The National Memorial Arboretum, which lies within the National Forest in Staffordshire, has announced it is to create a living memorial dedicated to everyone who has lost their life as a result of the pandemic, in partnership with the National Forest Company.
The plans to expand the150-acre woodland and garden site by a further 25-acres have been launched to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Arboretum’s opening to the public and is part of a new ambitious vision for modern Remembrance which has sustainability, accessibility, and inclusion at its core.
“We have been inundated with requests to create a new Remembrance space where people can reconnect and reflect on the collective sacrifices we have made as a country, during what have been some of the darkest days since the end of the Second World War. These ambitious plans to create a living memorial to all who have lost their lives as a result of the pandemic is a key part of our vision as we continue to grow as the nation’s year-round centre of Remembrance, freely open to all.”
The scale of the pandemic means that more than twice the number of civilians who were killed throughout the six years of the Second World War have died as a direct result of Covid-19 in just a single year. Meanwhile, the extent of other pandemic-related deaths caused by missed or delayed diagnoses, cancelled treatments, and other factors are known to be substantial yet it remains unquantified.
A 980-year lease on a peppercorn rent has been signed with quarry operator Tarmac for a 25-acre plot of former workings adjacent to the Arboretum. Plans are now being developed to transform the existing scrubland and silt pond into an inspirational living landscape, representative of the changing seasons, where people can gather to reflect and contemplate the impact of the pandemic and remember loved ones who have died as a result.
Quote from Philippa Rawlinson, Managing Director of the National Memorial Arboretum, said:
“Located on former quarry workings, this new woodland will heal the landscape as we heal as a nation in the wake of the pandemic. This new commemorative space, in the heart of the country, will be the logical place for any national government-sponsored tribute honouring the contribution of the incredible NHS heroes and other key workers who have valiantly served our communities. We strongly believe that the design of such a memorial should be inspirational, capturing the incredible community spirit that has carried us through challenging times. A simple bronze sculpture will never do justice to a rainbow.”
Groundworks for the new memorial woodland are planned to begin in early 2022, ahead of a habitat creation and tree planting effort supported by the National Forest Company. It is hoped that public access to the woodland will begin in 2023.
John Everitt, Chief Executive of the National Forest Company, said:
“Covid-19 has made us all take stock, reflect on what we hold dear, and be inspired to create something better. The National Forest embodies this spirit of regeneration and, through these plans for a new memorial woodland, demonstrates how we are literally growing the future together, breathing new life and hope into the nation’s recovery.”
A grove of trees representing the diversity of religion across the Commonwealth will form part of the new woodland. In Autumn 2021, trees symbolising faiths and different denominations will be blessed by religious leaders during a Service of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in memory of those who have died in the pandemic. The trees blessed during the service will be among the first planted in the woodland, and the resulting grove will complement a new inclusive space for quiet contemplation and prayer.
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, said:
“For over a thousand years, Westminster Abbey has been a place in which the nation has acknowledged both the seriousness of death and bereavement whilst proclaiming a faith and hope that will not be defeated. The impact of this pandemic has changed us all. We are a people who have encountered deep sorrow and faced up to isolation. We have witnessed acts of selfless courage and admired resilience and generosity of spirit. In a service in the Abbey, and in a memorial that will endure for generations, we have the opportunity to give expression to what has happened to us and what we hope for.”
Ongoing community engagement is a key part of the plan to ensure that the memorial woodland evolves and responds to the needs of the nation. Plans include a community activity programme where people will be invited to help influence aspects of the design, including the style and symbolism of artistic sculptures that will be commissioned to complement the woodland landscape and lake.
Chris Ansell, Head of Participation and Learning at the National Memorial Arboretum, said:
“This will be a living memorial, evolving and adapting over the years to ensure everyone continues to feel a connection with this space as it grows. We know how important nature is to our mental health and wellbeing, and this new woodland will serve as a place of hope, where people can gather and make new memories. Our ongoing community activities will make certain it remains a diverse and inclusive space which is open to all and continues to be relevant for generations to come.”
The new memorial woodland in memory of everyone who has died as a result of the pandemic is an integral part of the National Memorial Arboretum’s vision for modern Remembrance. As part of a programme marking the 20th anniversary since the Arboretum opened to the public, the charity has committed to continuing to engage people in Remembrance, adopting and advocating for sustainable practices, and nurturing a space that is inclusive and accessible to all.