MEMBERS of the Muslim community in Melksham have welcomed a decision to make space available in a cemetery extension so they can lay their loved ones to rest.

The Melksham Area Board meeting on September 6 agreed unanimously to extend the Melksham Cemetery off the A350 Western Way on the outskirts of the town.

They also agreed to a request from the town’s Muslim community to provide space in the extension where they can lay their loved ones to rest.

Mohammed Gias Uddin, of the Refa Tandoori Restaurant in Market Place, said: “The Muslim community of Melksham and surrounding areas are very grateful for the local Council’s unanimous vote to allow sharing of the Melksham Cemetery space so that local Muslims, who in some cases have lived here over 35 years, can be buried locally.

“This will allow any remaining family of the deceased to maintain their loved ones graves and pay due respects frequently; which, at present, is incredibly difficult with the nearest allocated burial spaces being at either Swindon or Trowbridge.

“We are all very grateful to the local community, authorities and the Melksham Family of Churches for all their support. We see this as the fullest of integration as it will now be both in this life and the next.”

The Melksham Cemetery is being extended by Wiltshire Council because it is nearing full capacity. The extension will provide plots for a further 68 adults, 17 children and 134 plots for ashes. The extension is not yet completed or in use but it is thought likely it will take 10 to 15 years to fill at current burial rates.

The area in the extension set aside for use by the Muslim community will not be delineated or fenced off in any way and plots will not be pre-allocated.

Muslims will be able to lay their loved ones to rest at one end and non-Muslims will be buried at the other end. Eventually, the two communities will meet in the middle.

Wiltshire Council is responsible for seven cemeteries, including Melksham Cemetery, all of them in the former West Wiltshire District Council area.

A spokesperson said: “Muslim funerals take place in accordance with Islamic law and custom. In terms of burials, the graves should be dug at right angles to the direction of Mecca.

“Usually, graves in council cemeteries are not orientated at right angles to Mecca unless they are in designated Muslim areas; this is to ensure best use is made of available cemetery space.”

The former West Wiltshire District Council allocated Muslim areas in Trowbridge and Warminster cemeteries. The last Muslim burial in a council cemetery was in 2012.

Figures from the 2011 Census showed 105 Muslims living in the Melksham community, representing less than 0.5 per cent of the population, although this figure is likely to have grown in recent years.

The Muslim community in Melksham attend a mosque in the town which also serves people from Corsham, Calne, Devizes and Westbury. Other Muslims attend mosques in Trowbridge and Chippenham.