The burning questions

George Bell of Melrose Crematorium ahead on an open day on the 26th on May.
George Bell of Melrose Crematorium ahead on an open day on the 26th on May.

It may not be everybody’s way of spending a Sunday but the man who oversees the only crematorium in the Borders is confident his first open day will be a success.

George Bell has been in the business more than 20 years and took charge of the Borders Crematorium next to Wairds Cemetery in Melrose when it became operational in December 2011.

By the end of this week he and his staff will have handled 860 cremations. He believes that number will rise and they expect to oversee 900 services each year.

He told TheSouthern: “There is now a trend to move away from traditional burials and across Scotland, 64 per cent of people now go for cremation rather than burial.”

A stroll around a cemetery can be relaxing and therapeutic for some – but what about a guided tour of crematorium?

Mr Bell says it is not as unusual as some might think.

He told us : “Up and down the country they have become popular events. They allow people to see the facilities and, if they want, they can see how the final journey of the coffin ends – although, it won’t obviously be operational.

“The public will meet the staff and we will explain properly what happens, including the codes of conduct within which we have to operate.”

In 1981 when Mr Bell began work, the split between cremations and burials in Scotland was 50-50.

He believes the change to 64 per cent cremations can be explained by a lack of burial space in cities and the high value of land.

He went on: “Crematoriums in cities were often large to cater for high numbers. But there has been a move to smaller ones in the communities.

“That’s what we have in the Borders and I think that will account for more change.”

Mr Bell knows the question he and his staff will be asked most often on Sunday. He revealed: “People always ask if they will get the right ashes back.

“And the answer is, yes. We only cremate one coffin at a time. It is physically impossible to do anything else”

The Borders Crematorium is operated by the Bristol-based Westerleigh Group who built the Melrose facility at a cost of £2.6million.

It’s birth wasn’t without controversy. The company faced major planning objections because of its site below the north Eildon.

During the tour, staff will explain environmental advances now in use.

The open day is between 10am and 2pm and includes the grounds as well as the 98-seater chapel.