A ground-breaking festival in Birmingham this spring brings together coffins and cakes, walks and wakes and authors with absent friends.

Organised by community interest company BrumYODO, A Matter of Life and Death on May 3-16 takes place in venues across Birmingham and the West Midlands.

BrumYODO, a volunteer-led group based in Birmingham, aims to create safe spaces to think and talk about death and dying. To coincide with the national campaign Dying Matters Awareness Week, it has been running A Matter of Life and Death Festival since 2016 and is getting ready for another great year.

Birmingham was accredited as the UK’s first Compassionate City in 2022, recognising it as a place where citizens support each other through difficult times. A member of the Compassionate City coalition, BrumYODO’s festival provides opportunities for people from all communities to join in activities encouraging conversations around death, dying, grief and loss.

Helen Tomblin, one of the BrumYODO board members, says: “This year’s festival hosts some regular events such as a tour of an undertakers, a Birmingham Catacombs walk, theatre pieces, an author event and numerous Death Cafes and In Memory events.

“And this year, new venues and contributors have joined the festival including Northfield Community Partnership and The New Photo Company in Kings Heath. We’re also really pleased to be promoting an interfaith walk with talks from different faith groups about different rituals and practices in the aftermath of a death.

“With Birmingham on the map as a Compassionate City we’re really pleased to see that the momentum is growing to promote healthy and productive conversation about death and dying.”

The festival kicks off with Tell it to the Bees at London Road Cemetery in Coventry on May 3 where storytellers Pyn Stockman and Kate Luxmoore will use music and narrative to share tales of bees in folklore, nature, life and death. The team also perform Tell it to the Bees at Packwood House near Lapworth on May 11.

On May 7 people have the chance to Meet the Undertakers at A Natural Undertaking in Kings Heath with an open evening to learn more about the role of an undertaker and the different choices around funerals and burials.

The festival is keen to embrace people of all ages and backgrounds and Life Cycle at Northfield Community Centre on May 11 is a family-friendly interactive day which explores the cycle of life and death through the nature in our gardens. Organised in partnership with Northfield Neighbourhood Network Scheme, the event uses storytelling, arts, crafts and garden activities from caterpillars to compost to invite visitors to explore the big ideas that are found in the little things around us.

Northfield NNS Manager Jess Allan says they were keen to be part of the festival after seeing its benefits last year.

“I first found out about BrumYODO only last year. I initially got involved with the Compassionate Communities agenda locally and was excited to develop new and innovative projects helping communities to support each other in times of grief and loss.

“The Northfield NNS team at Northfield Community Partnership then attended a number of BrumYODO’s events at last year’s A Matter of Life and Death Festival. We were so inspired that we are now running a number of events in the festival this year and are really excited to see the impact that that will have in the communities in which we work.”

In conjunction with The Heath Bookshop in Kings Heath, the festival welcomes writer Sarah Tarlow to speak on May 11. The author of The Archaeology of Loss will discuss her memoir which explores the death of her husband and the universal experience of the loss of a loved one.

BrumYODO joins forces with Kevin Thomas who will lead a guided tour of Birmingham Catacombs on May 12, where walkers can discover more about the burials of a druid, the man who invented tennis and the printer whose embalmed body was moved around the city.

And on May 16 an interfaith walk around Lozells and Handsworth will explore the rituals and practices following death and bereavement within diverse faiths. There will be stops at different places of worship to hear personal stories about what happens after someone dies including services, support and mourning.

A Matter of Life and Death also includes two Absent Friends events, one at the Black Horse in Northfield on May 8 and the second at Anjuna Lounge in Stirchley on May 9. Absent Friends is a small informal gathering where people can share stories of loved ones who have died, over a drink and a meal.

And Itzatna Arts’ children’s theatre show The Stories of the Wind at The Old Print Works in Balsall Heath on May 11 will explore Mexican folk tales and the Mexican celebration of Day of the Dead.

The festival also features a number of Death Cafes, a space for informal chat about anything related to life and death over tea, coffee and cake, at venues across the region including The New Photo Company in Kings Heath, Chas Manns Coffee Shop in Kings Norton, Sun Rising Burial Ground near Warwick, Coffin Works in Birmingham city centre and St Chad’s Church in Rubery.

Helen urges previous A Matter of Life and Death supporters and new visitors to give the events a go.

“The festival includes so many very different events we hope we have something for everyone. We have done all we can to ensure as many as possible are free or low cost. Some need to be booked, some are simply drop-in. Please check our website for all the information – and we hope to see you there.”

For full information including booking details see ‘A Matter of Life and Death Festival 2024’ on the BrumYODO events page and follow the festival on social media @BrumYODO