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Barrow boys turn back the clock

Toby Angel, Managing Director of Sacred Stones Ltd, tells Sharon Barnard how his business is helping to meet the growing demand for barrows as final resting places for cremation ashes

We may live in a fast-paced hi-tech world, but when it comes to choosing a final resting place it seems an increasing number of us are wanting to turn back the clock to prehistoric times.

A stone and earth barrow or mound set into the landscape – modelled on the burial sites used by our ancient ancestors – are now becoming popular with families looking for a natural alternative to traditional cemeteries and crematoria.

Toby Angel of Sacred Stones Ltd, the Bedfordshire based company that designs, builds and looks after two of these handcrafted constructions in the heart of the English countryside, and has a further 8-10 in the pipeline, isn’t surprised by the growing interest.

“Firstly the demand for ‘space’ is a well-known and discussed topic. Secondly, we know firsthand how unpopular crematoria-based services are,” he emphasises.

“There is a demand by families to curate, experience and enjoy ritual in peaceful natural surroundings.”

The founder of Sacred Stones Ltd completed a privately commissioned project, Long Barrow at All Cannings in Wiltshire in 2014, and the public’s immediate engagement with it led to the subsequent formation of Sacred Stones.

“The inspirational mind was Tim Daw, farmer, Stonehenge steward and enthusiastic amateur archaeologist,” explains Toby.

Barrow boys: Toby Angel (left) and Martin Fildes

“Tim thought it would be an interesting project, jumped through and over many hurdles to get planning, and then my build director, Martin Fildes, who at the time was running his own stonemasonry business, called to explain how it should be built. Tim took a leap of faith, Martin built, and the public came.

“Sacred Stones Ltd was formed in December 2015 and is the first established barrow company. Little did we know quite what we would be embarking upon. Fast forward four years and a typical caller is asking us to recommend a funeral director, discuss the need to embalm, amongst many other questions, and help curate their service.”

Whilst the construction of a chambered barrow is complex, requiring considerable engineering and stonemasonary skills, Toby says the greatest challenge by far is establishing that the people they work with share their ethos.

“We’ve turned landowners away as they focus entirely on the commercial aspect of the business and don’t appreciate the inherent duty of care required when helping families. We have learnt that the business is not simply about ‘selling space’ – far from it.”

As barrows are secular venues, there are no rules about what can be done or said so families have the space and time to create their own rituals to honour their loved ones.

Ashes are placed in an urn inside an alcove or niche within the stone walls of the barrow. Niches come in varying sizes to accommodate a single urn, or multiple urns for an entire family, and have a stone facade which can be personalised. Niches can also be passed to future generations.

“Having a tangible place to connect with, facilitating freedom of expression in a natural environment and a place to wonder is very important,” says Toby. “And knowing that every stone has been handcrafted, the attention to detail by the stonemason conveys a rich seam of integrity.

“When we have new visitors I listen carefully to the language they use to describe their experience: ‘home’, ‘peaceful’,  ‘calming’, ‘nurturing’, ‘magical’, ‘uplifting’,‘positive’.

“The fact one has no time limitation for a service is key, and that a family can do pretty much whatever they want to commemorate is empowering.

“Listening to a family discuss and describe a life they wish to celebrate is the most humbling and satisfying element of our role. We take huge comfort and pride knowing that a place built with such loving care will help families for years to come.”

This is a preview of a feature article.

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