Charity boost for Paston heritage scheme

A bid to turn an historic north Norfolk church into a community centre and visitor attraction as well as place of worship has been given a boost by charity chiefs.

Paston Heritage Society is at the helm of a unique project to restore and breathe new life into the village church linked with the Paston family whose famous letters gave an insight into everyday medieval life.

The group, formed in 1993, last year unveiled ambitious plans to divide the church so the chancel, containing the Paston family monuments, can remain a place of worship, while the nave is turned into a community space which highlights the place's unique history including the neighbouring 16th century barn.

It could cost �500,000 for the full scheme, which also includes a thatched extension, but the society's fund-raising powers have been given more muscle after being awarded charity status.

Society chairman Jo Berry said the plans could take several years to come to fruition, but the new status showed 'we are really serious about our aims - not just a group of people with an idea or hope.

'We are not only giving Paston a community centre, but putting Paston on the map for tourism which seems to only exist between Wells and Cromer,' she added.

The church would flag up local footpaths, cycleways, villages and woods for people to explore.

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Another part of the project is a website timeline explaining the history of Paston, the family and its connections with many other locations around Norfolk including Norwich, Hellesdon, Oxburgh Hall and Caister Castle.

The society was making grant applications and working with the local church and parish councils. It would be using its annual meeting on March 24 to promote fund-raising.

Repairs to the church were the most pressing however said Mrs Berry. Reports and costs were awaited on the chancel roof and drainage, along with the best way to save and restore 14th century wall paintings discovered in 1915, and tend to Paston family monuments which were becoming detached form the wall.

The Paston Letters are the largest surviving collection of 15th-century English correspondence, mainly preserved at the British Museum as an invaluable source of information for historians as they include snapshots of both political turmoil and household life.

?Paston Heritage Society's annual meeting is at the Mundesley Ship on Thursday March 24 at 7.30. Anyone wanting to attend or seeking more information about the society and its plans can contact chairman Jo Berry on 01263 720743 or email joberrym@btinternet.com. Visit the society's website at www.pastonheritage.co.uk