Churchyard challenges solved – thanks to Community Payback

In a special blog post, Maryann Williams, a volunteer at St Mary’s church in the village of Llanfairtalhaiarn, Conwy, talks about how their small parish overcame the challenges of managing the upkeep of their churchyard.

There must very few churches whose supporters do not struggle with the upkeep of their churchyards. Managing grass that seems to grow as you watch it, malignant weeds and leaning or crumbling gravestones are all part of the annual issues.

Graveyard at St Mary’s church.

Within its original stone walled boundary, there is a large grassy area containing many visible gravestones, some upright and some lying flat ready to surprise the uninitiated mower. A wildflower meadow in the centre and additional small flower bed with lavender and buddleia attract bees and other insects. There are steep banks and we also have to contend with vigorous earthworks from a determined mole. We also are responsible for the management of a closed churchyard right next door. AND the average age of our congregation is more than 60 – with many of us getting older.

Rake and Cake”  

How do we manage? We have a mowing and strimming rota and twice a year we organise a “Rake and Cake”. Within half a day we can blitz the creeping brambles and the awkward corners that need regular attention. So the area around the church usually looks really good.

But what about the closed churchyard next door? For some years it had been left alone and it had begun to look unkempt and neglected, even though it attracted a decent array of butterflies. Managing this when volunteers were already overstretched was not possible.

Graveyard at St Mary’s church

Local Community Payback Team

When a person offends he or she can be brought before a magistrate’s court. A range of penalties can be imposed depending on the type of offence and the person committing it Being a retired magistrate, I was very familiar with the options and that one possible sentence was of unpaid work (Community Payback), regarded as an alternative to a custodial sentence.

Community Payback work doesn’t necessarily need to be arduous, free time is lost and the offender must comply with the conditions imposed – eg being ready for the morning pick up, and obeying the rules of the working day which can be challenging for some. The projects carried out are community based – litter picking comes to some people’s minds but clearing wasteland, working in charity shops and painting community buildings are also on the list.

For us at St Mary’s our local team has been invaluable. The Team supervisor arrives early with a van full of workers, strimmers and rakes. The team comes annually for the marathon task of strimming, raking and clearing the disused graveyard (we leave it virtually untouched for most of the year to encourage wild flowers, butterflies and birds). They have also worked in our main churchyard pruning and clearing brambles around the walls. One year I asked that a pile of random rubble be cleared away – by the afternoon I had the newly created rock-bordered flowerbed mentioned earlier, an idea of their own.

Overcoming Lockdown

Over the last 18 months life has been much more difficult for the Team organisers with no group travel in vans being possible.  However our local organiser, Dave, has soldiered on valiantly bringing just one worker and between them they managed the winter clearance over some weeks.

The team has a new project this week– we have a shed door and some ancient wrought iron gates all in great need of renovation. We are supplying the wire brushes and the paint and now we are about to have a new and much smarter look.

Community Payback Worker cleaning gates

This is a huge help to us. The team members are universally friendly and the work rate is fine. We supply of tea, coffee and cake – and the jobs get done. Wonderful!

I would strongly recommend Community Payback as a tool for those needing help for church maintenance (and am happy to respond to any queries) Team organisers are always looking for more projects so the chance of cost free work can only be of mutual benefit.

Thanks to Maryann for sharing her experience of using the Community Payback Scheme to solve the problem of churchyard maintenance. More information on the scheme is available on the Government website.


Valuing Victorian church architecture

In a special guest blog, Connor McNeill, writes about how best to find solutions to the sometimes vexed issue of restoring or re-ordering a Victorian church. Connor is the Interim Churches Conservation Adviser at the Victorian Society.

When at Kings Cross railway station, I always try to take a look at Sir George Gilbert Scott’s magnificent Midland Grand Hotel. This Gothic Revival masterpiece is one of the fullest expressions of the Victorian mind and its architectural aspirations in the country.

Yet go to almost any city, town or village, and you will find a church that has something from the Victorian era, whether it be a pew, stained glass window, or tiled floor. The Midland Grand Hotel may be spectacular, but the churches of our country are the much loved, gentle reminders of how much the Victorians affected our built landscape.

The Victorian Society receives over 850 church related consultations a year. In any given week we can receive applications ranging from new gutters to masterplans for the redevelopment of city centre churches. We try to do two things in our responses to these consultations: preserve Victorian buildings, and increase their appreciation.

Compared to the early days of the Society our work has changed. Now there is a statutory obligation to consult us on many proposals, and appreciation of Victorian and Edwardian architecture has increased greatly. However, in many cases although Victorian architecture may be thought beautiful, it is not often valued in the same way as Medieval and Georgian architecture and continues to be at risk.

Pews and fittings

St Matthew, Edgeley

The lack of appreciation for Victorian architecture is probably strongest in our church casework. Our defence of Victorian church fittings where appropriate, especially pews, has given us a popular reputation of stubbornness and obstinacy.

Some church fittings may appear unremarkable as individual pieces of furniture, but they almost always form a valuable part of a church’s Victorian character. A large minority of churches possess fittings of a high, and often underappreciated, quality. To be true to our aims of conservation and appreciation of Victorian architecture sometimes we have to defend strongly churches that are underappreciated and their fine fittings.

If there is disparity between the views of the Victorian Society and a parish when we are consulted it can go two ways. If we are contacted early in an application a discussion can be started, we can share our expertise on the church’s Victorian features whilst learning about the parish’s needs. Often a compromise is found.

Such an example would be St Uny’s, Lelant, where we learnt more about this fine church restored by J D Sedding, but the parish also grew to appreciate the important Victorian features in the church. However, sadly it is more often the case that we are contacted towards the end of an application when a parish have invested time and money to finalise their proposals. Naturally, our opposition at that point is unwelcome, and yet we must act if the importance of what will be affected hasn’t fully been assessed and it would be damaged by the proposals.

St Uny’s, Lelant

Unfortunately, this can give rise to an adversarial atmosphere and each side is felt to be stubborn: the Victorian Society opposing change, the parish which will not listen our advice. Often arguing over upholstered chairs and carpet, things which official Church guidance is clear are not acceptable. Such situations can sometimes only end in the unpleasantness and cost of a consistory court hearing.

Finding solutions, not obstacles

No consultation of the Victorian Society need be like this. We would urge anyone: priest, parish council member, or congregant who is involved in a faculty application which may affect Victorian architecture or fittings to contact us as soon as possible to start a conversation.

Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Midland Grand Hotel was saved from demolition in 1967, after a campaign led by the Victorian Society. Just over 50 years later anyone who visits this building would wonder why demolition was ever contemplated. This is a testament to the change of attitude to Victorian Architecture, something the Victorian Society is thankful for.

However, there is still much work for the Victorian Society to do. So, if you are considering changes to a church, even if you do not personally like the Victorian fittings, work with us to find a solution that works best for both your mission, and these special buildings that continue to interest and entrance worshippers and visitors alike.

Contact The Victorian Society.

Restoring a church during the COVID pandemic

In 2019 the National Churches Trust awarded St James Church, Leckhampstead, Berkshire a £15000 Cornerstone grant towards a major five year project to restore the church.  COVID restrictions caused severe disruption to work and costs increased.  Church warden, Michelle Martin explains how the Friends of the National Churches Trust came to the rescue.

Photo: John Lord

St James Church is an usual but beautiful Victorian building designed by S.S. Teulon in brick and flint, which contains artefacts from all ages including an eleventh century font, fourteenth century bell, Jacobean pulpit and Georgian altar rails.  However, many other critical elements were showing their age and needed urgent attention.

Our Five Year Plan

In 2015 a five year plan was developed. Stage 1, the restoration of the front porch and boundary wall was successfully completed in 2017.  Fundraising for Stage 2, the Roof Appeal, commenced in June 2018 and £220,000 was raised by the end of 2019.  Initially we were just looking at replacement of the roof but as the project progressed it became clear it had to include the repair of the stained-glass windows and an upgrade to the lighting.

Steel support beam added

This stage was finished in May 2021, requiring additional funds of £40,000.  The National Churches Grant was the final grant received and enabled us to reach our target. As a result, we have been able to re-tile the roof, make the building weather-proof, improve the roof insulation, and resolve the structural movement in the roof and walls.  The church is now no longer on the National ‘Heritage at Risk’ register.

The Friends Vote Grant rescued us

The project was by no means “textbook”.  Covid happened just after the scaffolding was erected in March 2019 and as the roof was taken off tile by tile, first a bat appeared, and then more and more problems were revealed – rotten beams, leaks, decayed brickwork, and damaged guttering, to name but a few.  Work was put on pause, but the costs kept on running.  The National Churches Trust came to the rescue again in helping us when we received a Friends Vote grant to cover Covid costs and an additional grant to help fund additional work, such as the repair of the trusses supporting the tower to stop it falling down.  We are so grateful to the Friends of the National Churches Trust for voting for us, these grants made all the difference, enabling us to start the project and then helping us finish the work.  Some contingency was included in the scope of work, but a pandemic was definitely not one of the scenarios accounted for. 

The reality is that managing projects of this size is very stressful at times from design and faculty application, fundraising, through to building works, project management and sign-off.  There was no magic formula, just the tireless hard work, commitment, energy and support of the PCC and the Fundraising Committee, and all those who supported us including Trusts, donors, the community and all who worked on the project with us. Leckhampstead is only a small village of about 300 and we were lucky to be able to build a team of volunteers to organise local fundraising, research grants, develop grant application writing skills, manage budgets and projects, and develop good working relationships with architects, builders, and specialist craft-people.

Fundraising is a continuous challenge

St James is like many small churches and has many costs both running costs (clergy costs, energy bills, and insurance) and capital costs (building works and repairs). With lower congregations and donations, ageing buildings, increased regulation, and higher costs, fundraising is a continuous challenge.  Normally pre-Covid most of our annual church running costs were funded from regular worshipper donations and local fundraising and we hope this will resume in the coming months.  Our reserves were used up in the building work and so future capital projects will need to be entirely funded through Trust donations and grants.   Post-Covid, it is a similar but different world, with the fundraising landscape no easier. 

We are now commencing Stage 3, the installation of an efficient heating system, flexible seating, and additional facilities, which is planned to start in 2022. It continues to be a journey of peaks and troughs and many false horizons, with unexpected problems requiring creative solutions, the odd moment of despair but in the end sighs of relief combined with triumphant highs. 

We thank Michelle for her insight into what it has been like to manage a church building project through a pandemic. More information can be found on the St James website.

Grade II Listed Anglican Church rejoices at new acoustic secondary glazing installation

Selectaglaze are a member of our Professional Trades Directory. They have recently installed 47 secondary glazing units to several large gothic arched stained-glass windows in St Philips Church, Wolverhampton for noise insulation and thermal insulation.

St Philip’s is a Grade II Listed Anglican Church in the Penn Fields Conservation Area, 3.5km south-west of the centre of Wolverhampton. In the early 19th century, Penn Fields was predominantly rural. As suburban life started to develop and progressively move west, the population increased gradually. The nearby village church of St Bartholomew could not accommodate the numbers of new churchgoers; therefore, an acre of land was given, in Penn Fields, to build a new church.

St Philip’s was built in 1858 in a Victorian Gothic style designed by Wolverhampton architects Griffin and Weller. Constructed with rock-faced stone with ashlar dressings under tiled roofs and with stunning original stained-glass windows, the church is the focal point of the village. The first vicar, Reverend William Dalton invested £3000 in exchange for the patronage and was licensed as Perpetual Curate of the Church in October 1859. The suburb grew during the early 20th century, with further domestic buildings and the extension of the church grounds to the west to form a vast graveyard.

Complete refurbishment of the church

In 1991 Wolverhampton Borough Council made St Philip’s (Penn Fields) a Conservation Area with the church forming its centrepiece. In 1996 as part of a large internal modelling project, the Church was divided to increase the multi-functionality of the building. Worship is undertaken on the upper floor, with the ground functioning as an events space.

Architects Brownhill Hayward Brown and Main Contractor Croft Construction in charge of a complete internal refurbishment of the Church in 2020.

The original large gothic arched church windows, which could not be replaced, required a solution to raise their thermal efficiency so that community activities downstairs, like children’s groups could take place in a comfortable environment.

Furthermore, it was imperative that noise egress on the ground floor, which had internal and external facing windows was kept to a minimum, so as not to disturb those worshiping on the upper floor.

A solution to reduce noise levels and create thermal insulation

Brownhill Hayward Brown got in touch with Selectaglaze to explore treatment options that would complement the church windows and be effective in preventing noise ingress and egress and thermal insulation. In addition, access to the primary windows for ongoing maintenance and cleaning was required.

Selectaglaze secondary glazing installed with standard glass can markedly reduce noise levels by up to 45dB and higher if thicker glass is used. Furthermore, secondary glazing placed in front of stained-glass panels can incorporate anti-reflective glass to preserve clarity.

The church windows are very large and together with the obscure shaping of the stone reveals on the ground floor, the installations initially looked challenging, but when Selectaglaze visited St Philip’s to survey it was found that a simpler solution could be implemented. The window reveals were deep enough to accept the standard fixing method, creating a cavity between the primary and secondary glazing to meet the required acoustic and thermal reductions. The arched windows on the first floor were bolstered by wooden frames but could still be modified with the same solution to the windows on the ground floor.

Selectaglaze installed 34 units to 11 openings, a combination of 11 Series 10 slimline horizontal sliding units and 23 Series 46 slimline fixed light units. Fixed light secondary glazing can be joined together with other products such as horizontal sliding units as over lights or side lights – best for arched windows as they can be shaped or curved to a full circle.

Reduction in heating costs

For the four stone openings on the ground floor, three Series 46 fixed lights were transom coupled to a Series 10 horizonal sliding unit. The horizontal slider was fitted in the lower half of the reveal for access to clean the primary windows, with the fixed lights coupled above to follow the tracery of the beautiful original gothic arches.  The community space has now been made more thermally insulated with the addition of secondary glazing and they should start to see a reduction in heating costs, with less heat escaping and the draughts eliminated.

A similar solution was installed in the Church space on the first floor within five wooden reveals. Series 46 fixed lights were transom coupled side by side above a Series 10 horizontal slider in each window opening with a good cavity to reduce noise egress. Events on the ground floor can happen at the same time as church services, without disturbing prayer.

“Aesthetically it all looks excellent, the thermal glazing on the external window does seem to make the community rooms considerably warmer when heated, as we have held small business meetings in them, however the acoustic glazing awaits fully testing its effectiveness as and when COVID restrictions allow.” Peter Smith, Vicar of St Philip’s Church.

Selectaglaze is a specialist designer, manufacturer, and installer of bespoke secondary glazing systems across the UK. Selectaglaze seeks to provide their customers with the best in class product and service to meet all challenges, which is achieved by a process of continual improvements. Selectaglaze has the widest range of secondary glazing units providing a vast range of solutions for projects.

Sign up  for monthly Selectaglaze e-bulletins, with recent updates, new blogposts and events.

Discovering Art in a Churchyard

In 2001, Mary Blanche noticed that some of the older headstones in the churchyard of her local parish church St. John the Baptist, Reedham, Norfolk were deteriorating. She wanted to record these stones for future generations before more were lost due to erosion and delamination. In special guest blog, Mary writes about her findings which are featured in her new book entitled ‘Discovering Art in a Churchyard’.

“I have often felt when folk visit churches, they marvel at the architectural features, glass, memorials and rood screens, but often overlook the churchyards. If only they knew how much artwork there is to be discovered.

Just before the first COVID-19 lockdown, I began to photograph many of these old headstones at St John the Baptist churchyard. They were so beautifully sculpted by stonemasons of the past, some as many as two centuries ago and my interest was truly captured.

Great symbolism

I learnt much about the meaning of the symbolisms of the flowers and leaves, angels and trumpets sculpted with such artistic input. This headstone of a man, who died in 1885, shows a sculpted rope, indicating his binding connection with God. In the circle, a wreath of roses represents beauty and virtue.

I noticed that Headstones in this particular churchyard before 1858 all had the same shape, with slightly arched tops. It was also a popular time for angels and they have been sculpted in various ways.

Quality of the stone

From the beginning of the 1800’s draped urns started to appear. No sculpted flowers, bouquets, willow trees or palms during this period. What was striking and significant was the quality of the stone. Far superior than many of the later headstones. They definitely are the survivors, even though they were the oldest in this churchyard.

After 1890, Stonemasons began to sculpt the soft-flowing Art Nouveau style onto headstones as shown on the image below, left. It was a new beginning and an exciting time ahead.

As the Art Deco period emerged, the Stonemasons used that style to decorate headstones with sleek, simplistic lines and lots of sharp edges; even carved roses lost their soft shapes. See image below, right.

Works of Art

As I examined the headstones, I felt, there was some competition going on between stonemasons. And why not; that’s the way to learn and expand your skills. 

On the left we see a large passion flower. The five stamens – the five wounds of Christ on the Cross. The ten petals – the ten faithful apostles with the whipping of Christ represented by the tendrils. A work of art; the lichen make it even more beautiful!

One of the most beautifully sculpted Headstones and one of my favourites is this one which reminds me of one of the sayings of Jesus: ‘I am the Vine; you are the branches’ John 15:5

Enhancements from nature

There is also a natural artistry to be found on the headstones. Over the years nature has provided the headstones with many different colours in the form of lichens.  The most common is the yellow lichen but there are reds, orange, green and whites. On some of the stones it looks as if a painter has been cleaning his brushes on the stone, and this shows even more after rain and in the sun.

I hope, that my churchyard findings may inspire you to have a wander round a churchyard, wherever that may be – at home, on a visit or a holiday, as all churchyards have an abundance of art to show us with the work of stonemasons of the past.”

Details on how to buy “Discovering Art in a Churchyard’, can be found on Mary’s website

Churches are treasure houses of history. Learn what to look for, discover the meaning behind objects and architectural features and uncover their historical significance on our church tourism website ExploreChurches

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