Hard work needed to save churches

THEY are part of our heritage an intrinsic part of our treasured landscape but preserving the village churches of Suffolk takes a lot of hard work. Tina Heath reports.

THEY are part of our heritage an intrinsic part of our treasured landscape but preserving the village churches of Suffolk takes a lot of hard work. Tina Heath reports.


SUFFOLK'S crumbling churches are costing tens of thousands of pounds to keep in good repair and fundraisers are struggling to make ends meet.

Nearly six months ago huge appeals were launched to save historic churches in Shotley and Bramford, which needed more than £125,000 between them to complete all necessary work.

The cost of repairing St Mary's church in Bentley has been valued at £26,000 and in the tiny Hamlet of Great Wenham near Capel St Mary parishioners are trying to raise enough money to renovate an impressive Thomas Lewis organ in St John's church.

The Evening Star caught up with fundraisers to see how their appeals were progressing.

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Volunteers vowed not to be deterred when they learnt that they needed to raise a staggering £55,000 to save St Mary's church in Shotley.

The church, which is more than 700 years old, is badly in need of repair. The leaky nave roof needs a complete overhaul and tiles and wooded batons of the chancel roof above the altar need removing and replacing.

Today, with just less than £15,000 raised towards the cost of the work, volunteers are satisfied with their efforts but realise they still have a long way to go.

"We know it's a phenomenal amount of money to raise but it's okay if you break it down into identifiable projects," said churchwarden Norman Bugg.

This year efforts will be concentrated on getting the drains and guttering fixed and, if a grant application to English Heritage is successful, moving on to work on the roof.

Volunteers have been keeping up a pledge to put on one fundraising event a month and The River Orwell Sporting and Conservation Club has just come up trumps with a £500 donation – but Mr Bugg admits fundraisers are in for a long haul.

"Once we have the building sealed we can think about starting to look at some of the interior projects with a little bit more free time," he said.

"The fact we have done as well as we have is brilliant. If we can get a grant for the roof we will be able to look at other projects we have left and will be able to tackle some of them at least."

In Bramford fundraisers are disappointed to have raised only £2,500 of a required £70,000 to repair St Mary's church. A grant application to English Heritage was unsuccessful and fears were high that frost could get into cracking buttress and cause further damage.

Nearly 50 years ago the north west buttress of the church dramatically collapsed and church goers have been watching in horror as cracks in the south west buttress began to appear and open up.

"We need £12,000 to repair the buttress cracks first, before we move on to anything else," said churchwarden Colin Elsdon. "We are getting some way towards it and we just have to keeping pushing on."

Parishioners are looking into setting up a "friends scheme", and hope to apply to English Heritage again as well as trying for grants from landfill.

In Bentley, "essential" repairs costing more than £10,000 should start in February. These include solving damp problems, removing unused tanks and piping, refurbishing guttering and repointing flint and brickwork.

Most of the costs will be met by the Friends of St Mary's and the rest by the parochial church council. The work should be completed this year and further repairs, costing about £16,000 will be started as soon as the money is available.

In the tiny hamlet of Great Wenham, church goers are raising funds to renovate an impressive Thomas Lewis organ, the pride and joy of St John's church where it is kept.

Built in the late 1860s it has been described as "a work of one of the best makers of its period" and "a remarkable little instrument and a valuable possession" – but it comes at a price and church goers have been told it will cost £25,000 to rebuild.

A generous legacy and some sterling work by the Friends of St John's has taken the pressure off the dozen or so strong congregation, who must find £5,000 to complete the repair work.

Churchwarden Anthea Langton admitted it was a big job for a small group of people but said it was hoped that a big concert planned for September would bring in funds.