A church has launched a competition to encourage people to look after neglected graves in their community.

St Mary’s Church says Burials in Bloom 2018 will give the public the opportunity to learn about the history behind the headstones while using their gardening skills to brighten up the cemetery.

Tim Hewitt, a gardener at the site in Church End, Walthamstow, said people of all abilities, ages and religious beliefs are welcome to choose a grave and get stuck in.

“It’s a beautiful space and it’s an opportunity for people who have no gardening experience to look after a small space,” said Mr Hewitt.

“As a church we are really interested in getting people to visit the site. It’s a great open space that is very unused at the moment.

“There are some graves which are very neglected and others which don’t need much work at all so there’s something appropriate for everyone.”

Mr Hewitt will lead an introductory session from 10am to noon on Easter Saturday, March 31, for people to get advice on how to restore their chosen grave.

The competition, which has been sponsored by Walthamstow Village in Bloom, will be judged in July.

The site which has more than 300 graves is the resting place of ex-servicemen, former vicars at St Mary’s and other members of the community.

Mr Hewitt added: “Some people might be interested in local history or want a grave belonging to an RAF serviceman. They can pick the one that appeals to them.

“It doesn’t matter how much or little they do - if it’s five minutes going to and from work or half an hour with the kids on Saturday.”

Walthamstow Village in Bloom won a gold medal at last year’s Britain in Bloom competition.

Chairman Helen Lerner praised the church for launching the competition in an effort to overturn “years of neglect”.

She said: “It’s not just about appearance, it’s about improving the habitat for wildlife and biodiversity. People can forge strong friendships from gardening and it’s a great way of getting to know your local community. It’s also a great way of relaxing in the fresh air.

“Maybe there’s a grave of someone in your family there or someone who used to live in your street. There’s a job for everybody whatever their ability.”

Councillor for the Endlebury ward in Chingford, Roy Berg, works with schools to get children interested in the history behind the graves of war heroes in Waltham Forest.

Last November he arranged for more than 180 schoolchildren to place a cross and a poppy on each war grave in Chingford Mount Cemetery on Remembrance Sunday.

Cllr Berg said he hopes churches across the borough will follow St Mary’s’ lead and run similar community projects to involve members of the public.

“I think it’s fantastic and I really feel it’s something we need to do,” he said.

“I think it’s particularly important for young people to get involved because a lot of us are nearing the end of our lives and it’s the younger generation who will be left to look after the graves.”

To register for the competition text Mr Hewitt on 07879402285 or email timhewittgardener@gmail.com