Light returns to abandoned Forncett church

The future is looking brighter for an abandoned church after new windows were fitted as part of a project to resurrect it for community use.

Sunlight has returned to the interior of the historic Forncett St Mary Church for the first time since its windows were boarded-up in the 1980s.

Now officials behind the restoration of the 13th century building, near Long Stratton, are seeking funding to repair the remaining windows at St Mary's so that it can be brought back into public use.

The Friends of Forncett St Mary Church have so far forked out �20,000 to restore two windows to their former glory and the remaining boarded-up windows in the chancel, vestry and tower will be replaced in the coming months.

However, the volunteers need to find another �30,000 to repair the four nave windows and have so far been met with a stony response from major funders like the Big Lottery Fund and English Heritage.

Graham and May Prior, who have been leading the restoration project since becoming neighbours of the Grade I listed church four years ago, said the church was 12 months away from being ready for regular community use.

'The windows make the place, but funding is difficult and a long time coming so we will take the boards off and use clear perspex to get the light in and keep the draught out whilst we get the money together for the final four windows,' said Mr Prior.

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He added that it was stunning to see the first of the chancel windows being repaired by Devlin Plummer Stained Glass, of Great Moulton.

'It was beautiful. It is the most important window in the church and it has made a huge difference,' he said.

The church, off Low Road, was shut by the Diocese of Norwich in 1980 as a result of dwindling attendances and the churchyard was overgrown with weeds when Mr and Mrs Prior moved to the village in 2007.

The friends group, which has grown to more than 120 members, has applied for charitable trust status and agreed a lease with the diocese on a peppercorn rent.

The restoration project has also been boosted by the work of a local retired carpenter, who is working free of charge to make a new altar for St Mary's from reclaimed oak and has already replaced the wooden vestry door.

The friends will be staging fundraising events including a table table-top sale, 'auto-jumble', and fashion show this year to boost the coffers to turn the church into a building for exhibitions, concerts, and a local history centre and archive.

adam.gretton@archant.co.uk