In 2009 villagers got together to turn the overgrown graveyard behind the church into a memorial garden. Volunteers worked hard to fundraise and improve the space, making it a peaceful place for village residents and visitors to reflect and enjoy. This is the story of that journey.
In 2009, Diana Smith suggested to her close friends, Pam Fagan and Sheila Ellis, that they should try to give the much-overgrown cemetery (New Yard) at the back of the church a complete tidy-up. Until he died in 2004, Richard, Diana's husband, had voluntarily kept the grass cut and the hedges trimmed. Since then, scrub, nettles and brambles had taken over. From the start, it was obvious it was too big a task for the three friends. Following a few telephone calls, they had a team of men willing to come each week to help, and soon they had uncovered forgotten tombstones, chopped down scrub, trimmed the hedges and cut the grass.
This was just the start. The mower, housed in a tumble-down shed, was in need of repair, and a rabbit-proof fence would be the only way for any flowers to survive. The friends organised dinners in the village hut with guest speakers, had musical evenings and garden parties, and over the course of three years, raised over £3,000. Very generous donations were also received from individuals and small organisations, which were all paid into the Memorial Garden account with the Ipswich Building Society. This meant they were able to buy another mower, pay to have the shed restored, have the whole area rabbit proofed and buy sacks of bulbs to plant around the perimeter, as well as buy fuel and pay for regular maintenance and repairs for the mower and strimmer. When Sheila's husband died a few years later, she bought a new brush strimmer for the garden in his memory.
Sandy Rowe researched and recorded all the graves in what was then known as St. Mary's Church, Sweffling, New Yard. The details can be seen in the display board her husband, Julian, built and erected just inside the gates to the garden. Having decided to name it a Memorial Garden, Julian also made and fitted a wooden plaque to the gate post and another for Eric's Garden, in which Pam had been planting numerous bulbs and spring flowers. As a result of all the fundraising, the friends were also able to ask Jonathan Stevens to make some wooden crosses to mark a line of unmarked graves so that visitors looking for the burial places of their loved ones can easily find them.
Thanks to the continued support of the team of volunteers, the grass is regularly cut, and the garden is well cared for, making it an oasis of peace and tranquillity.
When we meet
Early on in the year, a rota is drawn up for anyone that can help mow the garden.
How to get involved
To sign up as a volunteer mower or join a gardening day in the memorial garden, please contact Diana Smith at 01728 663 578 or Pam Fagan at 01728 664 093
Top left and bottom left: Volunteers clearing in 2009
Top right: Julian and Sandy Rowe, Pam Fagan and Sheila Ellis marking out the line of crosses for the previously unmarked graves in 2010
Bottom right: Pam Fagan and Diana Smith with the crosses in 2010