Centre for Death & Society

The Future Cemetery Project

September 2012 - August 2015


Principal Investigator: John Troyer

Project Team: Caron Staley


Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust is a working cemetery, heritage site and vital urban green space covering 45 acres in the centre of Bristol city. AVCT recently completed a building and landscape restoration project, which included enhancing visitor interpretation sites. These new sites include two permanent indoor exhibitions; wildlife sounds audio post, an education pack for schools, and web clips that explore AVCT's social history and ecology.
Felicia Smith has worked in Bristol as a heritage site interpreter and curator for eight years and at AVCT since 2008. She Chairs the South West Social History Curators group and is a member of various heritage professional networks.

Calling The Shots is an award-winning production company based in Bristol. Established in 1998, CTS has an ethos of widening participation in creative media and delivers broadcast, web and multiplatform projects for TV, corporate clients and education clients. Recent partners include the Open University and Channel 4.
Jeremy Routledge co-founded CTS and is a producer/director with fifteen years’ experience in broadcast, corporate and educational production. He has produced work with ITV West, BBC3, BBC4, the UK Film Council and South West Screen.

Funding Body: AHRC, REACT Heritage Sandbox

Total Value of Award: £43,471


Project rationale and aims


Faculty theme

Institute for Policy Research theme

Cultural heritage is about the past but it is also about the future. The Future Cemetery Project pushes the REACT Heritage theme in innovative directions by embracing cultural heritage as an opportunity to create greater public awareness about human mortality. Our project will demonstrate that heritage involves more than old objects; it is also about living and dying.
The Future Cemetery Project's partners will work with other heritage site cemeteries, a small AVCT pilot project, and visitor research groups to develop tools that create an immersive, multi-media, augmented reality experiences within cemetery spaces. Our evocative mediascape will use the listed buildings, cemetery monuments, and visitor paths as physical spaces for user interactions. We also want to develop integrated handheld device applications (such as smartphone apps) that enhance the visitor experience. The technology will also use the historic architectural design and the multitudinous individual stories buried in the ground as source material.

Our project will produce many exciting opportunities for audiences/users. In order to achieve this goal we have three general audience provisions: 1.)To provide a new event offer for existing audiences, 2.) To specifically locate new audiences amongst the Bristol and South West regional population for the pilot project, and 3.) To encourage repeat visits to heritage site cemeteries from both groups.
The main audiences identified for this project include:

  • The general public interested in cultural heritage that have never visited a heritage site cemetery.
  • Existing visitors and users of heritage site cemeteries that will return multiple times to experience the multi-media environment.
  • Regional populations interested in the creative arts, alternative audience events, experimental theatre, and installation art.
  • Cemetery visitors interested in Dark Tourism.
  • Heritage Site Cemetery operators looking to attract more visitors through new event offers.
  • Academics who study innovative cemetery activities, designs, and uses.

What we do not know is how much physical space our proposed Future Cemetery model can occupy at one time across all heritage site cemeteries. Each cemetery site will be different given its historical development so the project team will need to develop flexible technologies and tools that adapt to a given cemetery's design.

This project will be fully accessible to all potential audience members, with an added emphasis on accessibility for visitors with disabilities. By mixing soundscapes for the visually impaired, visual elements for the hearing impaired, and creating open physical access for the physically impaired, the Future Cemetery Project will facilitate visits by all users.

The project will culminate in a demonstration of the developed technology in June 2012.

Project outputs and impacts

 The project has delivered the following results and impacts:

  1. A pilot event at AVCT to test and evaluate visitor responses to the project by monitoring site movement, emotive reaction, and footfall. These evaluations allowed us to test the effectiveness of using immersive, multi-media experiences to create a twenty-first century cemetery experience. This small demonstration also served as a model for other heritage site cemeteries that want to expand their visitor base. The longer-term goal is that a fully realized Future Cemetery Project will be part of a much larger AHRC or Arts Council bid which enables the project team to implement their research at partnering heritage site cemeteries.
  2. A new kind of technologically integrated user app and device which other heritage site cemeteries can use and do so affordably. This system could also potentially be adapted for other kinds of heritage sites. Read about it on Bristol Culture
  3. Encouraged and facilitated public discussions about end-of-life decisions, and related issues, e.g., organ donation, funeral wishes, etc. through a number of public events at Arnos Vale
  4. An index of audience responses to the entire project, documenting what worked and what should change so that other heritage groups could learn from our experience.
  5. Shortlisted for the 'Design for Death Architecture' Award

Beyond the timescale of the scheme, we will have a significant impact by helping all interested heritage site cemeteries deploy new and exciting multi-media immersive events. Our project will also help visitors enter into end-of-life discussions with next-of-kin, which otherwise might not happen. This is a long-term societal impact that brings significant weight to our post-scheme timescale. Facilitating these end-of-life discussions is also the greatest impact the Future Cemetery Project will deliver.

Public events

  • 19th May 2012, Future Cemetery Testing, Arnos Vale Cemetery
  • 30th June 2012, Future Cemetery Demonstration, Arnos Vale Cemetery
  • 28th September 2012, Heritage Sandbox Showcase, Watershed, Bristol
  • 13th November 2012, ‘Digital Human’ Radio 4 – John Troyer
  • 20th & 21st February 2013, 'DigitalPast2013' Monmouth, Exhibition Stand
  • 3rd & 4th August 2013, App testing, Arnos Vale Cemetery


Find out more about this project

Name: Mrs Caron Staley
Title: Centre Manager for Death and Society
Department: Dept of Social and Policy Sciences
Location: 3 East 3.26
E-mail: c.staley@bath.ac.uk
Phone: work+44 (0) 1225 386949