Most of us will have had the experience, whilst on a walk or trip to a park, of sitting on a bench that has a plaque commemorating dearly departed. As a garden and green-space-loving nation, it is a particularly British way of marking the loss of someone close. Sitting on a memorial bench with a little time on your hands to think, you may have even pondered the idea for yourself or a loved one.
The sense of having an ‘eternal’ marker for a person, and one that can be seen by an infinite amount of people in a public space, is universally appealing. As many struggle with the physical loss of a loved one, a material reference to them can be incredibly comforting. Whilst graves and tombstones can act as more traditional physical places for the bereaved to visit, many find a memorial in a beauty spot or an everyday location more uplifting. But how easy is it to get a commemorative plaque on a bench?
Where to install a memorial bench
The main hurdle to erecting a memorial bench is finding a place to put it. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, this could be an easy solution. Although people will move house, a bench can be relocated and having something close to you or loved ones might be easier to maintain and be a familiar and comforting place for all those involved. This can also be the most cost effective option with engraved benches starting around the £300 mark. Alternatively, benches are often placed in a privately owned space that the departed had a close connection with such as a sports club or business. If neither of these are an option or you are looking for a more public place to erect a memorial bench, you will need to identify the landowner of your chosen spot and seek their permission.
Many parks, pathways and open spaces are owned by local authorities and whilst there is no legislative requirement for them to do so, they often support the creation of memorial benches and view them as a valuable civil amenity. Their policies will vary widely from facilitating the fixture of plaques onto existing benches to allowing the purchase of new benches and will often stipulate the type of bench you need to buy. They will also usually agree to maintain the bench and plaque but only for the normal lifespan of the bench, which could be as little as five years.
Alternative ways to secure your spot include working with land owning charities such as the Woodland Trust who will create memorial benches from £1,500. You can even secure a dedicated acre of woodland for your bench if you have a spare £3000.
However, there are signs that our national passion for memorial benches may be waning. The Head of the National Trust in Jersey went public recently on his belief that too many benches are spoiling natural beauty spots, although the National Trust itself continues to be open to any ‘in memory’ requests. Perhaps because space for benches in popular spots is inevitably finite, alternatives to benches are also starting to become popular – you might also like to see our article on other places to install a memorial plaque here.
Choosing your bench
Once you have secured a spot, you will need to consider the type of bench you’d like to install. Longevity and maintenance will be key factors and teak is often chosen as the most robust wood for a bench. You might also like to consider an environmental alternative such as recycled plastic seats from organisations such as TDP.com. Benches can obviously be bought at a DIY or garden store, but you might also want to consider a specialist company like Bench Memorials who will design and manufacture bespoke wooden benches. If you have the flexibility to choose something less conventional, benches made from stone or wrought iron are also popular and lend themselves well to personalised designs. Patterns or engravings can include images or emblems that represent the person such as favourite flowers, pets, buildings or places.
Creating a plaque or engraving
Finally, you need to think about the wording and type of plaque you’d like to use. The standard ‘In loving memory …’ might be just the right thing, but there are many other ways of communicating the memory of a person. Using a phrase they were well known for, a quote from a famous person or an excerpt from a book or poem can be evocative. If it’s for yourself you may even like to turn your hand at creating a piece of unique prose. Plaques also often tell the bench users something about the connection the person has with the place they are sitting in.
Whatever you decide to say, the most common ways to affix your message to the bench are to use a plaque made of metal like bronze or stainless steel or to carve wording into the wood of the bench. However, options are almost limitless from plaques being made in ceramic or stone to wording being captured in wrought iron designs. The only constraints to your creativity will be budget and being mindful of durability and maintenance.