Summer Fete at Hackney’s newly restored churchyard

Actor and presenter Christopher Biggins opened the Fete at St John’s Churchyard, one of Hackney’s most historic public areas, marking the completion of the restoration project and re-dedication of the Churchyard on Saturday 5 July.

Hundreds of local residents and visitors turned up to visit the Churchyard and take part in activities throughout the day. These included music by Pantonic Steel Orchestra and Hackney Youth Jazz Quartet, tours of the church and churchyard, Morris dancers, children’s activities and a visit by the Pearly King and Queen.

One of the highlights of the day was the re-dedication of the restored Churchyard by the Archdeacon of Hackney, The Ven Lyle Dennen.

As part of the restoration project, extensive work was carried out to the walled garden, including creating a new children’s play area, also tomb conservation work with specialist stone conservators cleaning and repairing 50 of the most important tombs.

The Churchyard’s refurbishment that started in spring 2006 was managed by Groundwork East London and Hackney Council. It has also included improved lighting at the site, introduction of controlled parking with provision for disabled visitors plus detailed interpretation and signage to increase local awareness of the history of the site.

Councillor Nargis Khan, Hackney Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Services, said: “St John-at-Hackney is one of the oldest buildings in the borough, and the Council is committed to maximising its potential as a heritage, educational and recreational resource. The refurbishment of the gardens around the Churchyard is a wonderful example of a partnership project. It has created a peaceful, historical open space that local people and visitors can enjoy.”

Matthew Carrington, Deputy Executive Director, Groundwork East London, said: “As both a long term resident of Hackney and the staff member who led this project at GWEL, we have worked with many people over the last eight years to achieve these improvements. The project’s success is a result of the hard work of steering group members including the Church, the Council and the Friends of St John. We are therefore heartened that the future of the gardens has now been secured.”

Parish Rector, Rev Rob Wickham, welcomed visitors and dignitaries including special guests Christopher Biggins and the Archdeacon of Hackney, The Ven Lyle Dennen, along with Cllr Guy Nicholson, London Assembly Member Jennette Arnold and the Speaker of Hackney.

"I was pleased to see the lovely churchyard gardens restored and enhanced as a green oasis in the centre of Hackney”, said Cllr Ian Rathbone, Speaker of Hackney. “It has been an excellent partnership project between the Council, the church, Groundwork East and the Friends of St John s Churchyard."

Since the works have been completed use of the gardens has significantly increased, in particular the facilities in the walled garden with the addition of a fountain has been a magnet for local families. The Council’s hard work was recently recognised by the achievements of Green Flag status and Green Heritage Site, which reflect the quality of management and community involvement in the site.