A chapel located within the grounds of a closed churchyard in Durham has been rediscovered and plans are now being prepared for it to be restored.

The burial ground, as part of St Nicholas’ Church located on Providence Row, has been given a makeover by the Unpaid Work Team at Durham Tees Valley Community Rehabilitation Company (DTV CRC).

DTV CRC was contacted by Alan Pepper of Carville who had just lost his mother, Edith aged 102. It was his mother and the family’s wish that she was laid to rest at the cemetery next to her husband. There have been no burials at the cemetery for over 30 years and as part of the Council’s restoration plans for the site, a team of offenders (participants) worked hard to tidy some of the overgrown plants and shrubbery. By working in partnership with Durham County Council’s Clean and Green Team, participants cleared the grounds while the Council disposed of the waste.

Mr Pepper, said: “The participants were absolutely brilliant, I can’t thank them enough. You couldn’t see the path leading up to the church as it was so overgrown but now, they have completely transformed the place. On behalf of myself and the family, we appreciate the work DTV CRC and the Council have done to enable my mother’s burial to take place.”

Since work began, DTV CRC and the Council have received praise from locals living nearby as the overgrown cemetery became a magnet for anti-social behaviour activity. Now that the site has been cleared, the number of incidents reported has dropped and the cemetery is looking tidier and more presentable.

A team of 145 participants (over 36 days and 1,252 hours worked in total) have been clearing away shrub areas, self-seeded trees, brambles and basal growth from the trees as a requirement of their Court Order to spend their time on giving something back to the local community. DTV CRC has continued to clear the area so that the chapel itself can be restored, which has now been taken on by the Greek Orthodox Church.

Martin Briscoe from Durham County Council, said: “DTV and the Unpaid Work Team has done a fantastic job. We’ve formed a really good relationship and worked with them for a number of years on smaller projects, but this is by far the biggest project we’ve delivered together. A lot has been achieved in a short space of time and demonstrates what can be gained by working in partnership.”

Ken Hounam, Unpaid Work Manager at DTV CRC, said: “When Mr Pepper contacted us and told us about his mother’s wish to be buried at the cemetery, we immediately contacted the Council and arranged for a team of participants to attend the site. It was a huge effort from the team, working in partnership with Durham County Council but we are very proud that our efforts have been recognised.”

Panos Korovessis said: “This lovely building was left to ruin and disused so we made enquiries to acquire it, pay for its restoration and use it as our Orthodox Christian chapel. We’re hoping to raise £160,000 to pay towards these costs and are working alongside Durham County Council’s planning department. DTV CRC has done a magnificent job by clearing the whole park and making it accessible again.”

Unpaid Work provides a structured programme and route for men and women to re-pay the community for the crimes they have committed. DTV CRC works in partnership with Local Authorities, community groups, charities and sports clubs to assist in keeping local amenities such as parks and footpaths clear and accessible. Members of the public can recommend other projects for the Unpaid Work teams via the DTV CRC website.