Video/Gallery: Three years on from devastating arson attack, 40 youngsters help clean St Michael’s Church in Ipswich to get it ready for restoration
13:47 03 March 2014
From the ashes of one of Ipswich’s biggest eye-sores a project has begun which aims to give back to the community an open and shared space.
A team of young volunteers packed into the site of the former St Michael’s Church in Ipswich on Saturday in order to begin the process of cleaning and transforming the building.
The church building in Upper Orwell Street was devastated by an arson attack in 2011, leaving in tatters plans by Muslim education charity JIMAS to turn the building, which had been out of use for ten years, into a community centre.
JIMAS paid £350,000 for the site, but the building had been uninsured and plans to restore it were put on hold.
Now Mr Manwar Ali of JIMAS and a hardworking team of youngsters, including students at Suffolk One college, have begun the process of cleaning the site in order to get the project going again.
The plan is to have the church and parish hall in use by the end of this year, and Mr Ali predicts the project will cost between £250,000 and £300,000.
“Today is the day where for the very first time we’ve got our 40 volunteers together to help us clean out the place, which includes the interior of the buildings, the church and the parish hall, and the outside as much as possible,” he said on Saturday.
“Our ambition is that the community in Ipswich will have an input in deciding what it becomes but it should be something useful, so that everyone who lives in this town will have not only a place that they will benefit from the facilities, but also feel that they can do something with it in terms of suggesting ideas and actually enacting those ideas.
“It’s a very big task, it’s a cut down version of the original vision we had of a grander place with bigger facilities, money is the main issue but otherwise our aim is to finish the church hall and possibly the church by the end of this year if not by spring next year.”
Among those who were clearing the site on Saturday was Ghulam Solker, an engineering teacher at Suffolk One who is interviewed in our video above. He invited a number of students to come and help with the building’s restoration.
Ashton Meadows is one of the students, he said: “My teacher Ghulam suggested it to me as a way to put something back into the community and make a difference. I’ve been doing a lot of shovelling, moving pews around and clearing it out, putting all the debris into skips.
“It’s been really good; I’ve loved every minute of it. I haven’t done anything like this before, but now that I have I’d like to do it again. This is my first day here, if they asked me I’d happily do it again.”
The volunteers have thanked Jackson Engineering for lending equipment, staff at Ipswich Borough Council for their support and driving the skip, and Suffolk One.