Campaign to save Norfolk churches at risk
By Keith Morris
2010: English Heritage chose a restored Norfolk church to launch its new campaign to help save the one in ten churches across the whole country that are at risk.
St Mark's Church at Ten Mile Bank, near Downham Market, was forced to close in 2002 because subsidence had left it in danger of collapse. But the tiny riverside community rallied round and villagers raised more than £250,000 to save it.
Through the hard work and dedication of volunteers, the church is now a thriving part of the community, with regular services and community events. St Mark's has been declared regional winner of English Heritage's new Caring for Places of Worship Award.
St Mark's Church, built in 1846, is a Grade II listed chapel, retains its original pulpit, wall panelling and poppy head pews.
"This tiny Fenland community was faced with the huge undertaking of restoring their village church," said Reverend David Evans, rector of Ten Mile Bank.
"In partnership with English Heritage and The Norfolk Churches Trust, they have risen to the challenge. At the end of six years' hard work the church been restored to its former glory. In the process, the life of the community has also been renewed in their commitment to seeing the project completed."
Now English Heritage has launched a new handbook and DVD to help other communities do the same.
The watchdog’s chief executive, Dr Simon Thurley, who lives in King’s Lynn, reiterated the importance of churches to the communities in which they are based, and the threat which they face.
“Half of all grade I listed building are churches or places of worship and they are a top priority for English Heritage,” said Simon. “These buildings are so often at the heart of communities and at the heart of people’s lives - they mark the times that are important, births, deaths, marriages, celebrations.
“People who are looking after these buildings tell us that the core problem is the balance between mission and looking after the core fabric. Very few people go to their place of worship to be a project manager, architect or maintenance expert.”
England has some 14,500 listed places of worship. These iconic buildings are mostly Church of England churches (85%), Catholic churches, Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed and other Nonconformist chapels, Jewish synagogues and Quaker meeting houses.
English Heritage researchers found that while 86pc of East Anglia’s 2,305 churches are in a good to fair condition, 14pc are potentially at risk or in need of major repairs - 75pc of them in rural areas. Norfolk has one of the highest numbers of Grade I and II listed churches in England.
Those under threat include the 14th Century Church of St Edmund, at Thurne, whose medieval sedge roof has deteriorated. Parishioners have been awarded a £192,000 grant from English Heritage and hope restoration work will begin next year.
St Nicholas' Church at Fundenhall, near Wymondham, closed five years ago after damage to its tower made the roof unsafe. English Heritage funded the bulk of repairs with a £191,000 grant, while villagers raised the money to repair the porch and the church has now re-opened.
St Mark's Church at Lakenham, Norwich, was built in 1844 and welcomed worshippers from a nearby catholic church which was demolished in the 1990s. Services were carried out in a nearby community hall after its interior deteriorated due to damp. Structural repairs were carried out with a £250,000 English Heritage grant and both Anglicans and Catholics can use their shared church again.
Enthusiasts have saved the remote Church of St Mary at Fishley, near Acle, where regular services now take place, with a £90,000 English Heritage grant.
Pictured top is the restored St Mark's Church at Ten Mile Bank.