The historic Devonport Guildhall can now be the unique setting for non-religious funeral ceremonies in Plymouth.
The impressive Grade I listed building is now a thriving community hub and social enterprise. In the past the building served as a Town Hall, Magistrates Court, a police station, library and even a mortuary.
Today Devonport Guildhall, which hosts exhibitions, community group activities, events, weddings and conferences, announced that it is extending its offer to Plymouth people as a venue for non-religious funeral ceremonies.
Built in 1822 by renowned architect John Foulston, Devonport Guildhall features a stunning Greek-inspired columned façade, while its Main Hall has impressive high ceilings, stained glass windows and period features.
Devonport Guildhall’s Commercial Manager Claire Burgess said: “The beauty of the Main Hall is that it is a light, airy and versatile space so that we can create a personalised setting for any occasion or event.
“When visitors walk into the Main Hall they comment on how beautiful and impressive it is, but also how intimate and friendly it feels. We want to provide a venue which meets the needs of all generations in the city – from naming ceremonies and weddings to funerals and memorial events.
“We understand that more people in Plymouth are choosing a non-religious funeral and throughout its history Devonport Guildhall has adapted in the way it serves the community.”
Plymouth Civil Funeral Celebrant Wendy Coulton said: “For a city population the size of Plymouth, the bereaved are poorly served at the moment in terms of providing choice of venue for non-religious funerals. The majority are held at the local crematorium and on a lesser scale in the non-denominational chapel at Ford Park cemetery and occasionally at Plymouth Albion rugby ground.
“I approached Devonport Guildhall about hosting funerals because the building is special. The Main Hall is beautiful and welcoming but it is also versatile in the way the room can be used for funerals attended by 50 to 200 mourners. Traditional chapel settings have regimented pew seating and fixed lecterns. At Devonport Guildhall we can use the space and arrange the seating and layout as the bereaved wish. It will enable Plymouth families to pay their respects and give thanks for the life of the person who has died in their own way and in their own time.
“Devonport Guildhall should be commended for recognising that this is a wonderful way to serve the community and I hope other appropriate venues in Plymouth will be more open-minded about hosting funerals, wake receptions and memorial events. If the person who has died had a particular affection or connection with a place it may be more comforting for the bereaved to hold the funeral there when the time comes.
“We are very grateful to David Parslow of Walter C Parson funeral directors for supporting this initiative from the outset and providing valuable practical guidance to ensure the building is fit for this purpose. In time it would be fantastic if city funeral directors could offer their clients a range of venue options for non-religious funerals.”
Anne Barber is the President of the Institute of Civil Funerals and Managing Director of Civil Ceremonies Ltd. She originally founded the Institute and the concept of Civil Funerals and has developed national qualification training courses for funeral celebrants like Wendy. She says of this initiative: “There has been a massive uptake in Civil Funerals since they were launched in 2002 and it is wonderful that forward-thinking celebrants like Wendy are finding new venues where they can be held.
“Buildings like Devonport Guildhall can give bereaved families a longer time, if needed, and much more flexibility in just how they want to say goodbye to the person who has died. We know that this is what families want and everyone concerned should be congratulated.”