Churchyards often represent an under-used resource despite their interest in terms of heritage and wildlife. In recent years there has been much interest in rural churchyards, which are often managed in a sympathetic way, but many urban churchyards remain neglected and uncared for.
There are 32 medieval churches surviving in Norwich – the biggest collection of pre-reformation churches in northern Europe.
A few of these churches are still actively used for their original purpose of worship but many are redundant and looked after by the Norwich Historic Churches Trust and others, who aim to find new uses for them. These uses are very varied and include arts and science centres, artists studios and even a puppet theatre.
Every church has a churchyard and these small green oases, scattered throughout the city centre, play an important part in the street scene of Norwich. For example, by supporting tree growth, they characteristically add greenery to many street views that would otherwise be dominated by buildings.
The churchyards comprise some 5 ha (12.56 acres) of green space spread throughout the city centre and making up a considerable proportion of all open space in the centre.
Although the churchyards are generally acknowledged as valuable green spaces, many are difficult to access; some are permanently locked and others have steps to negotiate. Furthermore, the churchyards are not managed in any consistent way to maximise their potential value.
In recent years, a number of new public spaces have been created in the vicinity of churchyards. The regeneration of the former Mackintoshes chocolate factory, for example, created a new space, Chapelfield Plain, which together with the adjoining churchyard now attracts thousands of people a day to an area that was previously inaccessible to the public.
A similar story can be told for St Gregorys churchyard. This lies within the Norwich Lanes, a neighbourhood of small independent shops that has recently been enhanced by new paving, signing and planting. The south-facing churchyard is completely accessible to the public and is well-used by the local community for a range of activities, including an annual Lanes Festival.
The churchyards thus represent a rich resource and, when circumstances allow, they can be a productive focus for community effort. Local residents often take a great interest in the maintenance of the churchyards, whether it be as wildlife havens or as spaces to sit or garden. Community effort in St Stephens churchyard contributed to Norwich winning the Urban Regeneration category in the 2008 Britain in Bloom awards and the 2009 international Communities in Bloom awards.
A Vision for the Future – the Heavenly Gardens proposal
Imagine Norwich’s ancient churchyards as a series of attractive gardens, full of people and activity: groups of schoolchildren learning about their environment; young people learning horticultural skills; tourists being guided around; local residents relaxing amongst plants and works of art. What a change this would be from the present situation of largely unused, inaccessible and rather dull spaces around the churches.
Setting up a development trust for the churchyards could help unite the existing community effort and give it the support it deserves.
The Heavenly Gardens proposal would develop and promote the churchyards of Norwich city centre, collectively, as a green space resource:
- for the enjoyment of the general public and visitors
- as a focus for community activity
- as a contribution to the cultural life of the city
- as a resource for environmental education
- as a resource for horticultural skills training
- for the enhancement of the medieval churches and city centre
- for the sustainable use of a valuable open space asset and major component of the city centre green infrastructure
The churchyards could function rather like a botanic garden, consisting of a series of separate gardens linked together by pedestrian walks.
If you would like to get involved with the Heavenly Gardens proposal, please contact George Ishmael Telephone: 01603 504368 (eve) or by email.
George recently won a Special Project Award for his promotion of the Heavenly Gardens concept at the international 2010 Liv Com Awards in Chicago, USA.
A Heavenly Gardens brochure designed by Solid Block Design and sponsored by Mike Barker of Ace of Spades Gardens, for use during the 2009 Festival of Architecture in Norfolk & Norwich (FANN). Look out for this year’s festival too!