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Friends of the earth

29 September 2017

Guerrilla gardening, recycled bat droppings, and homes for dragonflies are among the projects celebrated in our Green Congregations category, in our last round-up before the Green Awards are announced on 16 October. Hattie Williams reports

St John’s, Shildon

Learning: children gardening at St John’s, Shildon

Learning: children gardening at St John’s, Shildon

St Catherine’s, Burbage

A DESIRE to be more environment­ally aware led the congregation of St Catherine’s, Burbage, in Lei­cester diocese, to turn all aspects of church life green — from worship and charity work to the manage­­ment of buildings and land.

An environmental group was created 13 years ago to turn this en­­thusiasm into action, starting with the transformation of a neg­lected patch of the churchyard into a bloom­­ing wildlife garden, at a modest start-up cost of £100, com­plete with a seat, a noticeboard made from recycled plastic, a path of rubber-tyre chippings, and homes for but­­ter­flies, birds, frogs, bats, dragon­flies, and insects.

Herb, vegetable and fruit gardens, and a cycle rack have since been added, and the church building now has LED lighting, ground-source heating, and locally sourced mov­able pews.

The Environment Group at St Catherine’s continues to organise environmental events, talks, visits, Fairtrade stalls, litter picks, bean-planting, and wildlife trails, and has twinned the church lavatories with Guatemala and the Democratic Re­­public of the Congo — efforts that have been acknowledged with a Gold Eco Congregation Award, and a place on the Church Times Green Awards shortlist.

The Rector, the Revd Andrew Hall, who arrived in 2015, said: “I was excited about the possibility of working with an Eco Congregation. The question was how I could get ‘any more’ from a group who al­­ready had two Eco Congregation awards. But they were eager to take a fresh look at new possibilities: our first purchase was a Fairtrade coffee machine, and then a visitors’ book.”

He continued: “Jesus used the phrase ‘Who do people say I am?’; we asked that question with an eco focus. As people began to see how much we care, others were attracted to come and care with us. Small steps build momentum to big ones, and our next venture is a sedum roof [layer of vegetation] for the church: watch this space.”

 St John’s, ShildonGreen: an intern at the Shildon project, Naomi Tomlinson

Inverkip Parish Church

INVERKIP PARISH CHURCH, part of the Church of Scotland, set up an eco-group in August last year, with the support of the Kirk Sessions, in response to a wave of national and global interest in green issues.

The congregation has taken simple steps to ensure that the church is greener, cleaner, and fairer. This includes recycling every­thing in the church, from bat droppings on the roof (for fertiliser for its gardens) to postage stamps and plastic bottles; using, and encour­aging the use of, Fairtrade products; and involving the congregation and youth group in green activities such as making bird feeders and boxes, and litter-picking.

“A small but dedicated group decided that honouring God’s crea­tion should become a much more important part of the worship and witness in our community, and the congregation quickly embraced the idea,” the deputy sessions clerk, Morag Cowe, explained.

“The children and young people have had great fun making and placing bird boxes and feeders in the church grounds, and have made a splendid bug hotel using materials donated by the congregation. A keen group of gardeners have for­med a beautiful garden out of a piece of wasteland, and have in­­­cluded many insect-friendly plants and shrubs donated by members of the com­munity.”

Most of the £1500 of church funds spent by the eco-group went towards changing to LED lighting in the church, and installing new windows in the church hall to im­­­prove in­­sula­tion and save energy.

The church is now working to­­­wards installing a sound-and-vision system to reduce photo­copy­ing and paper consumption. “We know that there is still lots more that can be done, and our com­­mittee meets regularly to discuss what our next steps might be, and to make sure we do not lose sight of why, and for whom, we do what we do.”

 St Catherine, BurbageThe wildlife garden at St Catherine’s, Burbage

St John’s, Shildon

THE parish of Shildon, in Durham, lingers near the bottom of the league tables when it comes to economic prosperity, the Priest-in-Charge of St John’s, the Revd David Tom­linson, says.

“Out of 12,599 parishes in Eng­land, Shildon is the 479th most de­­prived,” he said. “This decline has been ongoing since 1984, when the last large employer left, taking away not just jobs but a whole culture rooted in hard physical work, com­rade­ship, shared holidays, and work­ing alongside neighbours.

“The decline is evidenced in a variety of ways, including com­­mun­ity disengagement, petty van­­dal­ism, and fear of the young by the old. Drugs are endemic, and issues around poor-quality homes let by absentee landlords, cannabis farms, and relationship dysfunction are com­mon.”

The congregation at St John’s, which is in the centre of the town, have been resisting the decline through community projects, and most successfully through their guer­­rilla-gardening programme, which, since its inception in 2014, has involved more than 1000 chil­dren and young people, and trained volunteers, in gardening projects in the town. The initial cost of the plants was about £1400, but this year the church has grown many of its own.

“Working in groups of 30, the children and young people litter-picked and planted herbs, flowers, and strawberries in a variety of places,” Mr Tomlinson explained. “We even put together a sensory garden with our local compre­hens­ive school, which was then in special measures, with some of the most challenging children digging, weed­ing, planting, and creating.”

The church now works with schools and the council, which has given permission for youth groups to work on council property. “Van­dalism of planted areas has de­­­creased, with pulled-up plants being replanted again by passing chil­dren.” The attitude that new plant­ings “won’t last long” in the town is also disappearing, Mr Tomlinson says.

“This is one of a variety of pro­jects we run, including two com­­munity gardens, a credit union, and a foodbank; but, in terms of wider community impact, it has been remarkable. We believe pas­sion­ately that, as people of faith, we are called to know abundant life, and we see that being reflected in the care of creation and growth in community we have enabled.”

The next project is for digital “talking bins” to be installed to dis­courage littering in the town.

 St Catherine’s, BurbageTeamwork: the environmental group at St Catherine’s, Burbage

Campoverde Church (Chaplaincy of Torrevieja), Alicante, Spain

TURNING a “derelict eyesore” into a beautiful community garden over three months in 2015 was not the only challenge for the con­­gre­gation of Campoverde Church, which the Chaplaincy of Torrevieja, in Alicante, Spain, shares with the Roman Catholics. They also had to compete with the heat.

The garden designer and project manager for the church, James McAllister, explained: “Perhaps we should have started in the previous October, and worked through to the following May, as there is a window of opportunity for garden projects because of the heat in Spain. But this may have resulted in our losing the momentum and excitement of the project.”

It also took time to gather the sup­­port of the mayor, local busi­nesses, and the local authority, as well as to arrange sponsorship and funding for the project, which cost about €2300 to complete.

The garden was opened with an Anglican and Roman Catholic ecu­menical service in May 2015, but enthusiasm for the green project did not stop there.

The congregation now hosts an annual Campoverde open-garden day, on which private gardens in the community are opened to the public to support the church. Local traders also use the garden to host a regular market. Meanwhile, the church’s Facebook page and the Torrevieja Anglican website have been updated to be more environmentally and “community-focused”.

“By undertaking this project, we have showed that the church is a key and relevant part of the village,” Mr McAllister said, “which raised the visibility of the church and its work, and enhanced its relevance to the day-to-day lives of local people.

“The best advice we could give to anyone else is that, first and fore­­most, the project must have the church at its heart. Failure to do this makes it just another community project which could be undertaken by any local group.”

Inverkip Church of ScotlandThe Inverkip “bug hotel”

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