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Work starts on restoration of Ipswich’s Unitarian Meeting House

PUBLISHED: 16:30 17 February 2020 | UPDATED: 20:10 17 February 2020

Work has started at the Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Work has started at the Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Archant

Work has started on the near £550,000 restoration of one of Ipswich’s most significant buildings – on the day it was confirmed that an Historic England grant would cover most of the cost.

Inside the Ipsiwch Unitarian Meeting House. Picture: MAGGIE HODGESInside the Ipsiwch Unitarian Meeting House. Picture: MAGGIE HODGES

The Unitarian Meeting House was opened in 1700 and is one of the oldest Dissenter chapels in the country. It has been in constant use as a place of worship for 320 years.

However for the next seven months its congregation will have to move into its nearby community centre while the building is restored and made fit for the 21st century - including having a toilet installed which will allow it to be used for more events.

On the day that the restoration team moved in Historic England confirmed it would be making a grant of £421,000 for the work.

The church has obtained further grants from other bodies and has raised £20,000 itself. The total it has had to raise on top of the main grant is £125,000.

The work is expected to take until September.

Tessa Forsdike from the church said: "It is wonderful that the work has been able to start. When it is complete we really hope it will be able to be used for more events but we are still raising money to ensure we can install the toilet."

Anyone wanting to support the appeal can donate here.

The church was founded to cater for the rising Dissenter population in Ipswich in the early 18th century and is a Grade 1 listed building. It has subsequently been joined by another Grade 1 listed building next to it - the Willis headquarters.

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Historic England has been proactively involved throughout the development of this project, offering technical guidance and fundraising advice.

In December 2018, Historic England awarded a £47,477 project development grant to the Trustees of the Unitarian Meeting House, which enabled architects to confirm that the timber frame of the building, together with internal and external joinery, was deteriorating due to the effects of damp.

The roof had also become increasingly difficult to maintain as the process of replacing missing tiles damaged far more tiles in the process and the amount of work quickly escalated.

The awarding of a £421,000 repair grant to the Unitarian Meeting House makes Historic England the major funder for this repair project, contributing up to 77% of total costs.

The project includes essential repairs to the walls and roof coverings.

Due to its poor condition, the Unitarian Meeting House was placed on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2018. It will be removed from the Register when the current repairs are successfully completed. Repair work has started and is likely to be completed by autumn 2020.

Tony Calladine, regional director at Historic England in the East of England said: "We're delighted to support the repair of the Unitarian Meeting House with this grant.

"It's one of the finest buildings of its kind in the country, with a remarkable interior, and represents an important part of 18th century history, both nationally and locally.

"We're pleased to play our part in repairing this important building and protecting it for future generations to enjoy. It will be a wonderful achievement to see it removed from the Heritage at Risk Register."

Ann Baeppler, chair of the trustees for the Unitarian Meeting House said: "We have been overwhelmed by the dedicated support given to us by Historic England right from the very start of our approach to them for funding towards our major restoration project, without which the fabric of our unique Meeting House would have continued to deteriorate relentlessly. We are so grateful!"


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