Family Clean Strangers’ Gravestones During Lockdown

One family is staying positive and using this time of isolation in a productive way by cleaning gravestones in local cemeteries.


Ryan van Emmenis, from Winsford in Cheshire, has cleaned more than 20 headstones with help from his children since lockdown started last month.

It all began after one friend shared a picture of his sister’s grave on social media, and Mr van Emmenis, who runs a cleaning company called Cleaning Helps, noticed how it had become weathered and came forward to clean it.


The graves took an hour to clean, but the larger ones could take longer said Ryan van Emmenis. “I thought ‘I can do this more’,” he said. “When I’m out on my walks I pass a couple of churches and there are some really old headstones and tombstones.

“I thought ‘I’ll just take out a little brush, some cleaning products, etc and as I pass when I stop for my little break I’ll have a little drink of my water and do a bit each day’.

“You see results and you’re like ‘oh, this is great’ so I just wanted to keep doing it.”

The time taken to clean each stone depends on its size, but on average he spends about an hour on each one over the course of three or four visits. He has help from his three children – Brooke, 12, Lana, four, and Larsson, three, who have got involved in the cleaning work.

Ryan’s daughter Lana

“It’s good for the children to learn a little bit of history but also respect their environment,” Mr van Emmenis, 37, said.

“As young as they are, they can still get involved and they can still help. Obviously they don’t do the chemical side of things, but they can do the brushing. They’re quite good at it to be fair.”

Mr van Emmenis has cleaned in two local cemeteries, St Chad’s and Swanlow Park, that was a little older, he was encouraged by his wife Hayley to do it.

“You’ve got to be respectful of the fact that it’s someone’s family member, it’s someone’s memories,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re using the right products and you’re being careful and delicate with it.

“Some of these headstones I’m cleaning are over 100 years old. And algae, moss etc., can have a really negative impact on them so you’ve got to be really careful.”

Ryan with his wife Hayley

Now he has connected with the vicar of a local church to decide which stones to work on.

Mr van Emmenis posted a couple of pictures on social media and among his friends and has seen it being shared widely across numerous local Facebook groups, which has caused family members to get in touch to thank him for his work.

He said: “I had some feedback from people saying they were really grateful for what I’d done because it was family members and they hadn’t visited the grave for 20 years, they’d been unable too.”

He added: “Someone used the term ‘you’re bringing memories back to people’.

“When a grave is dull and it’s got algae on it and you can’t read it, there’s nobody seems to give it much time if they don’t know the person.

“Once you’ve cleaned up one of these graves, it’s really noticeable, which means people are stopping and taking a moment to read and remember these people.”

Mr van Emmenis has access to cleaning products which may not be so for general public, but he says that anyone wanting to refresh a family member’s gravestone, using soap and water would be good enough.

“A little bit of patience, care, and attention and a soft-bristled brush with a bit of soapy water will do a fantastic job,” he said.

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