The story behind Leedam

22nd September 2021#leedam
The story behind Leedam

James Leedam


As for many people, the experience of attending close family funerals at various crematoria left me feeling rather numb and empty.

At these momentous occasions, funeral directors had taken care of everything and I’d been no more than a passive spectator. I should have been an active participant. My abiding memories were of curtains closing and coffins descending.

Aunty Betty

Four years after my dad’s cremation, his sister, Elizabeth Leedam, my Aunty Betty, suffered a stroke and died soon after. We decided that her funeral was not going to be the same.

She was not religious and had a pragmatic, nurse’s outlook on life and death. She had retired to Dorset and loved the countryside, Thomas Hardy, trees and woodlands. We had heard of woodland burials and set about exploring whether we could do this for Betty.

Searching for nature

Having done our research online, we found a woodland burial ground that was not too far away. Their photos of established, bluebell-carpeted woodland inhabited by deer looked perfect, so we went to visit.

Their grandiose gateway and entrance led to architectural buildings and a car park. We had a while to spare, so wandered around the burial areas. They were laid out very much like a cemetery with trees and plaques in place of headstones. It was not quite the deer-park we had envisioned.

At the reception building, we were greeted by a woman in a suit who sat us on sofas, brought us coffee and, armed with a clipboard, ran through a list of questions. Apparently, because Betty had died the day before, we’d gone from being ‘futures’ to ‘actuals’.

They could do everything for us – collect her body, take it to their mortuary, dress her, provide a coffin, bury her, plant a tree, fix a plaque, hire us the hall for the reception, and even provide refreshments, for a price. It was all getting far too commercial for us.

A simple, natural, beautiful alternative

We returned back to report our findings to the rest of the family and, while we were gone, they had discovered an alternative through the funeral director. It was a family-run farm where a woodland burial ground had been set up with no frills or shiny facilities – just a lovely spot with great views. Simple, natural and beautiful. This was it.

No frills or shiny facilities, just a lovely spot with great views – simple, natural and beautiful. That’s it.

It was a seminal moment for me. I completely identified with the absence of commercialism and the simple, natural beauty of the place. I decided we should all have one of these where we live.

Igniting a passion

That was the spark that ignited Native Woodland Ltd and Leedam Natural Burials – the desire to keep funerals completely simple, natural and sustainable. Since then, we have worked with landowners all across the country to offer some really special places for natural burials.

My professional experience of caring for old buildings has been strangely helpful – especially the guidance of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). They advocate taking a long-term view, urging that, in our own actions, we consider the legacy we will leave to future generations. I have been inspired by pioneers in the field like Ken West, and have to thank Michael Jarvis of the Natural Death Centre for his early help.
A family story

Since starting down this road, we have lived natural burials as a family. We have done this together. My daughter, Rhi Leedam undertook the GPS mapping of our burial grounds as part of her school work experience. We take our stand and spread the word at country shows across England, Scotland and Wales.

Great credit has to go to Elaine Leedam, my wife, who invested seven years working for Tovey Bros. – funeral directors in Newport – where she gained first-hand knowledge of the professional services funeral directors provide.