Tai chi classes banned from Lancaster Cemetery by city council

A tai chi class has been banned from Lancaster Cemetery in what one of its members has called a 'discriminatory' decision.

Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 3:45 pm

Dr Andrew Vickers, a retired lead clinician for pain management, said the group believed their peaceful workouts were a 'perfect complement' to the cemetery's tranquil setting.

But the council has said people have complained that the lessons are 'inappropriate and insensitive'.

Lancaster School of Tai Chi Chuan normally holds classes in the Gregson Institute but, because of the coronavirus pandemic, that has not been possible.

Andrew Vickers and Maya Florkowski perform some Tai Chi moves at Lancaster Cemetery. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

As restrictions eased, and it was possible for classes to be held outdoors, the group decided to use an area of Tarmac in Lancaster Cemetery.

However, a few weeks later, the proprietor of the school Paul Florkowski received a letter saying he had been breaking a byelaw that prohibits sports in the cemetery and that lessons must stop immediately.

"This is where the misapprehension lies; tai chi is not a sport," Dr Vickers said.

Dr Vickers wrote to council leader Erica Lewis about this issue, saying he believed the group's treatment to be 'discriminatory'.

Andrew Vickers and Maya Florkowski perform some Tai Chi moves at Lancaster Cemetery. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

"I have been involved in other martial arts, kung fu, ju jitsu and karate, for 16 years and they do have a sporting element as well as self-defence," he said. "Sport can be defined as a competitive activity with a well-defined system of rules. Even chess is classed as a sport under this definition.

"Tai chi has no competitive aspects. For the great majority of each class, individuals carry out sets of slow movements in a mindful manner under the supervision and direction of the teacher, Mr Florkowski.

"Sometimes faster moves are performed but the aims of these are to move quickly and with focus whilst maintaining relaxation and inward mental calm.

"Some tai chi activities do involve a partner (these are not being carried out during the pandemic) such as ‘pushing hands’ but these are opportunities for the mutual development of sensitivity. Anyone who tries to ‘win’ in pushing hands is only defeating themselves!"

Dr Vickers - now retired but previously lead clinician for the pain management service of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust - said that tai chi is a form of physical and mental exercise that is highly regarded in healthcare, and has been shown to be more effective in aiding movement in patients with Parkinson’s Disease than conventional physiotherapy.

He added: "There is also a spiritual aspect to tai chi; our lessons include a period of meditation as would be found in Zen Buddhism. The beautiful setting and the tranquility of the cemetery are perfect complements to our meditation.

"I believe that broadening the use of the cemetery is one of the aims of the city council and our classes should fit well with this.

"We have always carried out our activities in Lancaster Cemetery with respect for the nature of the setting and for the people who attend graves there.

"We have been mindful of and compliant with the regulations pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic. I do not think we break a byelaw relating to sporting activities and feel that we are being treated unjustly.

"I regularly see runners in the cemetery, some of them appearing to be in violation of social distancing. There are dogs off the lead, which, I believe, is in contravention of byelaws but no action seems to be taken in either of these circumstances. This seems discriminatory.

"It seems very sad to me that in these distressing times a misapprehension about tai chi should prohibit a group of people from gaining some respite from the depressing daily news and the limitation of our lifestyles.

"While the weather does not favour outdoors practice and we have found alternative locations for our practice, the cemetery is a delightful place and we would love to be able to return there.

"Several acquaintances have told me how much they have enjoyed watching our practice and I had hoped that some might decide to join us."

Coun Dave Brookes, cabinet member with responsibility for environmental services, said: “Our cemeteries are primarily a place for quiet reflection and remembrance and we have received feedback from some visitors that they find organised classes such as this to be inappropriate and insensitive.

“It is for this reason that we have had to inform this group that they will no longer be able to use Lancaster Cemetery for their classes.

"They would be more appropriately held in one of our other parks or open spaces and we would be happy to work with them to find an alternative, such as Highfield Recreation Ground.”