Ipswich Unitarians celebrate the restoration of their Meeting House

Ipswich Unitarians

Members of the Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House preparing for the celebrations with Tessa Forsdike, second left. - Credit: Paul Geater

Ipswich's Unitarian Meeting House has held a major celebration to mark its restoration thanks largely to a grant from Historic England.

The building dates from 1699 and is one of the oldest non-conformist chapels in the country. It is Grade One listed - and has the original box pews complete with wig pegs for worshippers who wish to use them!

Restoration work has been completed at Ipswich's Unitarian Meeting House.

Restoration work was completed at Ipswich's Unitarian Meeting House in May. - Credit: Historic England

Work started on the restoration early last year, just as the first Covid lockdown was imposed - but because much of it was outside or involved crafts-people working at home it was able to continue.

The £750,000 project includes work to make the roof fire-proof, replacing some window frames that had rotted, re-rendering the building, and installing a fire alarm system. A new toilet was also installed.

The interior of the Unitarian Meeting House.

The work should make the Unitarian Meeting House safe for more than 100 years, but it is difficult to see where safety measures have been installed. - Credit: Historic England

It was finished after 15 months earlier this year - but the church congregation waited until now to hold the celebration after the relaxation of Covid restrictions.

Tessa Forsdike, the secretary of the trustees of the Meeting House, said the restoration work should guarantee the future of the building for at least the next 100 years.

She said: "This is a very important day for us. It gives us the chance to show off what has happened here and show what makes this such a special place."

The celebration included music, talks about the building's history, and a description of the restoration work.

It also featured the launch of a new group - the Friends of the Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House - which is being formed to allow people to support the building even if they are not members of the congregation.

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Ms Forsdike said: "We know there are a lot of people who are very fond of this, which is a very important building in the history of Ipsiwch.

"The congregation does a great deal to support, but many people who are not in congregation may also want to support it - and the Friends will give them that opportunity."

As well as financial support, the Friends could also help with volunteering to help staff the building when it is open to the public.

The church is used by other organisations as well as for regular services - next Saturday it will be hosting An Evening of Music and Song by the Trianon Music Group in aid of the Meeting House.