Improving a Churchyard Through a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant
St. Mary’s Church, St. Mary’s Row, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 8HW
‘Our closed churchyard had almost been forgotten, it was overgrown, and the monuments were in urgent need of a review with many unsafe. Anti-social behaviour was a serious problem culminating in negative local press coverage. We were aware that whilst it should have been a huge community asset it was actually a liability. We wanted to return it to a sacred, shared space’.
In 2010 a sub-group of the PCC was formed to address the churchyard problems. Quickly recognising the need for professional support and following a competitive tender process the church appointed a Landscape Architect. The brief to the Landscape Architect was to identify the constraints to our site, consult and listen to the needs of our community and church and come up with a scheme that would help us to manage our churchyard for future generations to enjoy. Whilst it was also considered important that we retain our heritage and tell our story and that of our community.
Surveying the Churchyard
The Landscape Architect carried out a detailed site survey and analysis including monuments, trees, boundaries, site levels and access. A full ecological survey was also commissioned. This understanding of the constraints of our site was crucial to moving forward into the planning stages giving us our starting point. Meanwhile working parties were established to start work on clearing the churchyard of rubbish and scrub. In 1981 the churchyard was ‘closed’ and responsibility for its maintenance should have passed to the local authority – this had not happened. After discussions with the local authority they put in place a ground maintenance schedule for the churchyard with their contractors.
The next stage was to engage with our community, stakeholders, congregation, the local authority and Diocese through a wide ranging Public Consultation managed by the Landscape Architect.
The public consultation consisted of:
- Paper questionnaires delivered to local residents.
- Having a stand at the Moseley Farmers’ Market and opening as part of a local Britain in Bloom ‘Open Gardens’ weekend to talk about the proposals.
- Drop-ins and events to facilitate discussion – for the general public, community groups including schools and the police, the Diocese, the Local Authority and our church congregation.
The Landscape Architect produced a further report on the Public Consultation process it was out of this process that we identified the following priorities:
- Access to all
- Open for the community
- Retaining the remaining built features and monuments
- Safety (CCTV)
- Improving the biodiversity
- Making it more sustainable to manage
- Space for quiet contemplation and prayer
By this stage dialogue had started with the Local Authority Planning Department and the Diocese. Regular working parties were continuing and to expand the numbers of volunteers involved we approached the local Britain in Bloom group (Moseley in Bloom), local companies for corporate ‘give and gain’ days, uniformed organisations, junior church, Community Payback and a local secondary school.
Developing the Master Plan
Now in 2013 and following much dialogue with the Local Authority (Archaeological Services, Planning, Conservation, Tree Officers and Bereavement Services) and the Diocese; and armed with the results of the Public Consultation, the Landscape Architect produced a Master Plan – supported by a detailed report on its implementation and fully costed. Before we applied for planning and faculty permissions we held a further series of consultation sessions to share the proposals – these were met with a 100% approval from all those who attended.
It is worth noting that in the background to our work the church had installed a CCTV system which covered both the church and churchyard so we were able to allay fears about anti-social behaviour.
Along with letters of support from local key organisations and individuals all the reports produced by the Landscape Architect were appended to the planning and faculty applications and we were commended for our thorough approach to the process. In January 2014 we received both planning and faculty permissions.
We sought pre-application advice from the local Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) team – they assisted us with identifying the elements of the project that they would be keen to support and this helped to focus our subsequent grant application. Having this knowledge also assisted with the identification of other sources of funding – crucial to be secured before an application is made to the HLF. In our case the church was able to agree to underwrite the additional costs of the project with a view to finding grant sources / donations at a later date.
We commenced the preparation of the ‘Your Heritage’ grant application in July 2014, this was submitted to HLF in September. It was turned down initially due to lack of funds but we were asked to reapply (without changing the application). We resubmitted in December 2014 and were awarded a grant in February 2015.
We were delighted with the news of the award of the HLF grant and the prospects it presents to restore, renovate and record ‘our heritage’; improve the skills and provide opportunities for ‘our people’ and create a sense of ownership and participation within ‘our community’.
The HLF Project started in June 2015, a part time Project Manager was appointed to administer the activities, measure outcomes, liaise with the HLF and monitor progress against the Project Plan. Becky Greenhill was appointed as Project Manager on 4-5 hours per week.
The PCC have established:
- A Project Management Committee to oversee the implementation and delivery comprising 3 PCC members including a Church Warden, 2 other members to bring HLF / community experience to the Committee and the Project Manager
- A Churchyard Heritage Committee with a wider remit to deliver project activities and deal with maintenance issues, outside of the project, in the church grounds).
Results and Benefits
The aims of our Project are:
To provide opportunities for historical research.
To increase the knowledge of church and churchyard history for recording through an interpretation scheme, talks and articles for publication.
To create access for all.
To upgrade the existing path surfaces, create a new ramped pathway, provide handrails at the lych gate and West gate and install inset path lighting along key route-ways.
Refurbish and bring back into use the West gate reconnecting the churchyard with the centre of Moseley Village.
To conserve and restore the neglected churchyard, historic features and original 1903 burial plan.
To improve biodiversity and habitat creation, enhancing the ecological value of the site.
To encourage and promote positive use of the churchyard (for example by supporting school visits to use the churchyard as part of their local studies, literacy and numeracy curricula).
To promote the churchyard as a space for prayer, reflection and contemplation.
To provide a legacy for the future by returning the churchyard to a good state of repair.
To maintain a sacred yet shared space.
There is a growing ‘buzz’ surrounding the project, the involvement of the HLF has meant people have heard about us and want to get involved. Our bank of volunteers is growing and now includes an ecologist, a genealogist, a planning lawyer, an interpretation expert and many more.
Issues and Lessons Learnt
Keep going – our project took 5 years from the first meetings to implementation. The process of bringing along our community, congregation, the Diocese and Local Authority has meant slow and steady progress. Decisions by the PCC need to wait for meetings to take place, the project was led solely by volunteers many of whom work full time so meetings were often sporadic, and pulling together supporting documents for applications was time consuming especially the grant paperwork.
Listen, accommodate and compromise when possible. For example; neighbours with gardens backing onto the churchyard were worried about their security following our work parties which removed scrub and opened the site up. CCTV was installed partly in response to this and the issues of anti-social behaviour whilst the plans include the planting of thorny species along the adjoining wall to deter climbing.
Work gradually, accept the limitations of your site and don’t be afraid to re-visit proposals. For example; we were advised by the police to remove benches from the Masterplan which they felt would have been attracted anti-social behaviour deterring other people from visiting. Whilst we would like to reinstate benches at some point we are waiting until this feels achievable.
Keep an eye out for possible links with other community organisations and initiatives. This year our churchyard was ‘open’ as part of a local Britain In Bloom group ‘open gardens’ weekend. Stalls from the Farmers’ Market will bring people in and restore a historic use of churchyards. Uniform clubs and Junior Church have been great additions to the project.
What started as a project to improve the churchyard with landscaping, planting and access works has grown to encompass a greater community focus over a 3 year period; creating a sense of ownership not just by the church but by the local community.
Conclusions and Next Steps
This is a great project which is really gathering momentum. For many years this churchyard has been barely accessible physically due to the scrub and brambles. It has also felt inaccessible because of the anti-social behaviour within it. This has now reversed.
Many people do not know about the churchyard however as it is not visible from the road, it is behind the church and surrounded by a high wall. The HLF grant includes a range of activities, outreach and interpretation. The first major event was a Project Launch in June 2015. Upwards of 450 people attended over the course of the day as we showcased some positive ideas for the use of the churchyard – live music, artists sketching, displays by other local history organisations. Plans are already underway for next year’s event.
We are currently finalising the tender documentation with our Landscape Architect for the appointment of the landscape contractors and hope work on this will commence onsite early in 2016. In the meantime our next event invites people to be a Graveyard Detective as we commence the recording of our monuments using the Heritage Graves model.
Caring for God’s Acre Action Pack Sheets
Section D sheet 1 Involving Volunteers
Section D sheet 2 Health and Safety
Section D sheet 5 Applying for Grants
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