Northamptonshire's first eco-friendly burial site wins runner up award for best in East Midlands

Jo Painter, co-founder of The Windmills Natural Burial Ground, was 'gobsmacked' at the milestone achievement after running the green site for just two years

By Megan Hillery
Friday, 21st January 2022, 7:21 pm
Updated Friday, 21st January 2022, 7:24 pm
The Windmills Natural Green Burial Ground.
The Windmills Natural Green Burial Ground.

An eco-friendly burial ground in Ashton, near Roade, has been named as the regional runner-up in the The People's Awards for the Best Natural Burial Ground in the UK 2022.

The Windmills is a five acre plot of land, situated in the open countryside where the graves are designed to minimise the impact on the environment. Wildflowers, trees and shrubs are planted in final resting places instead of headstones.

The natural burial ground is run by Jo and Neil Painter, who researched green burials in 2016 after becoming inspired by those in Olney.

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Graves are marked with a wooden plaque or with a memorial tree.

Jo, reacting to the green site's runner up award win, said: "I was so gobsmacked - we were not expecting it at all to be honest. We never imagined we would get one so early on.

"We were told that, usually, burial grounds have been running for 10 or 20 years before they get one."

When the site opened just two years ago, the field had 2,048 empty plots - since then, 70 burials have taken place and a total of 110 people have approached the family business to purchase a plot in advance.

The award winners were chosen by judges at the Association of Natural Burial Grounds (ANBG), which was established by the Natural Death Centre in 1994. Out of around 90 members of the association, the regional winners were chosen based on feedback forms submitted by families, who used their funeral services.

The Windmills won runner-up for best natural burial ground in the East Midlands.

Jo said: "One of the things I said to my husband is we have got to get one of those badges. We have been following burial grounds across the UK and we want to be very worthy.

"It is very much based on your customer care and how the people felt that you have made their experience so, to get that review, it is wonderful because you are dealing with a grieving family.

"The death of a loved one is not expected and you meet them for the first time grief-stricken and they don't know what to do or where to go. To give us that wonderful feedback is the best thing in the world."

The Windmills facilitate full coffin and ash internments and graves can be marked with either wooden memorial plaques or a memorial tree.

The natural burial ground plants a variety of native tree species including silver birch, hornbeam, maple, wild cherry and beach. Jo and Neil have a vision to transform the developing woodland and grassland into a habitat for small mammals and insects, drawing on the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside.

The Windmills currently has 80 trees planted onsite and even hosted a tree planting session back in November 2021 where families of the deceased were invited to plant a tree in memory of the loved ones they lost.

Jo said the site looks very different compared to when it first opened in 2020 and looks a 'lot more like an actual burial ground,' and there are now plenty of sitting areas for people to take in the countryside views.

Jo and Neil are now exploring the idea of hosting wakes in the neighbouring field as well as various other outdoor events so that family members celebrating special events in their lives can include their loved ones, who have passed.

Expanding on her idea, Jo said: "We love the idea of being able to celebrate people's lives as part of a wake.

"If your relative is buried here and you have a significant event coming up such as a birthday and you want that family member there, why not do it here? We want to offer families something a bit more different than what they would get in a church setting."

To find out more about The Windmills Natural Green Burial, visit https://www.windmillnaturalgreenburial.co.uk/.