Owner of Thetford church worries over security after break-ins

St Mary the Less Church in Thetford. Picture: Matthew Usher.

St Mary the Less Church in Thetford. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The owner of a 14th century church is becoming increasingly worried about its safety after two men labelling themselves 'explorers' trespassed onto the property.

Jenny Freeman bought the church of St Mary the Less in Thetford last year after it had lain derelict for more than a decade.

The chapels expert is hoping to convert the grade II listed building in Bury Road, but is worried about the possibility of it being damaged or vandalised after a photographer from Norfolk-based group UK Uncovered went into the church for a look around – and then returned with a friend.

Dr Freeman said she has contacted the police about the incidents, during which she said the intruders had 'made a mess of the church' and opened its burial vaults.

'What would really worry me is if people started doing damage to the property. There have been problems with drug users in the past in the burial grounds and problems with vandalism.


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'It's absolutely infuriating. I'm seeing photos all over the internet and it's very annoying.

'I'm going for a crisis meeting there with English Heritage this month and I hope this will encourage them to make a decision very quickly.

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'The building is very heavily secured, but it is always possible for people to get in if they are determined. There are one or two local people who have promised to keep an eye on it for me,' she said.

She added there had recently been more public access to the burial grounds while she 'put together a scheme' for its conversion, which she is working on with Breckland Council. An architect has since been to the church to secure its entrance.

UK Uncovered has photographers based around the country who explore heritage or 'lost' sites.

Team leader Lee Lewis filmed and photographed his exploration of St Mary the Less and its burial grounds. The footage attracted attention on Facebook, particularly from local people interested in the fate of the derelict building, which listed on both English Heritage and Norfolk County Council's Buildings at Risk list.

Mr Lewis, from Brandon, said he had gone to the church after being asked to do so by some local residents, but said it had been a building of interest to him before.

The videos have attracted interest from some in the field of church and historic building conservation.

Mr Lewis, whose video tour of Thetford's former Cottage Hospital also went viral, is a qualified photographer and describes himself as 'an explorer, not a historian'.

What do you think? Email bethany.whymark@archant.co.uk.

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