COUNTY NEWS: Bereaved parents' distress over fete at Sussex church graveyard

Bereaved parents have spoken of their distress after they said a church fete in Sussex was held just yards from their children's graves on Saturday (July 22).

The fete in the churchyard
The fete in the churchyard

Jayne Gibbins-Robinson, whose daughter was born stillborn almost three years ago, said she was left ‘utterly devastated’ when she found out.

She said the fete, at Church-in-the-Wood in St Leonards, was also held in the same place last summer, which left her and other relatives deeply upset.

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She told the Observer: “My daughter was born sleeping back in October 2014 and her forever bed is at Church-in-the-Wood.

“It’s a beautiful little churchyard where other family members are also buried. Last year I was really upset when visiting her to find they were holding their summer fete in front of graves with a barbecue in between graves and bunting everywhere.

“I tried to convince myself that my daughter was a part of their celebrations but it just felt so disrespectful and wrong.

“It took me quite a while to get over it. I did make my feelings known and am also aware others who have relatives buried there felt the same.

“On Saturday I felt I couldn’t go to visit my daughter as I knew they were once again having their fete and feared they would do the same again.

“My fears were right. I’m utterly devastated and know others will be too.

“I understand the church would want to have fetes to help raise funds but surely this event shouldn’t be something that causes upset to others.”

Dawne Braine, lead befriender and hospital liaison for Hastings & East Sussex Sands (stillbirth and neonatal death charity), said Jayne, who is the charity’s chairman, coontacted her on Saturday night in a ‘great deal of distress’.

She said: “I feel to hold this event in the graveyard is disrespectful and can be very damaging for someone grieving for their lost loved one. As you can imagine, the loss of a child brings many challenges, without the added distress of finding their resting place being used for entertainment.”

Andrew Beaumont, churchwarden, said: “Firstly, and most importantly, we are saddened that anyone is unhappy.

“We hold such events to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to share the lovely building and grounds with the wider public. It’s particularly important for local history with a church and churchyard which has been working since 1090. We raise funds for the upkeep of the building and grounds and to support our charitable giving.

“When planning this event we decided to align the stalls with their backs to the nearest graves to afford some privacy for those visiting the area during the four hours of the event and to encourage other visitors away from the grave area.”

Gary Austin, fellow churchwarden, said: “We have normally in the past used Churchwood School’s field for the event but in the last two we’ve not had enough people to help out and couldn’t get enough stalls. We apologise if anyone was upset.”

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