Hurrah! July 1st is the first ever National Registrars Day, a new event to celebrate the vital work done by registrars and our colleagues across the country. Staff roles are surprisingly varied from hour to hour. It can mean dealing with members of the public at the happiest or saddest moments of their lives. Each needs to be handled with great care due to the legal and personal significance of the event. You may have just come across us for giving notice and booking your registrar, but there’s oh so much more that goes on at our offices!
Here at Somerset Registration Service, we’re sadly too busy to take the day off for a well-earned party, or even a nice cuppa, together. However, we are using the occasion to reflect on everything that’s been accomplished over the last year. This has included huge challenges from Covid 19, Brexit and several ground-breaking legislation changes. With over 115 members of staff based at 12 offices across Somerset & North Somerset, we’ve definitely been busy.
(Featured image – Mandy Latham, Registration Office Manager for Sedgemoor & North Somerset, after officiating at the wedding of her nephew Joseph and his lovely bride Sarah)
Marriages & Civil Partnerships
Normally we conduct around 3000 ceremonies each year, but this has been turned upside down by the pandemic. In August 2021 we launched a brand new digital enquiry system in response to Covid disruptions. Over 6700 enquiries to book or amend ceremonies have been received in just 10 months, handled by a small dedicated team. On top of this, we proactively rearranged around 2000 ceremonies affected by the first two lockdowns. Despite copious restrictions and 30 sets of national rule changes, ceremony staff have still created meaningful and intimate ceremonies for couples.
A happy bride, Mwaka, got in touch to say “Thank you so much for your hard work, our wedding ceremony went really well, more than we even expected. The registrars did an amazing job and we can’t thank them enough. Also thank you so much for working so hard to sort out the date during stressful and difficult times.”
Birth registrations, a face to face process, ceased completely during the first lockdown. Returning staff were faced with an unprecedented backlog of hundreds of new babies to document once offices opened again, with limited space due to social distancing and a very real need to keep staff and public as safe as possible. A total of 4861 Somerset newborns were successfully registered up to April this year, with an extra 1270 Bristol-born babies of North Somerset couples recorded thanks to a brand new partnership agreement with Bristol City Council. That’s a lot of little bundles of joy – congratulations if you became a new parent this year.
Death registrations continued throughout all the disruptions as a priority. The team adapted overnight to brand new legislation allowing bereaved people to register 8675 deaths over the phone over the last year. This essential job can be quite emotional, and staff involved deserve enormous praise for handling this work sensitively and compassionately, summed up by a representative of a local hospital: “I supported the father of one of our recently deceased children to register her death by telephone. I imagine that registering a child’s death is not something that is done very often, but Jo was amazing in the way she was fully able to acknowledge the person that was this bereft man’s daughter. She made the process so very easy and I am very grateful.” It’s not an easy part of the job, whether the deceased had a long and happy life or was taken far too soon. Our team always do their very best to make the process simple for bereaved families. This includes helping them access the “Tell Us Once” service that takes care of notifying all the other relevant government and local council departments.
The Registrar & The Funeral Director – Contributed By Barry Gibbs Funeral Directors, Chard
The relationship between the Registrar’s Office and the Funeral Director although sometimes never seen, is an important one. The smooth transition of the registration of a death is one of the key factors within the funeral profession. It may be that a bereaved family will contact the Registrar and organise the registration of a death even before talking to their Funeral Director. But in many cases and understandably at this difficult and emotional time, the next of kin or the person responsible for the funeral arrangements has no idea where they should begin. This is where a good Funeral Director will advise those required to register the death and, in some cases, they will contact the Registrar on their behalf to set this process in motion. As Funeral Directors it is our responsibility to oversee the whole process of the funeral and beyond, offering advice, support or sometimes just a friendly smile.
It has often been known for us to accompany the bereaved to the Registrar’s Office in Chard and surrounding areas to offer support for those with few or no other family members able to attend. By doing this we have seen first-hand the caring, patient and compassionate side of the staff who work within the registration sector. In these difficult times where face to face appointments have not been possible the registration service has stepped up by offering telephone appointments and computerised registration. This has been received well and still provides emotional and professional support where needed. Even though the new way of registration has been well received many of our clients are hopeful that the face-to-face appointment service will return.
Registration staff really have found it uplifting to hear stories from members of the public about what a difference these services have made to their lives. Citizenship ceremonies, the final statutory part of a person’s journey to becoming a British citizen, normally involve a large group ceremony complete with local dignitary and celebratory tea and cakes with family and friends. Continuing this work remotely using video calls has been a very different experience, but staff have still managed to make it a special moment. As Julie, a newly minted British citizen, says, “I really felt a huge ‘embrace’ and it is thanks to your enthusiasm and your joy in welcoming me officially on behalf of the home office and the Queen. I am so pleased that I have crossed that bridge after 23 years of happy life in what I can now call my home country!”
The Life of a new Ceremony Officer – contributed by Paul & Anita
A huge welcome to Paul Robottom who joined the Somerset team alongside other new casual Ceremony Officers across the county earlier in May this year.
Ably mentored by Ceremony Officer Anita Kacerovskis, Paul has now been signed off as part of the team as a DSR (Deputy Superintendent Registrar) to deliver wedding ceremonies in Taunton, Bridgwater and West Somerset. Paul also credits Customer Service & Ceremony Team Manager Rebecca Lewins and other Ceremony Officers who have supported his journey so far – it really is a team effort. Training has involved learning a dizzying range of new acronyms, completing wedding scripts, learning how to create and complete Marriage Schedules, deactivating alarm systems, and the coping with the pressure of signing legibly in ink! As DSR, he has very successfully delivered several ceremonies already, including an outdoor wedding serenaded by a rather loud peacock which somehow added to the joy of the occasion for all. Paul wants to take this opportunity to convey a big ‘thank you’ to everyone for their guidance and support.
Did you know that we also offer naming and renewal of vow ceremonies? Alongside the legal events, our staff are also trained as celebrants who can welcome new babies and celebrate the merging of new families, or hold Eternity ceremonies to reaffirm the love and commitment between couples. Since covid, there has been an increase in demand for couples wanting Celebration ceremonies to bless their marriage, often a year later, with the legal ceremony having to have taken place with minimal guests. This is something we’re very happy to offer, with greater flexibility in what can be included without the legal elements.
A Year Of Challenges
The work continues to record and officiate at these major life events through new challenges like the switch from traditional registers to a new digital record system for marriages that was introduced in May. This may sound simple, but is the biggest change to registrations since 1837! Thousands of paper registers have had to be recalled from churches, and the service have worked with local clergy to make sure everyone is up to speed with the new system. Certificates are now issued from the office after the ceremony details have been logged, meaning a whole new way of working for us.
Breaking news as part of the evolving covid regulations just recently means that ceremonies can (for now) take place outdoors, something couples have wanted for a long time. Registrars and their colleagues are already beavering away so that couples can take advantage of summer weather to say I Do outside. Again, it sounds like a simple change, but means all sorts of activity needs to go on in the background to make sure everything will work smoothly for couples, venues and registrars alike.
July 1st, as well as being National Registrars Day, also sees huge changes due to Brexit. From today, local couples where one or both are non-UK citizens will no longer have to travel to Designated Register Offices like Bristol or Exeter to give notice of marriage. All districts now offer that service for couples resident in the area, and it’s a huge task to get everyone trained up and ready for a brand new role. We know our team are going to rise to the challenge, as always, ready for whatever else is about to appear on the registration horizon.
Service Manager Genevieve Branch, who started off herself as a part time registration officer when she first joined the service back in 1999, has nothing but praise for her team. “Everyone in the registration service has always strived to go above and beyond to provide the best service they possibly can. In a year like no other, they have excelled yet again, exceeding all expectations to overcome the enormous challenges along the way. It’s truly an honour to work with them all.” At the risk of sounding gushy, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to work with you too, Gen.
This essential work carries on week in, week out, to record your life events. Why not drop us a line on social media, email or even a card in the post to let our staff know if they’ve made a positive impact on your life this Registrars Day – or any other day, for that matter. We would love to hear from you – it really does make a difference. #LoveYourRegistrar
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