St Mary and St John Church

Community case studies


In the latter part of the twentieth century the churchyard, which had been established a hundred years earlier, gradually became massively overgrown with self-sown trees and impenetrable thickets of bramble and ivy. It had become a place for drug taking and prostitution. In 2000, under the leadership of a Community Policeman, a team of soldiers from the locally-based Pioneer Regiment, spent a week cutting back the jungle, revealing many dislodged and damaged memorials.

No items found.

With support from the East Oxford Single Regeneration Budget, paths were resurfaced, lights installed, and a boundary wall lowered. The churchyard was closed for burials and Oxford City Council took over the maintenance, but with the proviso that they did not have the resources to maintain it in its wilderness state. After consultation with the local community (through questionnaires and an interactive display), a partnership was established whereby a voluntary Churchyard Group, responsible to the PCC, manage most of the site as a wildlife conservation area, while the Council are responsible for cutting the short grass areas, tree safety, emptying litter bins, and providing some support to the voluntary group over issues such as removal of green waste.

For the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire tasked ONCF to help set up ten new local groups that would look after a wildlife site in their community (Wild Oxfordshire was formerly known as ONCF: Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum).  The churchyard of St Mary and St John’s church was one of the selected sites, which served to give the restoration project a real boost. A wildflower garden of Thanksgiving and Remembrance was planted out, crossed by a pathway and stepping stones in grey-blue slate. Fusion Arts commissioned two artists, in cooperation with local people, to design a 'rest-space' in front of the church: they created a cobbled mini-labyrinth which has become the centre-piece of a community garden welcoming people to the church and churchyard.  Interpretation boards, describing the wildlife and the links between the memorials and local history, have been placed near the through path, allowing many people to take a moment to reflect a little on both past and present.

Two successive 5-year management plans have guided the maintenance of a variety of habitats and the development of specific projects (such as a wildflower Garden of Thanksgiving and Remembrance, and an area planted out so as to encourage butterflies and moths), while at the same time keeping sight lines throughout and providing access to family graves. Trying to keep control over the invasive plants (brambles, nettles, docks etc.) is a huge task. We have weekly volunteer working sessions (Saturday afternoons, plus Wednesday evenings in the summer) and are always on the look-out for people willing to help. We have benefited from corporate volunteering when staff teams have spent a day with us.

For more information see Churchyard – Cowley St John

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