Transforming a forgotten wasteland

Revd Emma Handley and a dedicated team of parishioners at St Paul's church, Staybridge, are transforming a large piece of neglected church land into a tree and wildflower oasis for the whole community.

The graveyard at St Paul’s Church, Stalybridge, is a huge 36,000 square metres, the equivalent of five football pitches. It was once the main burial ground for the town but left unattended brambles and self-seeding trees took hold and over the years fly-tipping on the land also became rife.

Flytipping became an eyesore

During the first Covid lockdown in spring 2020, it became apparent how vital this green space was for the local community. A seed within the church's congregation began to germinate. They recognised that with a bit of imagination and stewardship, the land could become an asset for the church and its community.

When Covid restrictions were lifted in March 2021 volunteers, began litter picking and over the course of the next three months, they collected over sixty bags of rubbish, along with several mattresses, electrical gadgets, carpets, a sofa, and even a motorbike.

In April 2021, they teamed up with the charities 'City of Trees' and 'Walking with the Wounded' to plant 620 native trees in copses on the rear section of the graveyard. Natural, unpaved pathways were also created to entice people into the space and to provide better access to the church for people.

Volunteers helping to plant 620 native trees 

In an area closer to the church, wildflower seeds were planted to encourage bees.

In the autumn they began to plant a Spiritual Garden and in January 2022 the final part of their project occurred – the planting of 36 memorial cherry trees which encircle the church. Each tree is sponsored by a church family in memory of a loved one and will be a filling contribution to The Queen's Green Canopy campaign which is inviting everyone in the UK to plant a tree to mark the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. 

The Revd Emma Handley says: "It has been a battle against neglect and abuse and it can be mightily disheartening sometimes, like when work completed on a Friday morning is kicked in or ripped up by the Saturday. But more than compensating for this are the positive conversations that we have with people passing through; the growing number from the local community who are joining us; the visible difference our efforts have made; and the way in which we are learning to be "church on the outside", sharing fellowship as we work as well as connecting with our natural environment, which lifts our souls in worship."

Emma can be contacted by email at

Page last updated: Friday 28th January 2022 11:01 AM
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