Upper Helmsley is a tiny village of only a handful of households, 8 miles northeast of York. Hidden behind mature trees just north of the village, St Peter’s church would be easily missed, if it were not for the cheerful roadside signs pointing to the ‘churchyard allotment’ and the vegetables for sale.

Where a year ago there was an uncared-for corner of the churchyard, now there are eight raised vegetable beds, brimming with produce. Children & Family worker Rachael Harrison explains: “When we were forced to close the churches in the Benefice due to COVID19, we started thinking about ways in which we could bring families together outdoors. A plan was hatched to start an allotment club for youngsters, as a Covid-safe alternative for Messy Church in the benefice. We thought the produce could be distributed to older or housebound residents in the community, or perhaps sold at the roadside.”

The project caught the imagination of the local community. Two farmers provided fertile soil, friendly villagers brought spare gardening tools, the vicar donated an old greenhouse, local gardeners shared plants and good advice, and a churchwarden salvaged wood to create the vegetable beds and produce stall. Even the Fire Brigade volunteered their help, filling the water storage tank behind the church (St Peter’s isn’t connected to the mains). “The response from the local community has been incredible”, say churchwardens Phil and Mari Richards, “everyone has been so positive and helpful!”

Throughout the churchyard allotment verses from ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ are displayed on colourful A4 posters. A simple log seating area surrounds a wooden cross. Meetings start with a prayer: “Dear Lord, bless this sacred place, our precious church allotment space. Show us your care from up above, help us to work with united love.” The work at St Peter’s churchyard has been blessed: the vegetable beds are overflowing with produce, and since the start of the project three months ago, no fewer than 21 families and over 30 young people aged 1 year to 14 years have visited and taken part – tilling, planting, weeding, and finally, harvesting!

Recently, the allotment team has sought advise on how to make other areas of the churchyard more wildlife friendly. Some areas are now left uncut, to encourage wildflowers. The next project is to build a ‘bug hotel’. The church building itself is not forgotten – planned improvements to the facilities will make the building more accessible and user-friendly. The allotment project has given the church a great reputation - no doubt the local community will respond positively to fundraising initiatives.