STUDENTS at one North East college are swapping the classroom for the cemetery as part of an unusual new course.
East Durham College will be putting on a course in gravedigging in the New Year after a shortage of people coming forward for the job was reported in the county.
Already 10 potential gravediggers have enrolled on the course, which will be part of an NVQ qualification.
Tutor Dave Miller – who has dug graves himself as a cemetery groundsman in Hartlepool – insists the course is not ghoulish, while he says the work was also a lot more complicated than people may think.
“It is not simply about digging a hole the correct size,” he said, “That is obviously very important. But it is a very sensitive time for families and it is vital that nothing goes wrong during a ceremony.
“A grave is often dug a week or so before burial and it is important to ensure rain does not flood it out, earth does not collapse, and that it remains fit for burial.” He said many people still preferred burial to cremation.
“Families buy plots so they can be buried together. Local councils have a statutory duty to provide burial plots and to bury the dead and there is currently a need for gravediggers.
“Peterlee Town Council have asked the college to train some of their staff in the art.
“Undertakers liaise closely with bereaved families over the funeral arrangements but it is important they have a gravedigger they can rely upon.”
Jane Pringle, curriculum head of land based studies at the college, said a modern-day gravedigger would also combine duties of grasscutting road gritting, and street sweeping as part of his or her duties.
The college yesterday took delivery of a free “practice” coffin from Co-operative Funeralcare in Amble, Northumberland, presented by Andrew Armstrong.