The Loughor Parish, on the very western end of Swansea, is home to two Church in Wales Churches – St. Michael’s and St. David’s. Between them they formed an Eco Church Committee to take the lead on guiding them through A Rocha’s UK-wide Eco-Church Scheme, which they registered for in September 2018.
The two church buildings are very different from each other and pose different challenges.St. Michael’s is a traditional building surrounded by a churchyard while St. David’s is a modern, brick-built dual-purpose Church and hall. The combined congregation of the two churches is around 60.
Their interest in the Eco-Church Scheme was raised following some information from Gill Knight and the parish agreed to get involved, appointing a group to spearhead the work. They wanted to raise awareness of the effects of climate change and improve both the ecological impact of the churches collectively, and of church members’ activities individually. There are five very keen and enthusiastic members of the group.
They signed up for support from Renew Wales in June 2019 and since they undertook their action planning session with the local co-ordinator, Philip McDonnell, there has been no stopping them!
Some of the issues identified at the outset were the desire to undertake an energy audit to find ways to reduce energy use, increase communication on environmental issues and the Eco Church scheme to the congregation and wider community, to explore the viability of introducing the Teracycle scheme in the churches and to investigate the potential for improving the grounds for wildlife. All of which, they felt, would help them achieve progress in the Eco- Church scheme (towards bronze and silver awards).
There has been a huge flurry of action on a variety of ‘topics’; a patch of lawn has been dug outside St David’s for wild flower planting and to hang bird feeders; notices put on switches to turn off lights; a talk given to the ‘Coffee Group’ about Fairtrade products; a walk around the land boundary on Rogation Sunday and several litter picks, and they have started putting Eco-tips on weekly newsletters – just to name a few.
They have also teamed up with the Teracycle charity and installed collection points in their buildings. This has been done in partnership with the local primary school and has been a massive success with 30kg sent off so far, and another 16 sacks waiting to go!
Sustainable Communities Wales came and undertook an energy survey of the two buildings and gave the group a lot of ideas and options- both now for small immediate steps to take and in the future when church funds allow for them to make larger improvements.
The group applied for the Eco-church award and was granted a Bronze Award in early July 2019, which was two months ahead of their goal- what an achievement!
News of their success soon spread and Eileen and Gillian were asked to contribute to a short film created by The Swansea & Brecon Diocese They attended a Climate Change Conference in Newport in Autumn 2019 (where they shared their experiences informally in a workshop) and were also asked to make a fuller presentation at our own Climate Action for Churches event in Clydach, Swansea.
In early 2020 the group received some mentoring via Renew Wales from Neil Barry on how to improve biodiversity and wildlife at the two sites, such as planting herbs and pollinators, composting, water conserving, bird boxes and log piles etc. Permission was needed and obtained from the PCC to plant fruit trees- and plum trees have been purchased and planted – given by church members and dedicated to loved ones. They very much hope that these steps in particular, will help them towards a silver Eco-church award.
Eileen Bartlett, a key member of the group says;
“We feel proud to say that we are an Eco-Church, and as a group we feel more empowered than previously to campaign on climate change issues. Members of our group regularly sign up to online petitions as individuals, and have contacted our MP’s on many occasions, urging them to take up various climate issues (e.g. Help the Oceans). We have also contacted local town councils and urged them to sign up as Climate Emergency Councils, which we are pleased to say, they have done. Having had the support of Renew Wales has definitely given us more credibility as a group, having received professional help with our local situation, as well as making us feel part of a larger national organisation.”
The group remain committed to continually improving and taking more action as and where they can to reduce their impact on the environment, which will in turn help them reach their next goal of a Silver Eco-Church award, which they will apply for over the coming months. They are willing and keen to share their experiences and support other community groups and are currently offering help to a sister-church who is starting off on its Eco-Church journey.