Heritage Hound and the churchyard project
31 October 2019 IN: Parish News
Heritage Hound is the face of an ambitious project to restore Newchurch churchyard that has got the whole community involved.
St Nicholas Church in Newchurch, Rossendale has received a Church for a Different World award for an ambitious community project that will make safe and restore the churchyard, celebrate human and natural heritage, and develop skills such as dry stone walling, lime mortar pointing, first aid and willow weaving.
Revd Penny Warner’s dog, Buddy, is the project mascot. Known as ‘Heritage Hound’, he has his own Twitter feed @HoundHeritage, where he updates everyone on how the project is progressing.
The churchyard had been neglected for about 40 years, with trees growing through monuments and graves, making it unsafe to walk around. Working with local partners Valley Heritage, St Nicholas obtained a grant for £38k from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Valley Heritage support the local community in conserving precious local heritage using their time, knowledge and expertise. They have offered a training programme of woodland management to improve the ecology and sustainability of the churchyard.
Authorised Lay Minister, Jean Starkie, said, “As the project has developed, we’ve been amazed to find how much wildlife is already at home in the churchyard. We have seen deer, foxes and badgers using the churchyard on our night-sensitive cameras. We have done some bat walks led by a trained ecologist, and found that there are two varieties, the common pipistrelle and whiskered bats, living in the tree canopy.”
A wildlife survey has identified about 130 different species of trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses and wildflowers in the churchyard.
Jean added “We had no idea about the biodiversity. It was just an untidy graveyard with things growing where they shouldn’t! The idea is to make it a good, green space for the whole community to use. We want to create an environment where there is life, and people can come to relax and walk round.”
Local history and heritage is a second, important strand of the project. Volunteers meet in the church to research the older graves and interesting stories, and are visiting the central archives for further research in the church’s historic records. So far, around 75% of volunteers had no previous church connection, and are finding common purpose in learning together, improving the environment, and preserving the local heritage for future generations.
The Revd Penny Warner said, “This has been such a fun, creative and inspiring project to work on. I have learnt so much and I know others have too. As I prepare to move on in the New Year, I know the project will continue to flourish with the involvement of Valley Heritage, the PCC and the local community.”
Further phases are planned, funding permitting, including developing a disused outbuilding as an accessible hub for community volunteers.