Norfolk Churches Trust urges fund-raisers to join sponsored cycle ride and walk

The Norfolk Churches Trust has encouraged anyone who cares about the county's historic churches to join a sponsored cycle ride and walk to help fund their upkeep.

The county of Norfolk has one of the largest and finest concentrations of medieval churches in Europe.

But this extraordinary wealth of heritage comes at a cost, as the centuries take their toll on crumbling towers, leaking roofs and rotting floors – as proven by the constant fundraising campaigns in so many parishes.

So next weekend, people of all ages and backgrounds have been urged to take the chance to generate vital money for the upkeep of these impressive landmarks.

Hundreds are expected to dust off their bikes and walking boots to take part in the Norfolk Churches Trust's 29th annual sponsored cycle ride and walk on September 8.

They have been invited to visit as many participating churches and chapels as they can along the route, including some buildings which are not normally accessible to the public – offering a rare opportunity to view their fine architecture and learn about their history.

The Norfolk Churches Trust gives grants to help church communities struggling to maintain and renovate their buildings, often with a small congregation and limited resources. The annual cycle ride and walk aims to raise funds for these grants – with more than �120,000 collected last year. But that is just a fraction of the investment needed to keep Norfolk's churches alive.

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The trust estimates that at least �5m is needed every year for the next five years to cover urgent work alone, with other necessary maintenance costing many millions more.

Geoff Wortley, the trust's county coordinator, said: 'If you want to see the landscape of Norfolk and to help maintain its many fine spires and towers for future generations to enjoy as we have, please join in this year's event.

'I can't claim that Sir Chris Hoy or any of the other Team GB cyclists who brought us such glory in the Olympics ever took part in our ride, but if they wish they can certainly join us. We have some of the best medieval church buildings in Europe and I hope people will want to be a part of this much-loved event.'

Since the trust was founded in 1976 it has awarded �5.5m in grants to boost the countless individual fund-raising campaigns being run by parishes around the county. It is also directly responsible for looking after 13 redundant buildings.

Malcolm Fisher, the trust's company secretary, said: 'There are more than 900 churches in Norfolk, of which 654 are medieval. It is the highest concentration of medieval churches in the world.

'If one can imagine there were no churches in East Anglia, and in Norfolk in particular, it would be an extremely different landscape. Therefore, we have a duty to maintain them.'

A perfect example of the costs involved in maintaining ancient buildings is at St Stephen's Church on Rampant Horse Street in Norwich, which stands at the entrance to the Chapelfield Shopping Centre.

In May 2009, the eastern wall of the church cracked following a burst water main, requiring �1m of repair work after an insurance pay-out.

The church re-opened earlier this year with new underfloor heating, and a restored stained glass east window, while work continues on the next phase of the refurbishment, to install a new kitchen and entrance lobby at a cost of �100,000. Although on course to formally open the new area in November, the church is currently about �67,000 short of its fundraising target.

Church warden Tim Coe, who will join other parishioners in walking between Norwich's nine 'living' medieval churches to raise money next Saturday, said: 'These are marvellous buildings and they are something which are unique to Norwich. So I would encourage people to support this tremendous heritage we have, while we still can.'

The sponsored cycle ride and walk takes place from 9am to 5pm on Saturday, September 8. For more information or an application form, visit norfolkchurchestrust.org.uk or call 01986 798777. Donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/norfolkchurchestrust

COMMENT – Page 30

chris.hill@archant.co.uk

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