Moving on: St Mary’s Wild Side and Gardens

The second of a series of articles outlining our plans for the future before we begin seeking over a quarter of a million pounds to bring our dreams to fruition!

We’ve begun developing the gardens on Bute Street

St Mary’s Church stands at the meeting point of Cardiff City Centre and Cardiff Bay, engaging with the immediate residential and ethnically diverse community of Butetown as well as visitors and tourists to the city.  We are surrounded by extensive and rapidly appearing new developments which are transforming the neighbourhood.

In the midst of this new emerging built environment we have begun to create a wildlife and pollinator friendly habitat, which forms part of a wider development of our site, and will provide a rich and varied outdoor area which is sensitive to nature and helps to improve the quality of life of those who live and visit here.

There are two spaces to our Wild Side: a small ‘woodland’ area to the south of the church and a large, more open area to the East on Bute Street, the main thoroughfare between the city centre and the Bay.

Work has already established the habitat to the south, and we are currently beginning to cultivate the area to the east of the building with a butterfly garden and space for growing.  Recent plans by our architect will reorder the boundary wall by moving the two side gates to form a new, large central gateway.

A central gateway will be created from the two side gates presently in place
The date of this line drawing of St Mary’s is unknown but illustrates the original central gateway

Bats and Bees

Pollinators are vitally important to landscapes and people but are in serious decline, and urban areas provide enormous opportunities for habitat creation.  Our gardens will provide a home for nature, particularly encouraging more bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other insects, as well as other wildlife.

The gardens currently attracts over a dozen species of birds, as well as a colony of pipistrelle bats in the Church Tower. The site will also help to improve habitat connectivity, making pollinators more resilient to changes such as development, climate change and pollution, allowing their movement across a city.

Work has already taken off in our gardens

Building around Butetown

Butetown is an amazing community with a distinct and significant history and heritage. We are also a neighbour to Cardiff Bay and the city centre which, through vast development, has emerged shoulder to shoulder with Butetown and St Mary’s Church.

At the north and north west, Central Square and the new Brains Brewery development along with Callaghan Square and Tyndall Street an array of offices, student accommodation, hotels, retail units and restaurants is beginning to emerge, as well as plans for Dumballs Road, and a large Arena in Cardiff Bay. Bute Street also welcomes a significant number of tourists who walk between the city centre and the bay.  Poverty and social deprivation stand alongside affluence and business.

Whilst we await the outcomes of the recent census, looking back to the last Census Butetown 1 Ward reveals an ethnically diverse community with a a large Muslim population of 42%.

A third of residents have no qualifications, and the unemployment rate is higher than the Cardiff average and stands at 8.4%.  7.6% of households have adults in no employment with dependent children.

St Mary’s Church in Wales Primary School which neighbours the church has a fascinating make up of religions, making it a unique school in Wales, with a pupil population of 82.2% Muslim, 6.4% Christian, 4/2%  Hindu 4, whilst 5% declared no religion.

There are also three homeless hostels close by, and the impact of homelessness, the rise in rough sleeping and the often associated drug use and anti-social behaviour has impacted greatly upon Butetown in recent years.

Alongside St Mary’s Church in North Church Street is a housing project developed by Cadwyn Housing Association and Cardiff Council which consists of 13 Shipping Container Homes.  Originally designed as short term accommodation for families in danger of being made homeless, it is temporarily being used to provide a home to rough sleepers during the COVID pandemic.

Community Cohesion

We hope that the gardens will provide inclusive opportunities for volunteering which will strengthen community cohesion, confidence and self-esteem, build relationships between people of different cultures and backgrounds, encourage physical activity which will improve physical and mental well-being, and provide a means for learning new skills and gaining new knowledge. In short, through St Mary’s Wild Side and Gardens we aim to:

  • increase levels of community ownership and engagement
  • provide benefits for local biodiversity and improve the local environment by providing a home for nature
  • deliver activities to help more people engage with nature, and help them learn new skills, and acquire new knowledge through activities, workshops and training, and by exchanging resources and ideas
  • empower more young people and families to take independent and local action for nature
  • increase physical and mental well-being by encouraging people to spend more time outdoors with nature alongside others in their community, and provide opportunities for volunteering
  • strengthen community cohesion, resilience and confidence by enabling people to develop new relationships by working together for a common purpose
  • Reduce social isolation and loneliness especially amongst older people
  • provide an open and inclusive environment, and nurture Global Responsibility

The enclosed space provides a safe environment for activities which will involve children and groups of vulnerable people of all ages. As well as being accessible to the general public, we aim to work with children, young people and families, older people, local residents, – particularly those experiencing poverty, low income or social inequality – residents of Social Housing, Refugees, those not in employment, and those experiencing social exclusion, such as homelessness. 

We’ve recently created a QR Code Trail through the gardens and wildlife habitat for learning and enrichment, providing information and opportunities to learn about and encourage care for the natural world.

The project is and will be a visible and working example of how to care for the natural world in the midst of an extensive and rapidly growing built environment, whilst caring for people and responding to many presenting needs. We’re buzzing about it!

In our next article, we’ll be moving inside the church, and sharing some more of our plans!

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