The churchyard at Cheltenham's oldest surviving medieval building, St Mary's Minster, has a brand-new look after a six-month renovation project.
There is now a new circular seating area made from Forest of Dean stone in the grounds of the Grade I listed Minster, as well as new pathways to improve accessibility, sensitive lighting and plants to increase biodiversity.
Local landscape architects, Ares Design, along with contractor, Id Verde, have spent six months renovating the area, with the council saying it will 'really come to life in the spring'. Important conservation work also took place during the project, including urgent restoration to memorials, table tombs and the base of the cross, which is a scheduled monument.
The council hopes the improvements will allow more people to enjoy the space and deter anti-social behaviour.
Leader of Cheltenham Borough Council, Councillor Rowena Hay, said: 'We are delighted with the transformation of this area, which holds such historic significance for the town. Together with partners, we had a vision that would breathe new life into the space, creating a sense of community and calm and we are thrilled that the project is now nearing final completion and will come to life fully in the spring.'
'Working on the site of a medieval churchyard has certainly had its challenges and in order to comply with archaeological conditions, the project had to ensure that all groundwork digs were recorded by archaeologists. Huge thanks to experts from Oxford Archaeology, as a number of tombs were uncovered that were not on any previous records and had to be sensitively protected and recorded before work could continue. The project has, therefore, taken a little longer than planned but it was important to ensure works were undertaken thoroughly and sensitively.'
Reverend Clare Dyson from Cheltenham Minster - which remained open and accessible during the renovation works - added: 'The church family are delighted to have The Minster now set in such thoughtfully restored grounds. We welcomed 11,000 visitors last year and have high hopes for that number to increase as more people are attracted to the area. We love meeting people in the Minster Gardens and look forward to holding events and activities there. It’s a great way for us to meet with the community and share Jesus’ love with them.'
Minster Garden is the latest major renovation project undertaken by Cheltenham Borough Council in the last year, with others including the refurbishment of The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum and the creation of a new seating area and 'pocket park' at Boots Corner. The council has also just announced plans to invest nearly £6 million into town centre developments, including an additional £2.5 million investment for the MX centre, which will form the final piece of the puzzle connecting Minster Gardens to The Wilson - and become home to Cheltenham Festivals HQ, when it opens in 2023.