ONE purpose of a church is to offer sanctuary to all and that is certainly true of St John’s Sharrow which is stepping up its conservation efforts to win an Eco award.

The two-acre churchyard has been managed by conservation volunteers for the last 25-years, resulting in an award-winning sanctuary for rare species of plant life, animals and insects.

With the arrival of a new parish priest and the provision of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the church will be redoubling their efforts into 2017.

This year, St John’s is hoping to attain its first Eco-Church award and will be launching an annual Cherishing Churchyards week, part of a national campaign fronted by the Prince of Wales.

The church’s heritage learning officer, Joe Priestley, will be working with local primary schools, disability charities and community groups to open up the churchyard to new audiences.

The week will culminate in a celebratory open day and tea party at the church, near Dishforth, on June 10 from 2pm to 4pm, hosted by St John’s parish priest the Reverend Ruth Newton.

Rev Newton said: “Respecting and caring for the world God created is an important part of the Church’s mission, this is why we are working towards eco-church status.

“One of the cornerstones of this is how we manage our churchyard in ways that increase bio-diversity.

“This is something to celebrate and share with the whole community.

“I am particularly excited about the work being done with children, which will both encourage their engagement with creation and build an appreciation of the heritage which is on their doorstep.”

Eco-awards are bestowed on churches that demonstrate they care for their natural and community environment in a number of ways.

The church has to fulfil criteria including lifestyle teachings and enhancing the land and the building itself.