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5 Approaches to Foster Community Engagement With Your Cemetery
Cemeteries play a key role in our communities. If you were to ask a cross-section of people what that role was, what would they tell you? What place do you hold in their hearts and minds? A place of rest for loved ones? A (seldom visited) place to pay respects? A place of burials and memorialisation?
How do people see you, and just as importantly...how do you see yourself?
By reimagining or redefining the role of your cemetery and the physical space it occupies - by de-mystifying and diversifying - you can unlock its value and maximize its potential as a way to grow your business.
A good place to start therefore, is to rethink what it is that you do and what you can offer - a cemetery, after all, is not just a place for the dead, it’s a place that can bring the living together.
Thinking outside the box will help to attract new visitors - inviting them to explore the beauty and history that your site has to offer, and in turn creating new opportunities.
A ‘Whole Wellbeing Package’
Consider how we treat grief and healing as part of our community’s wider wellbeing. How can we support people through the bereavement process outside of burials and memorials? How can we in effect provide a whole wellbeing package - one that reflects the changing needs and attitudes of our communities towards death care?
In serving as a “caring partner” to individuals, their families and their community, Grandview Cemetery, Tennessee has created a unique space in which people can engage in healing and meaningful experiences.
Within their picturesque grounds, gardens, benches and walkways, they have created self-guided and interactive stations which comprise the Healing Path™.
Open 24/7, 365 days a year, The Healing Path™ has been designed to help people in their ‘grief journey’ - providing hands-on activities to help individuals feel connected to their loved ones and “engage the process of healing.”
While on the subject of wellbeing - as a society, we are becoming much more aware of its importance to our physical and mental health.
Cemeteries, being typically quiet environments, are ideal locations for exercise or contemplative / meditative practices such as yoga or mindfulness, as they allow participants to pause and reflect in peace.
Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia for example, holds a yoga class twice a month, providing the opportunity for individuals to clear their minds and find their inner peace during yoga classes in the peaceful backdrop of Laurel Hill Cemetery while overlooking the Schuylkill River.
A Unique Experience
Cemeteries are well placed to provide experiences that are wholly unique.
There are many different types of events or experiences that you might consider running for your local community: cemetery tours, picnics, theatre performances, movie nights, to name just a few. Be inspired by the space you have and others will be too!
Events don’t have to be expensive - starting small is a good way to gauge interest before investing time and money in something bigger.
Engage with other cemeteries and stakeholders for learnings and best practice, and consider partnerships with other local organisations to pull your resources and build relationships.
For example, Woodlawn Conservancy, New York, teamed up with the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York (AAA) to hold a stargazing event in Woodlawn Cemetery during its annual Spring Starfest. The cemetery has open area views which are free of glare from local lighting, making it the perfect location for observers with telescopes.
A Community Space
Positioning your cemetery as a community space can help you to become a destination point in your own right. Community gardens, libraries or public art installations for example can become meeting places which give people a reason to visit and return to time and again.
Centennial Park, Adelaide for example, is the first cemetery in South Australia to build its own contemporary café and function area on-site.
Wildflowers Café provides a place where people can have a coffee or lunch before or after a service, but is also available for visitors who wish to enjoy the picturesque gardens, sculptures and surrounds within their 40-hectare park. The café is also marketed as being dog-friendly and offers free Wi-Fi - offering additional benefits and incentives to visit.
Using this community space to open up additional revenue streams can also be particularly important where land may be decreasing, or plot availability is low. Where budget or resources are limited - consider low-risk, pop-up attractions, such as coffee vans or pop-up restaurants - whatever feels appropriate for your space and budget.
A Place to Remember
Annual remembrance ceremonies are a way of bringing large groups of people together, (as far as social distancing permits), and from a business perspective, provide an opportunity to increase footfall and emphasise the cemetery’s profile as a shared space.
Memorial Days, for example, allow families and communities to commemorate the lives and sacrifices of their loved ones in a powerful shared experience.
Similarly, annual dates such as Mother’s and Father’s Days provide an opportunity to hold events that allow family members to remember and celebrate loved ones who have passed.
Here, consider also additional sources of income such as catering solutions, flower markets, or bespoke memorials.
Marketing and Social Media
The more visitors you have, the more opportunity you have to educate them on what you have to offer, and influence their decision-making for end of life planning. By bringing people together in a positive way, you can become your own good news story. But first, you need to get talking…
Using social media is a great way to let people know what you can offer them and think differently about what you do...and you may have more to say than you think!
Make your social media channels a place for fresh and interesting content - one that offers a mix of useful information and news of upcoming events. Think of your assets - your history, your buildings, your beautiful surroundings and shout about them! Talk about yourself and your people...the more your community gets to know you, the more they’ll want to engage with and support what you’re doing.
Your Next Step
Re-engaging with your community is a journey - and one that may take time.
Before embarking, speak to your stakeholders and speak to your community...it’s important before making any decisions that you do your market research. What is it that people want? Be sure to align your values with those of your community and have clear goals in mind.
Dream big, but remember that it’s OK to start small...that way you’ll know what works and what doesn’t with minimal risk.
If you would like to learn more, you can now view our recent webinar, 'How Cemeteries Are Reinventing the Way They Engage With Communities' with special guest speaker Renè Negrete from Inglewood Park Cemetery.
Learn how using your cemetery as a community space can attract new visitors, creating a place of reflection and enabling a connection between the cemetery and visitors.