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.

What a difference a year makes…



Yorkshire, HUDDERSFIELD, St Peter (Sarah Crossland 2013) #018

I’m humming Dinah Washington whilst reflecting that one of the many really lovely parts of my job is that I get to go out and about and visit churches. Most of the time this because they have applied for a grant, so I don’t always see their best side… however, when I get to go back and see just what a difference our funding has made it’s truly worthwhile.

Last week I went back to see Huddersfield St Peter and met with the Vicar, a very happy Revd Simon Moor.


When I first visited this impressive Victorian town centre church in 2011 it was in dire need of major works to parts of the roof and to stonework along the north and east walls. The two vestry roofs needed re-slating and new leadwork, and internal drainage needed replacing to prevent the considerable water ingress which was taking place. Stonework was in dire need of repair and replacement, including to windows (mullions and hoods) and walls, and two pinnacles on the east door were leaning considerably. Also, the whole east end needed re-pointing to remove concrete and other harmful mortar.

In 2012 we awarded the church a £40,000 Cornerstone Grant to complete the major repairs to the fabric of the building to safeguard it for the future. This grant was only made possible by the support we in turn receive from Friends, donors and trusts and foundations.


This month I visited again and was delighted to see the extent and quality of the work undertaken to repair the fabric of the building, particularly to the roofs and stonework of the vestries and the east end.

The church members have a long term vision for their building and its place in the town.  They have plans for making the space open and accessible, and for encouraging use of the building by a wide range of groups and individuals. Having completed this major phase of repairs, they are now able to for more activities and events, and be sure that the fabric will sustain them for many years to come.

The church is continuing to fundraise for further repair projects, including more repairs to stonework, if you would like to find out more please visit their website.

For more information about becoming a Friend of the National Churches Trust, and helping to save and secure churches like Huddersfield St Peter please download our membership leaflet.

Yorkshire churches & pubs… wine&cheese or chalk&cheese

The churches must owe, as we all do know,
For when they be drooping and ready to fall,
By a Whitsun or Church-ale up again they shall go
And owe their repairing to a pot of good ale
—”Exaltation of Ale”, by Francis Beaumont
Last week I was a morning guest on my local BBC Radio station (Sheffield). It’s a regular slot where 2 people from varying walks of life are brought on to discuss what is happening for them at work, in life and also what’s going on in the news that day. Last week I was paired with a lovely man, Pete, who turned out to be a brewer from Barnsley. To many people we may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum – me working with ‘the church’ and Pete encouraging us all into craziness on a Friday night.

But the link between church and beer is long and fascinating. It is also clearly evident in many villages, where the pub stands either opposite or close to the church. In fact, Sheffield is home to the only remaining pub on consecrated land (in the churchyard) – the Cross Kays at  St Mary, Handsworth.

In Medieval Britain the ‘church ale’ was a regular festival for which ale was brewed by the churchwardens and then sold to raise money for church expenses and relief of the poor. The word ‘ale’ was used for a festival at which the ale was sold, and there would be several through the year, including the leet-ale (held on the manorial court day); the lamb-ale (held at lamb-shearing); and the Whitsun-ale (held at Whitsun). The word bridal originally derives from bride-ale, the wedding feast.

Beer Festival at Holy Trinity, Hull

Beer Festival at Holy Trinity, Hull

With churches now exploring innovative ways of funding repairs as well as encouraging additional use by the local community and visitors, the idea of the ‘church ale’ is undergoing a resurgence.

A recent article by the BBC explores the restoration of brewing at Ampleforth Abbey. The Yorkshire-based monks see their current endeavours as following historic practice. They are currently the only British monks brewing beer, but there has been a global trend of Benedictine orders commercially making and selling beers. Abbey Beer was named best drink of 2012 by Deliciously Yorkshire and the profits they are making on the back of their success are invested back into the upkeep of the monastic community.

For most parish churches the practicalities of brewing and selling beer are very complicated. However, many churches are finding a way to return to the tradition of the ‘church ale’ and are reaping financial and community benefits. There are a number of annual beer festivals taking place in churches, including the Hull Real Ale and Cider Festival at Holy Trinity, Hull (the largest parish church in England). Last year the event attracted 2000 people over 3 days – which this year starts today!

Hull is not alone though… just do a google search for ‘church beer festival’ and a whole host appear!

Lets get out and enjoy them, and know that we are also helping to support some amazing and important buildings.

To read the BBC article ‘How monks mix God, booze and business’ please visit:

To find out more about Pete’s beer please visit:

Is your church a fortress?

In a guest posting, the Venerable Richard Pratt, Archdeacon of West Cumberland, asks whether Churches are inward looking fortresses cut off from their communities or outward looking hubs at the heart of them?

St John of Jerusalem, Hackney

St John of Jerusalem, Hackney

From Moses to David, the Ark of the Covenant had no permanent home, but the impulse to provide a permanent building was a theme growing in volume and intensity until Solomon built the first Temple. There is a tension between being the pilgrim people of God and being rooted in and committed to particular locations and settled communities. The Tent for the Ark is one expression of faith, but the visible and permanent presence of a Temple building symbolising the visible and permanent presence of God is another.

St Paul uses several images for the church (vine and branches, body with parts, temple of living Stones) helpfully reminding us of the church as the people of God rather than a building. But St Paul is writing in the, at the time, secure context of the presence of the temple in Jerusalem. For us, his thinking is to be held alongside the tensions we face about our buildings rather than as offering a simplistic resolution.

Whether we like it or not, church buildings are then a visible sign of the presence of the Church in an area and, by extension, of God’s work and presence in a community. Communities value their church buildings and their churchyards and we must accept that as right and proper. But when Jesus points out that God is Lord of the living, not of the dead, He is saying something about being for the present and the future, rather than just for the past. Our faith is meant to liberate us, to fill us and others with joy. Some of our buildings help to do this. However, some may be burdens from which we might need to think about how to set ourselves free.

There is also a tension between sacred and secular. Jesus in incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, tore down the barriers between sacred and secular, demonstrating the divine inhabiting the created and taking the created back to heaven. However as flesh and blood humans, we need reminders and symbols of the sacred alongside the secular and this seems to be a universal, psychological as well as spiritual, requirement. So St Benedict in his Rule lays down that the chapel of the monastery should not be a place for storing ‘odds and ends’, but a place clear and clearly devoted to prayer and worship. His Rule also reminds his monks that work is prayer and prayer is work; that is, the sacred transforms the secular.

In our context we achieve this by keeping part of the church (the chancel and sanctuary) reserved for prayer and worship. However the nave, the body of the church, does not have to be so kept, but is sanctified by the sanctuary as the world is sanctified by God in Jesus. Whilst in some places this view is not accepted and there is resistance to using Church buildings for activities, it seems that it is becoming much more widely acceptable to use Church buildings flexibly.

The places we inhabit, their design and architecture, have profound influences on us: indeed they shape us as much as we shape them. We need to be clear about our intentions as Christian communities, and make sure that we fashion our buildings in ways that are consonant with what we want to be. At its crudest, are our Churches inward looking fortresses cut off from their communities, or are they outward looking hubs at the heart of them?

Richard Pratt. Archdeacon of West Cumberland

Churches helping local communities

We’ve been reading ‘The Church in Action’ which details some of the ways in which parish churches in England help meet social need in their community. Looking at Church of England parishes, the report from the Church Urban Fund shows that they offer a wide range of activities for their local communities: 69% provide support with school work, 54% offer activities to care for the elderly and 51% run parent and toddler groups.

Community for blogThe National Churches Trust gives grants to churches of all Christian denominations throughout the UK. Much of our funding helps with urgent repairs but in recent years, funding has extended to help Christian places of worship install modern facilities such as kitchens, heating and toilets to enable greater community use.

Churches are of course, primarily places of worship. But they are also venues for playgroups, lunch clubs and for the arts. many provide much needed support for the homeless, the elderly and for counselling services.

Improved facilities

Our National Survey, published in 2011, showed that churches of all denominations could offer more to their communities with improved modern facilities. Nearly a third of the UK’s 47,000 Christian places of worship do not have toilets. Buildings with toilets, adequate heating and tea/coffee making facilities are much more likely to offer additional community activities and support.

This year our Community Grants offer help towards the cost of installing essential facilities, such as kitchens and toilets, improving access for people with special needs/disabilities. These mean that places of worship can be used by more people, thereby providing benefits for congregations, local people and visitors. We can give grants of between £5,000 and £25,000.

There is more information on our website