It’s garden question time for St Andrew’s church

St Andrew’s: the churchyard, a small area to the left of this picture, could offer a patch of paradise in central Croydon, had it not already been covered in tarmac

Doesn’t anyone listen to Joni Mitchell any more?

The thought occurs because St Andrew’s church, on Lower Coombe Street, is staging an open day from 11am tomorrow for its churchyard improvement project.

We’ve reported previously on the church’s recent renovations. While admiring the vicar and his parish’s endeavour and enterprise in raising the serious cash required and undertaking work to regenerate the church’s role in the community, we retain some reservations about the architectural efforts conducted inside the 160-year-old church building, particularly in the area of the historic nave, apparently all for the sake of installing a lavatory.

Now, the church is seeking “feedback” with locals over what is to be done with the churchyard – and this all several months after they have already, to borrow from Ms Mitchell, tarmac’d over a piece of paradise to put up a car park.

In a note circulated locally, they say, “St Andrew’s church has applied for funding from Community Spaces…” The note doesn’t explain for how much, nor what Community Spaces is. We can partially answer the latter: it is an environmental organisation, funded by the Big Lottery Fund. Applications for funding, according to its website today, closed in January. 2011. So St Andrew’s must have put forward some sort of plan for its churchyard scheme more than a year ago.

Some might think it odd, then, that the open day is only now being staged to engage with those locals who are not part of its regular congregation, and to whom they are attempting to reach.

The church’s leaflet continues: “… to improve the churchyard…” well, tarmac-ing over a large portion of it already, to provide parking for no more than three cars, has put a massive dent in that ambition, “… and make it a more interactive and useful space…” oh, dear, spare us the meaningless jargon, please, “…for local residents and the wider community.

“We want to design a garden that reflects your needs so your feedback is really important.”

Only in the fourth paragraph does the leaflet reveal that what they will in fact be doing at this open day is “present our design”. So it is a fait accompli, then.

We have no reason to mistrust the motives of the church in this scheme, but we are concerned that the valuable bequest of local artist Cicely Mary Barker, who worshipped at St Andrew’s throughout her life, might be ill-spent, and certainly consider that after 18 months of major building work having been done, now is somewhat late in the day to engage with residents to “create a garden that benefits everyone locally”.

We certainly wonder whether Cicely Mary Barker would approve of the work that she has in effect paid for. Or even recognise the church which clearly meant so much to her.

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