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A joint project with the University of the Third Age (U3A)

12th July 2021

All Saints Church in Wokingham, Berkshire, has a major initiative underway to develop into an accessible and flexible community meeting space while retaining its role as a place of worship. A key aspect of this project is creating a centre for discovering and appreciating the heritage of the church and the town.

The history of the church dates back to at least the twelfth century and was integral to the development of the medieval town. The churchyard covers around 4 acres and nowadays represents a green haven in an increasingly busy and built up area.

All Saints Church approached the local U3A group to see if they would be interested in supporting the initiative in some way. The central tenet of the organization is ongoing learning and study, and one aspect of this is a Shared Learning Project. Such a project encourages members to explore a specific topic by undertaking research and related activities.

After a series of (virtual) meetings during the early part of 2020, over twenty people stepped forward from various interest groups. Each of these groups chose a subject matter that they would take up as the theme for their part of the Shared Learning Project. These included among others:

Genealogy – looking at the people who lived in and around the church in the Victorian period and who are buried in the church yard.

Buildings – looking at how the environment around the church has changed.

Great Lives – investigating the lives of people who are associated with the church in some way.

Biodiversity – conducting a benchmarking survey of the wildlife and flora within the church yard.

The latter workstream is particularly interesting. The survey is being undertaken over a period of time so that we can investigate species and varieties in the most appropriate season. It is also planned to repeat this over a couple of years so that a record can be made of changes. A benefit of the U3A engagement is not only the number of willing volunteers but also the expertise and skills that these people bring with them. We are therefore able to include ‘experts’ on insects, bees, birds, flowers and lichen. Initial results and finds are very promising and revealing.

We will at some point document our findings into a report and potentially a small exhibition to share with the wider population in the town as well as schools and other local groups. It is hoped that the output from the survey will represent a valuable input into the ongoing conservation and management of the churchyard.

In addition, our biological recording is of great interest to the charity Caring for God’s Acre and feeds into their national system which is found on the National Biodiversity Network atlas (https://burialgrounds-places.nbnatlas.org/). Caring for God’s Acre would be interested to hear of other U3A groups undertaking similar projects.

The Shared Learning Project in itself addresses an objective of the All Saints Church initiative in so far as we are already engaging with the broader (non-church) community with regard to local heritage – this will continue and expand over time. By research, surveying, documenting and publicizing the findings about the church, the people associated with the church and the nature to be found, we hope that the project will lead to a greater understanding of the church and the churchyard itself in the lives of the people of Wokingham.