Community work offenders in Whangarei are helping old souls rest more peacefully by cleaning up historic Kioreroa Cemetery.
“We had a local kaumatua bless the site, and now offenders have been stuck in clearing weeds, removing rubbish and carrying out general clean up work, including graffiti eradication from bordering properties” says Whangarei CPPS Service Manager Tony Hodgson.
“We saw an article in The Whangarei Report detailing the Council’s plans to restore the cemetery and contacted them to offer our assistance. The Council supplies the equipment needed and our staff supervise offenders serving sentences of Community Work – who alongside other community volunteer groups, provide the labour,” says Tony.
Community Probation & Psychological Services (CPPS) is the part of the Department of Corrections responsible for managing community based sentences and orders. Across New Zealand, almost three million hours a year of labour is provided to benefit local communities.
The sentence of community work requires offenders to do unpaid work in the community for non-profit organisations as a way of making up for their offending.
Tony says the job has been so popular with offenders some who usually do one day a week have come back day after day to see the job completed, and there are tentative plans for more cemetery work in the wider region.
“They can see the importance in the job. This was made especially clear with families of those buried at the cemetery coming by and taking photographs of the work happening, and thanking our staff and the offenders for their efforts”.
The work won’t end for offenders with the general clearing of weeds and rubbish over the last week. It is estimated that offenders will continue to work for at least the next six months, cleaning headstones and carrying out basic maintenance and restoration work. The offenders will be instructed by local business Robinson Memorials.
“The headstones at the cemetery are the older-style graves, with concrete boxes around the whole burial site,” says Tony.
“Trees that were planted in the cemetery years ago have fallen and damaged the headstones, as have animals that have been able to graze in the area due to broken fences.
“As part of their sentence, offenders will be advised by Robinson Memorials in their repair of the headstones. Working on a project like this helps reinforce good work ethic to the offenders, and also gives them a great sense of pride when the job is complete”.
There are an estimated 875 people buried over six acres at Kioreroa Cemetery – with graves pre-dating 1860. The cemetery is divided into four sections – Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic and a combined area for Methodists, Baptists and non-denominational.
The sections are divided by lanes that were used for horse-drawn carriages early last century, with 50 foot turning circles to allow the carriages space to manoeuvre.
In 1961 the Whangarei Council applied for an Act of Parliament to allow the removal of the headstones for maintenance of the cemetery” says the Northland Area Manager of the Historic Places Trust, Stuart Park.
“This was granted with some conditions, including that a memorial to those buried was erected, trees were cleared and lawns sown. Sadly, these provisions were not met”.
What resulted was an overgrown and neglected cemetery, subject to vandalism and not a final resting place of peace for Whangarei residents. The mess was so bad that some families had their relatives exhumed and re-buried elsewhere.
Whangarei Cemeteries Manager Helen Cairns is glad the work is now underway.
“This is an exciting and positive project to be involved with. It has also been a huge project – many types of consents are needed, and much preparation before the clearing up could start. We now look forward to, with the help of Corrections, putting things right after 40 years of hurt and unhappiness for so many people, and restoring the cemetery close to its former state”.
Other local work completed by offenders on Community Work Sentences includes grounds maintenance at Otangarei Sports Field and Whangarei Museum & Heritage Park.
Offenders can be sentenced to up to 400 hours of community work for various offences including theft, driving offences, and vandalism among others.
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