Watchdog calls for creativity to make the most of Norwich’s ‘hidden gem’ churchyards - what do you think?

St Mary Coslany Church, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

St Mary Coslany Church, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

The churchyards of Norwich are an underused and underappreciated resource, according to a civic watchdog which is urging the city to make more of its 'hidden gems'.

St Mary Coslany Church, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

St Mary Coslany Church, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

The Norwich Society is asking for the public's help in finding innovative and creative ways of opening churchyards up for public use or developing them as thriving areas for wildlife.

St Stephen's churchyard, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

St Stephen's churchyard, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

A survey of all 31 of the city centre's churchyards was carried out by the group's environment committee, which graded them on criteria from public use to biodiversity, and found many were 'oases of calm' and 'welcoming havens' tended by dedicated volunteers.

However, others were closed to the public, in a state of neglect, regularly strewn with litter or misused by street drinkers.

Vicky Manthorpe, Norwich Society administrator, said the survey followed on from a project called Heavenly Gardens, which proposed linking up the churchyards for use like a botanic garden, offering biodiversity, education, training and relaxation.

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'We want to see if we can make a bit more of our churchyards in the city, without intruding on the religious aspect,' she said.

'They are an underused and underappreciated resource. There are places we could make improvements, but we are very enthused that there are these spaces and there are, in places, very good volunteer groups looking after them.'

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The survey is not asking to turn churchyards into public gardens, but to remind people of their enduring value and spark debate on their future, said Mrs Manthorpe.

'We are just encouraging people who are looking after the churchyards to be a bit more inventive with them and what goes on there,' she added.

The report highlights St Stephen's Church as a shining example of innovation, after the church opened an access route to the Chapelfield shopping centre through its churchyard, bringing 50,000 people a week through the gates, and boosting church attendances.

Other churches have been converted to alternative uses, such at the Puppet Theatre at St James's or Norwich Arts Centre at St Swithin's, though some redundant churches have remained closed to the public 'with good reason', the report says.

The best-kept churchyards were usually those with groups responsible for tending them, it added, noting that it would be unrealistic to expect that level of maintenance in every churchyard. However, those without such bodies could be revamped as wildlife areas to encourage biodiversity.

Rory Quinn, chair of the Norwich Historic Churches Trust, responsible for 18 of the 31 churchyards surveyed, welcomed the survey results.

He said: 'It's very positive, as it wants us to appreciate the churchyards as an asset. They are a lung in the middle of the city.'

Mr Quinn said the trust had secured a grant which it would use to apply for further funding, and was examining creative ways to maximise the potential of its churchyards.

'We are hoping to make a lot more of the buildings and their settings,' he said.

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