Meet the volunteers transforming Lye and Wollescote Cemetery

Shadowed by the beautifully refurbished Lye and Wollescote Chapels (now known as the Thomas Robinson Building) Lye and Wollescote Cemetery is a peaceful spot for reflection and an historically fascinating site. I visited recently and was overwhelmed by the transformation the Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery have made to the site in the past two and a bit years since I saw them last!

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IMG_20180808_113733885_HDR-01Lye and Wollescote Chapels is a rare example of two chapels – Church of England and Nonconformist – being housed in one building, and originally the cemetery was divided along those lines. The cemetery now has an area for Muslim burials, it houses the graves of 29 servicemen who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars (managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) and it’s the final resting place of local people of historical significance, from inventors to entrepreneurs.

The Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery are working hard to make sure people can still see these links to the past and to create a pleasant environment for visitors. The group came together during the renovation of the Grade II listed chapels led by West Midlands Historic Buildings Trust (WMHBT). As part of the £1.2m project, WMHBT wanted to engage with the community to increase the chances of the project’s long-term sustainability. Soon, a small group of volunteers was clearing the cemetery ground on the first Saturday of every month.

FoLWCDonna and I met the volunteers in 2016. We visited the cemetery, which was overgrown and pretty uninviting (I’m sure it didn’t help that it was a cold and dismal January morning!) and did a series of workshops in the nearby (and warm) Stambermill House where we built a vision for what the cemetery could be like in the future, painted a picture of the skills, talents and networks that each volunteer brought and created a simple plan. We also developed a simple constitution during our conversations about whether the volunteers would like to become a constituted group or to remain informal for the time being.

Fast forward two years and the group has achieved so much! The Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery signed their constitution and opened a bank account, which unlocked a grant of £5,000 from the Community Forums. They’ve also managed to raise a further £2,500!

The visible difference the group has made to cemetery is clear. They’ve cleared grounds and uncovered graves that they didn’t know were there; they’ve cleaned graves meticulously; they’ve brought in professionals to repair graves; they’ve installed two beautiful benches commemorating those who died in the First and Second World Wars; they’ve set up a system to make it easier for people to carry water from the site’s only tap.

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All of this work has increased the number of visitors to the cemetery, whether for the local history, for remembrance or for the peaceful environment that’s open to everyone. The Friends have told me that more people now come to lay flowers at graves, many of which have no family members left to tend to them.

IMG_20180808_112838443_HDR-01The group’s Facebook group is very active too, and there are always lots of messages of thanks to the Friends from local people who walk through the grounds, as well as progress reports from the Friends themselves. It really feels like these volunteers have built a sense of community around this almost forgotten site.

Coincidentally, when I paid a visit to the grounds I met Ian from Dudley Council’s Bereavement Services, which manages the cemetery. Ian was as enthusiastic about the group’s achievements as I am and he’d love it if every cemetery in the borough had a friends group, testament to how local people really do make local places.

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So what about the future? Members of the Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery plan to continue their work. They want to repair more graves, which costs money; each grave that needs professional repair costs in the region of £400-£1,500. I’m in the process of identifying funders that may support this type of work and the group will do plenty of its own fundraising. Wish us luck!

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If you’d like to get involved with Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery, you’ll find them on site on the first Saturday of every month from 9.30am. They meet on the third Wednesday of the month, 6.30pm at Stambermill House and you can always join the Facebook group.

Lye & Wollescote Chapels Development

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Lye & Wollescote Chapels, Cemetery Road, Lye.

As many of you may be aware, Lye & Wollescote Chapels was the first building in Dudley borough to undergo the Asset Transfer journey. Since then there have been others and I am happy to report, more on the way and as and when they do happen, we will keep you posted.

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A call to everyone that wants to build a vibrant community hub at Brierley Hill Civic Hall

What great things could happen in this space? This photo was taken during the set up of our last AGM and Volunteer Awards

What great things could happen in this space? This photo was taken during the set up of our last AGM and Volunteer Awards

On Tuesday 3rd March, 2pm-4pm, we’ll be throwing open the doors of Brierley Hill Civic Hall to anyone who would like to help us bring this wonderful venue to life.

Whether you’re a resident, an artist, entertainer or promoter, or if you belong to a business, college, voluntary group or charity, you’re welcome to come along and see the Civic Hall’s potential for yourself. I’m really looking forward to meeting people who want to make great things happen at the Civic Hall, ask questions, tour the space and share their ideas and inspiration.

There’s so much potential for Brierley Hill Civic Hall to become home to many more groups and activities, particularly during the daytime. Since my last post, we’ve already had some great ideas ranging from socials for older people, vintage cinema events, linking with local businesses, and I want to thank everyone that’s shared their ideas so far. We want to encourage local talent to use the Civic Hall as a showcase venue for their skills; we want to make sure that the Civic reflects local heritage and is a vibrant community hub for everyone.

So please join us at Brierley Hill Civic Hall on Tuesday 3rd March, 2pm-4pm, to share your ideas over light refreshments.

If you can’t attend but would still like to share your ideas, please join in the conversations here by making a comment, on Twitter or on Facebook. Alternatively, you’re welcome to contact me on 01384 573381.

I’m looking forward to working with you.

Brierley Hill Civic Hall: Unlocking potential and creativity together

Dudley CVS will take on the running of Brierley Hill Civic Hall from next month in an arrangement that aims to make the venue an exciting hub and to make Brierley Hill a vibrant destination for entertainment and leisure.

More than just bricks and mortar; community assets are about the people and activities they attract. This photo is of Volunteer Award winners packed into the foyer of Brierley Hill Civic Hall.

More than just bricks and mortar; community assets are about the people and activities they attract. This photo is of Volunteer Award winners packed into the foyer of Brierley Hill Civic Hall.

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Notes from our latest funding workshop: Developing your community facility

Dudley CVS has always worked to broker relationships between funders and the groups we support, through working with big and small funders on their programmes and helping to promote them, searching for funders for our groups and supporting them with applications and bringing funders together with groups at regular ‘meet the funder’ events.  But last week, we ran a ‘meet the funder’ event with a difference, focussing on a theme which is becoming ever more popular in Dudley – developing community facilities and asset transfer.

In this post, you’ll find details of the event and the presentations that funders and others gave.

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Lye & Wollescote Chapels – Dudley Asset Transfer & Development

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Community Assets are land or buildings predominantly owned by statutory services which are then transferred over and developed under the management of community organisations.  Asset based development assists 3rd sector organisations to achieve long-term sustainable social, economic and environmental achievements within their own locations.

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Black Country Festival

BC Fest

You may have already heard of Black Country Day on July 14th. Perhaps you’ve heard of Black Country Festival. Or maybe you’ve seen the new Black Country Flag flying proudly over Dudley Town Hall. Whether or not you’ve come across these, the buzz surrounding Black Country Festival means you probably soon will and it’s hard not to be excited!

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