New lease of life for Yarmouth church sold for just £1
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014
A Great Yarmouth church is the focus of the town's latest regeneration project - establishing a new hub for the creative industries and conservation skills.
St John's Church, a stone's throw from the busy seafront, has been transferred for the sum of £1 to the Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust following five years of negotiations with church leaders.
It means work can start immediately on a £500,000 package of urgent repairs for the flint-faced landmark just as it was on the brink of oblivion with water and pigeons inside.
The main building dates from 1857 with later additions, including an hexagonal vestry, adding to its higgledy-piggledy Victorian charm.
Founded for the beachmen and fishermen in an era when there was little development outside the old town walls and a shanty town of huts along the denes some pews still bear the names of the fisher families they were reserved for.
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The restoration will start in the next and be used as a vehicle for training conservationists with the leaking roof a priority.
Meanwhile heritage experts will put together a bid for further funding.
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The Grade II-listed property, on Lancaster Road and York Road, has not been used for worship for about a decade and is on Great Yarmouth Borough Council's buildings at risk register.
While it is hoped the building will have several community uses, the trust intends to use part of it as a conservation and cultural heritage hub, a dedicated training space where trainees and volunteers from the trust and its new social enterprise company, Norfolk Conservation Ltd, could hone their skills under the guidance of experts.
Darren Barker, the trust's projects director, said: 'The repair and conversion work will be light touch, with minimal intervention, and we hope to involve trainees and volunteers from the community at every stage, right from the surveying and scheme specification, through to the hands-on conservation.
'In the true spirit of the church, we want the project to be totally inclusive, so people can feel they can come along and get involved, whether in a bigger way or a smaller way. Once the urgent repairs are completed, we hope to use the space for small activities, potentially art exhibitions, while undertaking the longer-term planning.'
He added that the much-need rescue had come in the nick of time.
Residential conversion was not an option because of the costs involved and the building couldn't be demolished because it was listed.
Cllr Bernard Williamson, the trust's chairman, said: 'St John's Church represents a great new opportunity for the preservation trust, its trainees and volunteers. We would very much like to thank the Church Commissioners for transferring this charismatic building to our care before it reaches the tipping point of rapid deterioration.
Cllr Barry Coleman, chairman of the economic development committee at Great Yarmouth Borough Council, a key partner of the trust, said: 'St John's Church is one of Great Yarmouth's landmark historic buildings at risk and, as the Fishermen's Church, it has a link to our herring trade.
'The trust is just at the start of the process, but we should see some improvements to the building in the coming months and I have every confidence that this is another heritage project that will bring external investment into the local economy and really involve the community.'
Canon Chris Terry, the Team Rector of Great Yarmouth, said: 'The parish is delighted that a new use had been found for the building. St John's occupies a special place in the hearts of many people in Great Yarmouth. The chance to train young people in the heritage conservation skills not only increases opportunities for them but also provides new people to help maintain the historic fabric of many other churches and heritage buildings.'
Anyone interested in volunteering with the project should contact Darren Barker via firstname.lastname@example.org