More churches to open up to visitors

It is sometimes too easy to take for granted the historic wonder and hidden treasures of Norfolk's 659 medieval churches and stroll past them without delving into part of the county's heritage.

It is sometimes too easy to take for granted the historic wonder and hidden treasures of Norfolk's 659 medieval churches and stroll past them without delving into part of the county's heritage.

But from next year, the chance to explore some of the rare architecture, stained-glass windows and wondrous naves will be offered to encourage more people to enjoy the various places of worship.

The diocese of Norwich is hoping to open up many more churches across Norfolk to the public by the end of next year and events - including an artist in residence and craft events - are being organised to attract visitors.

The Church of England is looking to extend its successful open churches pilot scheme, which was the brainchild of the Archdeacon of Norfolk, the Ven David Hayden, and was launched in the Broads and south Norfolk during 2005.

Under the initial project, 11 churches from Diss to Stalham were given gateway church status, which saw them opening their doors all day to inquisitive members of the public.

Jennie Hawks, open churches project manager, said: "There has been a visible increase in the number of visitors to our gateway churches.

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"Many people forget about the wonderful history that is right on their doorstep and it is nice to see that the open churches project has enabled more visitors to appreciate such a vital part of Norfolk's history.

"I expect open churches to go live across the diocese in late 2008 or early 2009."

The scheme has also encouraged using churches as community resources, and schools are being invited to visit some of the sites, with volunteers being trained to show pupils and visitors around churches and churchyards.

The gateway churches - at Diss, Pulham Market, Loddon, Acle, Ranworth, South Walsham, Martham, Ludham, Caister, Wroxham and Stalham - are all aware that thieves could take advantage of their openness but security measures, such as cameras and securing valuable items, are in place.

Richard Emms, churchwarden of 14th-century St Mary Magdalene in Pulham Market, said: "Since we became a gateway church the number of comments left in our visitors' book has risen sharply.

"Being an open church brings enormous benefits not only to the church but to the local economy and community as well by attracting more visitors."

For more information on the open churches and the location of the pilot gateway churches, call 01379 677843, visit www.norfolkopenchurches.com or e-mail jenniehawks@norwich. anglican.org

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