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.

Caring for churchyards, cemeteries and burial grounds

Caring for God’s Acre (CfGA) is a unique charity, which supports the care of churchyards, cemeteries and burial grounds of all kinds, which in themselves are unique places that require specialist help and advice.

Caring for God's Acre

Caring for God’s Acre

These special and sometimes sacred spaces with high community interest are to found in every town, city and country parish across the country. They can be very important historic sites, now well recognised as havens for wildlife. Churchyards, especially, are also part of the attraction offered to visitors. Within their ancient boundaries are contained a great variety of plant and animal life which together with their historic stone structures make them beautiful and interesting places to visit.

The most significant collection of old trees in Europe is in the churchyards of England and Wales where approximately 800 yews with an age of above 500 years have been recorded. Three-quarters of Britain’s ancient yews are found in churchyards and not all have legal protection through Tree Preservation Order status – a situation that a group of organisations including CfGA are seeking to address.

The grassland in old churchyards can also be ‘ancient’ having been both mown and grazed over many centuries resulting in communities of grasses and flowers – ‘hay meadows’ which are now scarce in the wider countryside.

Memorials and monuments

Memorials and monuments of which there is a huge variety, from simple headstones to grandiose, highly decorated structures are particularly rich in history displaying information on subjects from stone quarrying and cutting to fashions in architecture and verse. The epitaphs, inscriptions and symbols – factual, sentimental, moral or sometimes even amusing provide a fascinating insight into the lives of generations past.

Sue Cooper from Caring for God’s Acre said: “I hope that this brief introduction has revealed to you the value and interest of these sites, which are important to so many people for many different reasons. Caring for God’s Acre is the only charity solely dedicated to their conservation and presently we are running a four year Heritage Lottery Project delivering advice, information and support to local communities across England and Wales.”

“CfGA is working in partnership with other like-minded organisations to deliver conferences in different regions, titled ‘The Beautiful Burial ground’. This year there are one-day conferences in Sussex at Haywards Heath on June 14,  June 28 at Arnos Vale in Bristol, September 18 in Exeter and later in the year in Dorset.”

Cherishing Churchyards Week

“A special week – Cherishing Churchyards Week, is promoted each year in June. Through this people are supported to run special events for their local community.”

“A Churchyard and Burial Ground Action Pack full of helpful information has been produced and the individual sheets can be downloaded from Caring for God’s Acre website or purchased as a pack. It has information on topics such as the care of grassland, how to keep trees healthy and safe, conserving historic stonework, involving local people as volunteers, health and safety – in fact the pack has 31 topic sheets.”

“CfGA’s practical team known as The Churchyard Task Team is a group of volunteers who come together once a week to help local people with the care of their churchyards. The team helps repair dry stone churchyard walls, makes compost bins, helps with grass cutting and tree and shrub pruning plus many more much needed tasks.”

Caring for God’s Acre is a membership charity and new members are very welcome. The subscription for individuals per year is £20, £25 for couples and £30 for groups.  Caring for God’s Acre can be contacted on 01588 673041

or email info@cfga.org.uk   More information on their website

CfGA – 11 Drover’s House, The Auction Yard, Craven Arms, Shropshire. SY7 9BZ

%d bloggers like this: