For some time, we have felt it would be nice to do something special to commemorate members of our community who have passed away. When the Office of the Vice-Chancellor is made aware, I write to the family on behalf of our community, and I offer to fly our University flag at half-mast on the day of the funeral. However, for a community that cares about each other, we felt we could do more through creating a single permanent memorial. This is something that is not very common in UK universities, but something we were keen to do at Essex.

As you can imagine, we have given a great deal of thought to the design and location of the memorial and consulted widely with staff and students, finally opening ‘The Tree of Life’ in October of 2022. The location is adjacent to the Silberrad Student Centre, close to the bustling centre of our Colchester Campus. It is a place where you can see the world go by, but one that also offers beautiful views of the lake and parkland and is a tranquil place for anyone to pause, reflect and remember loved ones.

Our Tree of Life memorial in the sunshine. A curved bench and tree cut from a metal wall by the lake.

The beautiful memorial designed by Wynne-Williams Associates, is made of concrete and steel, draws on the materials used around the Colchester Campus, and reflects our identity. It comprises a single piece of curved Corten steel that sits on a polished concrete circle within a landscaped space, with low level planting that marks the seasons. Laser cut into this amazing single piece of steel is the silhouette of a stylised oak tree with leaves cut into it. The Corten steel will slowly change its appearance over time, as it takes on a rust appearance. Each person is remembered through an individually engraved copper leaf, which is attached to the Corten panel and will change colour as it is exposed to air, over time changing to a vibrant verdigris.

Our Tree of Life memorial in the sunshine. A curved bench and tree cut from a metal wall by the lake.

Each month I hold a small informal ceremony in which I say a few words of appreciation and attach a copper leaf to the Tree of Life, and we take a photograph of the leaf to send to family members. Alongside an open invitation to visit the Tree of Life, increasingly families have asked to attend the ceremony in person, and this is a request we have been very keen to accommodate. I have been very moved by how much a visit means to families.

Students and members of staff who have passed away can be commemorated on the University’s memorial with a single copper ‘commemorative leaf’ at no cost. The formal process of requesting a ‘commemorative leaf’ on the University’s memorial can be made via the Estate Management Helpdesk. Visit their webpage for further information, including the request form and policy.