When Yvonne Klemperer’s uncle, aunt and mother were buried in Hampstead Cemetery in the 1980s, she never imagined her graveside contemplations would be disturbed by worries about sanitation facilities.
But since the cemetery’s toilets were closed to the public ten years ago, Yvonne has dreaded ‘getting caught short’ at the site while paying homage to her departed loved ones, all of whom fled Nazi Germany as refugees in 1938.
“As we get older and develop more health problems we all need to go to toilet more often – and yet there’s nothing there, not for Disabled people or anyone else,” said Yvonne, who is a member of Camden Disability Action.
I got caught short so badly…well it was a trauma.
She added: “I’ve been coming here since 1984, but I was away for several years and then came back to re-vamp my mother’s grave which was in a terrible state. I got caught short so badly…well it was a trauma.”
The site now has no public toilets, though private (and non-accessible) facilities exist in the lodge near the entrance.
This means visitors needing to relieve themselves are faced with the options of leaving the site, asking permission to use the lodge facilities or heading for the bushes.
But Yvonne is a woman on a mission.
Besides repeatedly calling on Camden Council and the Islington and Camden Cemetery Service (ICCS) to install new toilets at the site, she has also successfully drawn the attention of the local press to the issue.
“The most recent thing the council said is that it is being passed for review. And there’s a possibility there will be a budgetary review in January but there’s always this chance it will be pushed on to some time in the future,” she said.
Fortunately for Yvonne and all those who wish to avoid undignified experiences at the 19th century graveyard, she has allies.
This cemetery is a beautiful space. It’s not dignified for people to have to relieve themselves in the open.
The Archdeacon of Hampstead and a representative of Kilburn Older Voices Exchange (KOVE) both joined Yvonne at a meeting with the press this month to call for the restoration of sanitation facilities at the site.
Speaking at the meeting, the Venerable John Hawkins said: “It just seems to me this cemetery is a beautiful space; it’s well used and therefore it seems essential that we have good facilities here because it’s not dignified for people to have to relieve themselves in the open.”
“I understand that the council’s perspective is always that it’s a question of financing; it’s not just the building of a toilet because we’d need something fully accessible,” he said, adding: “Nothing currently exists that’s in that category because everything’s over 100 years old and there’s also the question of who would maintain it. But these problems are not insurmountable.”
Meanwhile, KOVE’s Sheila Forster, who runs guided tours of the cemetery, where her husband is buried, also asked Camden council to take action, saying the lack of facilities can create uncomfortable moments for those on her walks.
The lodge once had a publicly accessible toilet until it was leased out by the council to the Hampstead School of Art.
Yvonne and Sheila are pushing Camden council to add on a new toilet to the side of the lodge.
Responding by email to a CDA request for a comment, Cllr Adam Harrison, Cabinet Member for a Sustainable Camden, said: “Through our joint cemeteries service with Islington, we began earlier this year looking at how we could install an accessible public toilet in Hampstead Cemetery, following requests from the public and councillors. As ever this will depend on funding and obtaining planning permission, but we hope to take this work forward in the New Year.”
He added: “A network of public toilets throughout the borough is a vital asset to everyone in Camden. We were also pleased to have this year won funding for 5 new accessible Changing Places toilets to be installed in various locations – adding to the numerous sites we already maintain.”
For Yvonne, improved facilities at the site are long overdue.
She said: “The cemetery has a very special meaning to me. My Uncle and aunt lie together while my mother is in a separate place beneath a pine tree. I feel, finally, the sensitive approach of Father John will help issues there enormously.”
Camden currently has five fully accessible ‘changing places’ public toilets, which is more than most other inner-London boroughs. The five Changing Places facilities have reasonable geographical spread around the borough, being located at the Camden Society in Kentish Town, 5 Pancras Square, King’s Cross station and Great Ormond Street (two at GOSH).