Community Arts Partnership (CAP) was asked by the Belfast City Council to oversee a creative public consultation regarding a permanent memorial to be placed to mark Plot Z1 in the City Cemetery (known as the Baby Public Plot) and the babies who are buried within it. The creative public consultation took place during December 2015- March 2016. It is important to not forget any as we seek to make space to remember and memorialise.
Background of consultation and report: Z1 is the resting place of 7893 people, with the vast majority are babies, who were stillborn or survived for a very short period and some adults. It seems that it was the usual protocol for hospitals or the health trust at that time, to “take responsibility for the burials”. Families would not have been present or even aware of the time or place of most of the burials, so closure of any kind was therefore prevented despite their requests. They were not told where the babies were buried. Families are represented from both traditional backgrounds and Sikh, all walks of life, class, religion and tradition.
People don’t know – they don’t know how we were treated in those days. Just forget it and get on with things.”
Whilst the Council has records for all babies who are buried within this plot there are no headstones or memorials to identify who is buried there or within what timeframe. This is an unmarked plot. The period involved is 1945-1996, although the graves were used for burial earlier than this. There are rows of memorial trees throughout the space which serve as helpful markers for identifying graves.
Throughout the consultation, no one came forward to remember the adults in the plot but records clearly state that they are buried here. This suggests that they might already be forgotten and should still have space within this memorial.
As anticipated, “All Names Known” continues to be a very sensitive and emotional issue but thankfully, this did not hinder Belfast City Council from taking a risk and agreeing to support a consultation exercise being carried out. An unusually open ended approach has also allowed this to become a highly fascinating and very successful process.
In response to this consultation, Belfast City Council has agreed for a marker to be placed in the space as an acknowledgment of those in the plot and also consider other points raised in this summary report. Community Arts Partnership is delighted about this decision.
The process of this creative public consultation was documented on the CAP website throughout the months of the project.
CAP recommendations from the consultation and for the next steps:
Here are a few significant recommendations based on responses from the consultation feedback:
- That the memorial remembers those buried in the plot and creates a fitting space for reflection and quiet time.
- That the memorial is kept simple.
- Pride: a place where ownership, dignity or “pride” is reinstated.
- Taste: that the designs are kept discrete, tasteful and dignified.
- Appropriate and sensitive: materials and design are carefully considered as the art piece marks the space now and into the future.
- Scale and permanence: a marker for the plot, tell people about the space many years from now.
- Wording needs to be simple, clear, uncomplicated, accurate.
- Inclusive: This can be a focus place for any who have lost babies.