up to help their community and help make the place look better.
“As a transformation it was amazing to see the difference that had been made and its great that we’ve so many volunteers trying to help the city go forward. I was really very happy to be part of it. I had my hoe and was getting busy there.
“We owe it to people in the past to have a wee bit of remembrance, I think the Graveyard Guardians do a fantastic job of that.”
Pauline Gerrard from Graveyard Guardians was one of the volunteers lending a hand on Saturday. She said: “It was incredible. I’ve never experienced that amount of volunteers before.”
When Mr Mack originally organised the volunteer group someone told him about the Graveyard Guardians and he got in touch with them.
He said: “Somebody mentioned Graveyard Guardians and I thought ‘that sounds like somebody who may be able to help us’ and Pauline has been in contact with us ever since.”
The group has been running for around five years with the aim to encourage people to enjoy graveyards. They carry out different tasks, from general gardening and litter-picking to inscribing and mapping the stones to help reconnect families.
The future of Dyce West cemetery
Mr Mack has plans to tackle the troublesome weeds that keep growing in the grounds, however, this will take time due to costs.
He said: “There is a site in the middle where the old church was, that’s just derelict now and obviously the weeds are thriving there. The plan is to try and remove the top soil, put down fabric and then put down top soil and reseed the whole thing.
“But that’s unfortunately going to be costly.”
After Saturday’s successful turnout, the session clerk also said there are plans for the group to visit and help Dyce Parish Church tidy the cemetery again.
“I don’t want to scunner them,” he said, “so I’ll maybe not do it too soon, but it would be my intention to do such a thing again because quite a lot of them said they would come back if I arranged it.”
He added: “There’s a lot of interesting grave sites there as well actually, that was one of the things we thought we might try and give a bit of explanation on notice boards or something, but that’s for the future.”
Meanwhile, Mrs Gerrard said they had a meeting with Steven Shaw, environmental officer, from Aberdeen City Council to discuss the future of the Dyce West cemetery.
“The city council have heaps of equipment and the manpower, so it just doesn’t make sense,” she said. “At the discussion the city council agreed, so I think at the moment they’re looking into making it into a city council responsibility, but the church and council are working together with bringing that forward.”
She explained that the council have been generous with providing the volunteers with litter-picking equipment and picking up the garden waste from the site.