Long Stratton church bells restoration costs spiral

A campaign continues to save six historic bells at a Long Stratton church as inflation and VAT rises push the fundraising total higher.

Last year members of St Mary's Church launched a bid to raise about �32,000 to have its 400-year-old bells removed, repaired, retuned and rehung, while a further �6,000 was needed to repair the 17th century turret clock and install an automatic winder.

One of the bells, which was cast in the 1320s, is believed to be one of the oldest still being used in Norfolk, if not the country.

It is feared that if they are not repaired soon then the decaying structures will be forced to fall silent or risk being cracked.

But now the cost of the project has rocketed above �40,000. Church officials remain confident that with money pledged already and the hopeful acceptance of a grant application the total will be reached so the bells can be restorated in the new year.

So far about �10,000 has been raised by community events, and an additional �5,000 has been promised from individual donors.

The Rev Elisabeth Spry, assistant priest and tower captain, said a combination of inflation and VAT increases, as well as the removal of a scheme which allows the church to claim back the tax on bell and clock repairs, has added to the expected costs.

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'We have had a lot of support. People want the bells to keep going,' she said.

'We have about �10,000 in the bank but with pledges of grants that goes up to about �15,000 to �16,000 and we are looking into reducing costs through voluntary labour and planning to put in a Heritage Lottery Grant application.

'We are not there yet but I hope to get them (the bells) down after Christmas if we can get the grant because we will be able to ask for the full amount we need.'

The next fundraiser will be on May 14 when former Nikki Thomas will play the clarinet, with support from pianist Brian Bennent, in St Mary's Church.

For more information, call the parish office on 01508 530238.

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