It is estimated around 4,000 more Brits died than normal towards the end of the year – with a combination of flu, Covid and hospital and ambulance delays all blamed. As a result, the refrigerated units – some which resemble shipping containers – are being used to cope with the current winter death rates.

In Northamptonshire, Wollaston Mortuary, which was used during the pandemic, has been ‘reactivated’ as part of the county’s ‘death management activation plan’. Named The Leys, it consists of two large cold rooms with mortuary-level racking, an office, and a covered reception area for discreet transport to and from the site.

It was used to support both the Northampton and Kettering General Hospitals with mortuary capacity during the height of Covid and has since been reopened due to seasonal demand. (ER: A cute phrase) The mortuary, which is monitored 24 hours a day, is owned and managed by both West and North Northamptonshire Councils.

The Wollaston Mortuary site manager, who wished to remain anonymous, said the site reopened this winter to cope with deaths over the festive period.

He said: “We reopened our doors to cope with the festive period, over the last two or three years we have done so. The mortuary here can hold up to 200 bodies and we will stay open as long as we are required to do so, which will probably be about another six weeks. In this time, we will stay in contact with the two hospitals so we know what is going on and how long we will be needed to stay open for.”

Sadie Nightingale, head of coroners and West and North Northamptonshire registration service and excess deaths county lead, said that the festive bank holidays affected the opening times of funeral homes.

She said: “There’s been a four-day bank holiday followed by a three-day bank holiday. Opening times for funeral directors have been tricky.

“During the previous two winters, The Leys facility in Wollaston has opened to support both Northampton and Kettering General Hospitals with mortuary capacity during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. Winter is a time when respiratory illnesses increase, and this year it has been predicted that there will be a higher number of illnesses circulating.

“As such, The Leys reopened last week to support the county’s health system. This enables the management of capacity and care for the deceased within the North and West Northamptonshire areas with compassion and respect. We would like to thank Wollaston residents in particular for the way in which they responded to the site opening in previous years and their ongoing support.”

Death rates are naturally higher during the winter, with added pressures from flu as well as Covid. The Leys originally opened in April 2020 on a site that housed a former tip owned by former Northamptonshire County Council.