Hopton church awarded repair funds

Churches in need of repair in Norfolk and Suffolk have been given a financial boost but a rallying cry was made for more to be done to protect the region's precious religious buildings.

Churches in need of repair in Norfolk and Suffolk have been given a financial boost but a rallying cry was made for more to be done to protect the region's precious religious buildings.

As English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund yesterday announced that nearly �1.4m is being given to churches and chapels in Norfolk and north Suffolk to help fund repairs, church leaders called for local communities to support their historic buildings.

Norfolk has more than 600 medieval churches - the highest concentration anywhere in the world.

Eleven Norfolk churches and two in north Suffolk are set to benefit from the latest round of grants, but the amount of money needed to maintain the buildings grows year on year and church officials say more cash needs to be found to keep them open and safe for future generations.

Norfolk Churches Trust secretary Malcolm Fisher said that while the latest grants would go a long way towards getting repair work under way at local churches, there was not enough cash available for all of the schemes which needed it.

He said: “There is certainly not enough funding available for churches. It's a ridiculous situation where �10m a year comes from the government through English Heritage for church restoration across the whole country - Norfolk could easily swallow up that whole amount year on year.

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“In this day and age, that amount of money is nothing. When substantial work needs doing on a medieval church, it is always going to cost an amount which is way beyond the ability of local fundraising.”

Mr Fisher said local communities also needed to step up to preserve the churches and appreciate their historic value.

“It's a matter of encouraging churches and the local communities to work together and give these fundraising projects a bit of a morale boost. It so often comes down to just one or two people doing the work, and that can be hugely demoralising,” he said.

One of the buildings awarded funding yesterday was St Margaret's Church at Hopton which is in line for an �84,000 boost to pay for re-roofing work and drainage and gutter repairs.

The Rev Roger Key said: “Without these grants, churches and historic buildings across the country would be lost. These grants are brilliant, but I would really like to see the amount of money available double in size, if not more.

“For a little congregation like ours, the commitment shown to the scheme has been tremendous as we have been finding some money ourselves. Our philosophy is that we have to work today to enjoy the benefits in the future. The only alternative is to let the place go to rack and ruin, and we don't want that.”

St Mary the Virgin Church in Feltwell, near Brandon, was given �15,000 to cover work on a new roof for the main and north aisle.

Vanessa Cock, chairman of the Friends of St Mary, said that without the Heritage Lottery and �24,000 raised in the community, the church would have been forced to close its doors.

“We are at a loss to think how on earth we would have got that money without the lottery money. The church would have been closed. A wedding was being held and a bit of roof fell down and narrowly missed the bride, the groom and the minister... We've now found other problems; there's dry rot in the floor under the pews. It's ongoing.”

The grade II*-listed medieval church of St Andrew in Great Ryburgh, near Fakenham, was awarded �129,000 and the Rev Robin Stapleford said that without such a grant, it would be nearly impossible to pay for the work.

“It is for quite routine roof and wall repairs, but in a medieval church like ours, which is nearly 700 years old, these problems do occur and they are costly.

“We have a church council of just seven or eight people who organise our fundraising, so without this type of funding it would be almost impossible for us to get such projects under way,” he said.

The story of Norwich's St John's Cathedral - see page 42-43