Plan for church at heart of community

Ambitious plans for a £1m refurbish-ment of a parish church could see it double as a community centre in future. Fundraising efforts to bring in the cash at St Mary's Church in Halesworth will be launched later this year.

Ambitious plans for a £1m refurbish-ment of a parish church could see it double as a community centre in future.

Fundraising efforts to bring in the cash at St Mary's Church in Halesworth will be launched later this year. The town's rector said a wide-ranging consultation would take place to find out what people wanted from the church.

The Rev Edward Rennard, said refurbishing work already under way was just part of a much wider scheme which could cost £1m.

"We are going to consult widely on what St Mary's Church, Halesworth, should look like to be of maximum service to the wider community of the town and surrounding villages, as well as remaining an active place for worship," he said.

"At the moment we have done some basic plasterwork and repair work at the east end, and we have work which resulted from the quinquennial inspection to do this year."

He said the only solution to the church's present problem was to put a new floor in, with underfloor heating, and use the outer aisles with wood and glass to make them meeting rooms. It would mean removing pews and creating a foyer for the church while youth and disabled facilities would also be incorporated.

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"The Georgians and Victorians had some strange ideas about church furniture, and this will be a general re-ordering. It will put the church back to what it was in the 15th century and before," Mr Rennard said.

St Mary's was completed in 1430.

The idea of transforming the church has been put forward before and earlier this year Mr Rennard suggested the town's need for a community centre could be met by the church.

However, the initial response from community leaders in Halesworth was lukewarm and an EDP survey found that about 95pc of residents questioned were in favour of a brand new community centre in the town centre.

Nevertheless, Mr Rennard is determined to move forward.

"Later this year we will launch a major appeal for funds," he said. "It will cost up to £1m. We fully intend doing all that is necessary to make St Mary's an appropriate building for modern use. I would expect the work to be completed within five years."