City church's ambitious plans

SHAUN LOWTHORPE A Norfolk church destroyed by fire is to be reborn on a new site as part of a £5m plan to build spiritual and community facilities on a former hospital.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

A church that was destroyed by fire may be reborn on a new site as part of a £5m plan to meet people's spiritual and community needs on the site of a former hospital.

The Mount Zion Family Life Centre, in Heartsease Lane, Norwich, was gutted in a fierce blaze a year ago.

The congregation moved to a temporary home at Drayton Hall Church. And now the two churches are to unite to become the Norwich Family Life Church as part of an ambitious project to build a 2,500-seat place of worship and community facilities at the former David Rice Hospital site at Hellesdon.

To give some idea of the scale, the nave of Norwich Cathedral seats 1,000.

Supporters say the proposed new church would be of an "architect-urally significant" design and would be constructed from steel and glass in a design not too dissimilar from The Forum in the centre of Norwich.

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Norfolk philanthropist Graham Dacre, chairman of the Lind Trust, which is backing the new scheme, originally wanted to rebuild the Heartsease church but was advised informally by city planners to seek a bigger site. So attentions have switched to the Hellesdon site, where outline planning consent was secured from January, 2005.

Even so, the hope is

to maintain existing community activities at Heartsease. These now take place in temporary buildings.

A detailed application for the David Rice site, which the Lind Trust bought for about £800,000 around a decade ago, will be submitted to Broadland District Council. If approved, the new complex could be in use by 2009.

Mr Dacre said: "I am delighted to be part of a larger new church and all it will offer to the city of Norwich. It would certainly be great to see the David Rice Hospital site redeveloped for church and community use.

"Clearly we will need the support of all at Broadland District Council."

Pastor Trevor Pimlott said the aim was to create a church and community centre fit for the 21st century.

"We are concerned for all ages, and the new church will therefore care and provide for all from the cradle to the grave," he said.

"Life is becoming increasingly challenging and complex, and our goal is to provide answers and hope.

"Together we will respond to the needs of all around us: in Drayton, Heartsease and in Norfolk. It is great news all round."