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Anger as Tenterden council restricts flowers on memorial benches

Grieving relatives have reacted angrily to a letter telling them they are only allowed to lay flowers at their loved ones' memorial benches once a year.

The order came from Tenterden Town Council, whose external committee members made the ruling after it was noted some benches were being "covered excessively" with flowers and that "substantial tributes" were not always removed in a timely fashion.

Relatives were further instructed in the letter tributes would only be permitted if they were "loosely secured to the leg of the bench".

Peter Lake with daughter Karen Stuart and grandson James
Peter Lake with daughter Karen Stuart and grandson James

Peter Lake lost his wife Shelia in May and the 93-year-old widower was shocked to receive the letter.

Daughter, Karen Stuart, 55, speaking on his behalf, said: "I’m incensed with the town hall as there has been no consultation over the policy, or notice given.

"We would like to put flowers on mum’s bench at least twice a year to mark her death and her birthday, but the council is saying you are only allowed to mark one event.

"I haven’t seen any memorial benches in Tenterden littered with dead flowers so I don’t know why the council is concerned about them looking shabby.

"We pay hundreds of pounds to have the bench installed and if they weren’t there the council would have to dip into its coffers to pay for them instead."

Chris Patterson lost her husband in June 2017 when he suffered a fatal brain aneurysm driving back from a holiday in France.

The 62-year-old has pledged to keep renewing the flowers at her husband’s memorial bench near Montalbano restaurant in Highbury Lane at least every two weeks.

She said: "I was incensed when I got the letter from the town council telling me that flowers would be restricted on the benches.

"They [town councillors] sit there in an ivory tower making decisions that really affect grieving families.

Christine Patterson and the memorial bench to her husband. Picture: Paul Amos
Christine Patterson and the memorial bench to her husband. Picture: Paul Amos

"They should be getting their priorities right instead of being concerned about a few flowers."

Mrs Patterson lost her husband Colin when he was aged 66 and is still coming to terms with the suddenness of his death.

She said: "When I go to put fresh flowers at Colin’s bench I sometimes feel very low but people see me do it and come up and chat to me about Colin.

"It wouldn’t be the same if it was just once a year."

Chris’s son Daniel, 21, who is at university in Leeds, has also written to the council to express his disgust.

"They sit there in an ivory tower making decisions that really affect grieving families... they should be getting their priorities right instead of being concerned about a few flowers" - Chris Patterson

Mrs Patterson said: "It’s such a heavy-handed response from the town council and I’ve no idea how they would ever police it."

Speaking about the policy, town clerk Phil Burgess acknowledged the "hugely sensitive issue".

He said council ground staff had to maintain the benches and ensure they were "safe for public use" and that experience showed people were reluctant to sit at benches where there are floral tributes.

Mr Burgess added despite the sensitivity, the council believes that flowers which are past their best should be removed after a week.

He said it was particularly important as most of the benches are in prominent positions in the town.

The town council will discuss the issue at its next meeting on Monday, November 12.

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