St Mary’s East Grinstead

St Mary’s Church, East Grinstead gained is an Eco Church Bronze Award winner. Reflecting on their Eco Church experience, church member Anne Stone writes: ‘We are an urban church and the land surrounding our building is mainly tarmac and used for car parking. Fortunately, we have a large oak tree that supports a great deal of wildlife. Several years ago we took the decision to make the rough area of grass around the oak into a garden. We organised a joint project with the school for the initial digging-over, with each child planting either a crocus or a daffodil. We established a framework of shrubs and then perennials (either leftover from our annual plant sale or from people’s gardens), resulting in the transformation of the area into an early season garden that really emphasises the coming of spring.

Our second, more controversial decision was to make the small area of grass between the hall and church into a wildflower meadow. We hadn’t the resources to strip the grass and replant, so we allowed the grass to grow and at the same time planted yellow rattle plugs to reduce its vigour. As expected, this caused some comment amongst the congregation as many felt it looked “untidy”. We are now introducing “prettier” wildflowers such as primrose, field poppy, and oxeye daisy but are pleased to note that the diversity of species is increasing naturally each year. Additionally, our Kidz Club planted a Lenten Cross of daffodils that has reappeared “magically” each February.

We have erected bird feeders, nest boxes and bug houses (made by our Beavers group) and also made a log pile, a bug hotel and a hedgehog house; all accompanied by signs explaining their purpose. We also have a compost bin. Last year we entered our churchyard in the South and South East in Bloom competition and obtained a Silver Award; this pleased us greatly as we do have a somewhat restricted site.

For many years now we have held a very successful plant sale that attracts large numbers of people. We have always had a ‘Grow Your Own’ section but this year we introduced a stall showing the best ways to help wildlife in your garden and selling bee-friendly plants. We also organise a ‘Seed-Swap’ coffee morning in October, and this year have invited some of our Town Councillors to be present to hear ideas from members of the public on how to make East Grinstead kinder, greener and more environmentally aware.

As a church we have helped with the establishment of a community garden, organised walks in the local countryside, and had picnics on Ashdown forest. We hope that our efforts have converted what was a pretty sterile environment into an area where wildlife is beginning to find a home, and one that changes with the seasons. Many of our congregation are elderly and live in flats; we hope that by greening our churchyard we are, in a small way, bringing the countryside to them.’