Dereham ringing dream scheme abandoned

Donors who supported an abandoned, �60,000 Dereham project to help preserve Norfolk's proud tradition of bellringing for future generations are being asked if they want their money back.

Some �33,000 had been collected in money, pledges and small grants towards creating a centre of ringing teaching at St Nicholas's Church when the four-year project was dropped during the summer, amid spiralling costs and fears of the potential scale of remedial work needed in the tower.

The project was first mooted in 2007 and got into full swing a year later. Fundraising events that followed included a pianothon, performances by Dereham's town band and a singing group, rummage sales, valuation and equestrian days and quiz-and-chip sessions. Central to the organising team's aims was to add two lighter bells to St Nicholas's existing ring of eight to improve the confidence of novice ringers.

Celia Barker, who rings with the St Nicholas Dereham Company of Ringers, is secretary of the augmentation project's sub-committee and is a member of the parochial church council, explained that children especially found the present peal of bells – ranging from about 6cwt to well over a ton – hard to ring.

Other key aims had included installing a camera in the belfry so novices could see the movement of the bells and introducing silencing measures for training sessions so learners could gain a proper 'feel' of handling bells and ropes without disturbing the neighbours. Part of this involved providing a computerised simulator to replicate the sound of ringing inside the tower but not outside.

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Mrs Barker said the cost of having new bells cast 'had gone up and up and up', but efforts to find suitable second-hand redundant bells from other towers to keep down costs had proved unsuccessful. And, as the team took the initial steps towards applying for a National Lottery grant, it emerged that the tower might need roof repairs, rewiring and staircase improvements. 'It went from something quite small to something that was growing like topsy, and I started to think there was a prospect of it going into six figures,' she said.

Acting on expert advice, the project's augmentation fund is to be renamed The St Nicholas Dereham Bell and Tower Fund to reflect the change of emphasis towards refurbishing the present bells. Mrs Barker said: 'Now we have to let people know that anyone who has made a donation of any significance should get in touch if they want the money back.' But she added that some known donors, particularly people who had made pledges, had already indicated they were happy to continue to offer support.

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Mrs Barker said the simulator and silencing aims had been achieved and a camera installed. Although the teaching centre project had been abandoned, people would continue to learn at St Nicholas's and nearby churches and she hoped that after-school training sessions could one day be held there. 'I think if we can get the bells moving more easily, they will be a lot easier to ring,' she added.

Stressing the importance of retain-ing the town's ringing heritage, she said people had written to show their appreciation of the St Nicholas Company, especially after it had rung for the funeral of young paratrooper Pte Lewis Hendry, who died in Afghanistan, and had revived the tradition of ringing in the new year.

Canon Sally Theakston, who inherited the project when she became team rector at Dereham, said this week: 'I recognise that there will be some disappointment, but I want to be quite positive about it because we have taken the decision after a lot of discussion.

'What it means is that the money will be very much put towards the refurbishment of the bells.'

Next year is thought to be the 500th anniversary of the Dereham tower.

Donors who wish to be reimbursed should contact the Parish Office at Church House, in Church Street, Dereham, on 01362 693143, or email, before the end of February.

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