Anoopam Mission UK has received a landmark planning decision to build a state-of-the-art crematorium on its grounds in Denham, Buckinghamshire, adjacent to its existing Hindu Temple and Community Centre. This would represent the first purpose-built Hindu faith crematorium in the UK.
But this is a result of six years of perseverance and dauntless determination on part of many stakeholders who pushed for this landmark appeal, which otherwise, would have never seen the light of the day.
According to the 2011 Census, 2.7% of Britons in England & Wales are currently Hindus (817,000) and 1.4% are Sikhs (423,000).
Chancellor George Osborne had launched a review into crematorium facilities for Hindus and Sikhs in his summer budget of 2015, to ensure that they were appropriate to the needs of all users and faiths.
This was intended to follow representations to the Chancellor from British Hindus and Sikhs, who were concerned that current facilities were often too small, and not equipped to meet their needs. Through this proposed consultation, the Government wanted to know more about these issues and what steps need to be taken to improve existing facilities in line with current law.
The then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said that his Budget delivered for British Hindus and Sikhs: backing business, supporting aspiration and standing behind families that work hard.
Osborne acknowledged the concerns of British Hindus and Sikhs who had raised their concerns with him about cremation facilities for their communities. He had praised that the consultation would be led by the Department for Communities and Local Government and launched in due course. It was intended to take into account the views of all faiths and members of the community.
Six years later
In its decision published on 16 December 2021, the Planning Inspectorate acknowledged the very special circumstances which justify building on green belt land. In particular, the Planning Inspector noted that for faith and cultural reasons, the Hindu community in North and West London, and the surrounding counties, are disadvantaged by being denied the opportunity to fully observe their cultural and religious beliefs and traditions for funerals and cremations.
Designed to honour death
Specifically, existing crematoria in the area do not adequately cater for all Hindu rites and rituals with an inadequate size of facilities, parking facilities and difficulties in providing a funeral when necessary and with insufficient service times. The proposals were noted for offering a quality, auspicious and fitting funeral experience for the Hindu community that is currently not provided for in this country.
The design of the crematorium building, and associated facilities, has been specifically tailored and architecturally designed to meet the needs of the Hindu community. The proposal includes 2 waiting rooms, 2 private ritual rooms for pre-ceremony rituals, a large ceremony hall and a crematory hall. There is also a separate canteen building including dining seating and showering facilities. This would enable ritual washing and communal eating following a cremation. Ample car parking would also be provided.
Over 2,000 signatures of support were received for the proposals, with Lord Jitesh Gadhia and Bob Blackman MP speaking in favour of the application during the Appeal hearing on behalf of the Hindu Community.
Another petition titled ‘Entrance signage for Anoopam Mission Hindu Temple’ has been started to get at least 5000 signatures to support signage to be placed at the entrance of Anoopam Mission on the A40. This is a critical requirement for all visitors and is a road safety issue as many drivers miss the entrance due to the high-speed dual carriageway.
Commenting on the decision, the Spiritual Leader of Anoopam Mission, Param Puya Sahebji said: “We welcome this important decision and the opportunity for Anoopam Mission to serve the Hindu population of the UK. Observing ‘antim sanskar’ or last rites in accordance with our Hindu customs and rituals provides liberation for the departed soul and peace of mind for families during a sensitive time. Our large and tranquil grounds in Denham, with our newly built Mandir facilities, provide an ideal location for this ‘manav sewa’, or service to humanity. We look forward to working with all Hindu organisations to deliver this vision for the whole community.”
Lord Jitesh Gadhia’s undeterred spirit
In his then address to the readers of Asian Voice in 2015, Lord Jitesh Gadhia wrote, “A serious initiative emanating from the highest levels of Government deserves an equally professional and coordinated response from our community. Whilst the exact nature and scope of the review process has yet to be announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, it provides a unique opportunity to finally move this vexed issue from the arena of debate to a series of concrete recommendations and deliverables.
He asserted that this Review was “a critical test of our community’s maturity and capacity to collaborate and speak with one cohesive voice.”
Citing the root cause of the lack of crematoriums for the ethnic minority communities, Lord Gadhia had mentioned that Local Councils back then had certain obligations for the maintenance of existing burial sites but didn’t have specific legal responsibilities regarding the provision of new or locally appropriate facilities.
For example, the two London boroughs with the highest Indian populations – Brent and Harrow – didn’t actually provide any crematorium facilities in their own catchment area but relied on instead on facilities in neighbouring boroughs.
“The Crematorium Review is a critical test for our community. Not only is the outcome important for but so too is the manner in which we conduct our response. It could mark a milestone in the way we are perceived as a community. I hope we will rise to the challenge,” Lord Gadhia wrote.
Six years later, as the landmark appeal comes into motion, Lord Jitesh Gadhia said, “This is a landmark moment for the Hindu Community in the UK. Many of us have actively campaigned for a purpose-built Hindu Crematorium to meet the needs of our community and the provision of better facilities sensitive to our cultural and social requirements.
“I congratulate the Anoopam Mission UK for persevering with this planning application and appeal. The welcome judgment from the Planning Inspector recognises the very special circumstances that exist in meeting the unfulfilled needs of the Hindu community and I hope will enable other facilities to be considered in areas of high Hindu, Sikh and Jain populations.”