AHUMAN rights champion and a campaigner for natural burials were given honorary degrees by a North East university yesterday.
Durham’s Vice Chancellor Professor Chris Higgins, presented the degrees to Baroness Valerie Amos and Ken West.
Baroness Amos, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co- ordinator at the United Nations office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Law.
She said: “It is a great privilege to be honoured by Durham University, a university with a long and proud history where there is a strong commitment to the principles of social justice.”
Baroness Amos was nominated by Professor Lena Dominelli, from Durham University’s School of Applied Social Sciences, who first met her when they were both community development workers in the West Midlands in the early 1980s.
“Valerie is an outstanding individual who has contributed to the development of cohesive societies, championing human rights and social justice for women and minority ethnic groups in the UK and across the world,” said Prof Dominelli.
“She has worked her way to the top from humble beginnings and provides an inspirational role model for staff and students affiliated to Durham University.”
Ken West, the pioneer of natural burials, received an honorary Master of Arts. He started his career in the funeral industry as a 15-year-old horticultural trainee in Shrewsbury Cemetery, rising to become bereavement services manager for Carlisle in the late 1980s before establishing the world’s first “green” burial service in 1993.
Mr West’s lead has since been followed in North America, Australia and New Zealand. He was made an MBE in 2002 for his services to burial and cremation.
“The death industry is rarely topical or appealing,” Mr West said, “so I feel overwhelmed to be recognised for my contribution to work in bereavement. I will also remain forever indebted to those people in the North, including Durham, who gave me support when natural burial was in its infancy in Cumbria.
“Without these passionate advocates, I would not be in this fortunate position.”
Mr West was nominated by Professor Douglas Davies, among other members of Durham University’s departments of Theology and Religion, Anthropology and the School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health.
The professor said: “It is rare for a single individual to be hugely catalytic of a social trend that emerges distinct from new social policies forged by national or local government. He has, in effect, engendered a new British ‘way of death’, that has spread to over 200 sites.”
Musician Graham Johnson and sociologist Professor Huw Beynon will be awarded honorary degrees at Durham today.
Professor Beynon talks about his work – J2, page 23, today.