St Mark’s Broomhill and Broomhall: How Sheffield church destroyed during the Blitz has risen from the ashes

Only the tower was spared on the night the Nazi bombs fell.
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Members of a Grade II-listed church in Broomhill are rejoicing after it became the first in Sheffield to be granted a Gold Award as part of the national Eco Church scheme.

St Mark’s Broomhill and Broomhall, in S10, is celebrating the diamond anniversary of its consecration this year and leaders of its environmental group say they “can think of no better way of celebrating” than with the prestigious award. It is one of only 25 churches in the country to reach Gold level.

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“During the Second World War the church was burned almost to the ground with an incendiary bomb,” says Margaret Ainger, co-chair of the St Mark’s environmental group. “Only the tower was spared the night of the Sheffield Blitz. It took until 1963 for the church to be rebuilt and consecrated, which is why we’re now celebrating our diamond anniversary.”

Church's history gave team extra motivation

Margaret, a retired GP, says that knowledge of the church’s history gave them extra motivation to earn the environmental Gold Award. “The church has been through a period of extreme destruction before,” she says.

St Mark’s Church in Broomhill, Sheffield, has just become the first in South Yorkshire, and one of just 25 across England, to receive a prestigious Gold Award for its environmental work. Pictured are Margot Fox and Margaret Ainger.St Mark’s Church in Broomhill, Sheffield, has just become the first in South Yorkshire, and one of just 25 across England, to receive a prestigious Gold Award for its environmental work. Pictured are Margot Fox and Margaret Ainger.
St Mark’s Church in Broomhill, Sheffield, has just become the first in South Yorkshire, and one of just 25 across England, to receive a prestigious Gold Award for its environmental work. Pictured are Margot Fox and Margaret Ainger.

“We’ve made that link with climate change, that the church has adapted to and come out of situations before. With such alarming environmental situations going on, this is something that churches can help to tackle in a big way.”

St Mark’s journey to the Gold Award began in 2010 when a few members of the congregation with science and engineering backgrounds became interested in helping the church to reduce bills by cutting their energy usage, while also helping the planet.

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“They started tracking the kilowatts per hour that the building used, things that at the time the rest of us had no idea about,” Margaret says. “That evolved over time into a wider climate and environmental group, and then the Eco Church programme came along.”

Over the past five years the church has used smart thermostat technology to halve its energy consumption.

“Friends connected to St Mark’s measured how long it took to raise the temperature of the building by one degree,” says Margot Fox, 63, a former public health worker who co-chairs the environmental group with Margaret. “They then linked the thermostat to a computer, which we use to manage room bookings in the building.

“So now the caretaker just types in the meeting time into Microsoft Outlook and the computer will automatically turn on the heating the required number of hours ahead to get it to the right temperature.”

Energy use reduced by half thanks to relatively simple change

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Margaret agrees that this change has made the biggest difference: “We’ve gone from using around 150,000kWh per year to under 75,000kWh. The starting point should always be about not wasting heat and energy.”

Despite being Grade II listed the church also has solar panels on its roof, and they are also exploring how to make their draughty but historic windows double-glazed.

St Mark’s Church in Broomhill, Sheffield, has just become the first in South Yorkshire, and one of just 25 across England, to receive a prestigious Gold Award for its environmental work.St Mark’s Church in Broomhill, Sheffield, has just become the first in South Yorkshire, and one of just 25 across England, to receive a prestigious Gold Award for its environmental work.
St Mark’s Church in Broomhill, Sheffield, has just become the first in South Yorkshire, and one of just 25 across England, to receive a prestigious Gold Award for its environmental work.

“The windows are a real challenge,” Margaret says. “We need to have custom double-glazed panels to use on the inside, and they have gone through a nearly two-year trial run on just two windows. Once we get approval our 60th anniversary fund, which we are raising money for all year, will go towards those panels and it’ll make a huge difference to the future of the church.”

Both Margaret and Margot are keen to point out that to get the Gold Award it took the efforts of the entire church, not just the environment committee.

Small changes have made a big difference cutting energy use at church

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“The award requires a high standard of work across the whole church, so everyone needs to buy into the ethos,” Margaret says. “It can be small changes, like putting ‘please switch off the lights’ stickers on switches, to bigger things like reaching out into the community and showing people what is possible.

“We’ve had so much support from the whole team to make the work visible. We’ve had an electronic board in our hallway for a decade telling visitors how much power is being generated by the solar panels at any given time. Things like that keep the issues in people’s minds and encourage them to explore that at home.”

Other initiatives that earned them the award have included adding environmental books to the church library and running a nature photography competition over summer.

Margot says that it is now rare for the climate not to be mentioned in sermons, liturgy, hymns and prayers, and the Gold Award is not the end of the journey for St Mark’s. “We’re always looking to do more, but we also want to be a resource to other people, other churches. Helping each other is a key part of what a church does, and we’re happy to do that.”