Prince praises Norfolk charity for work to preserve churches

The Prince of Wales. Picture: Ian Burt

The Prince of Wales. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

A Norfolk heritage charity has been praised by the Prince of Wales for helping to care for the world's largest concentration of medieval churches.

Norfolk Churches Trust hosted its first national conference at Norwich cathedral to discuss the future for isolated rural churches.

Peter Sheppard, the NCT's chairman, welcomed almost 100 delegates and speakers from across the country.

In a message to the conference, Prince Charles, patron of the heritage charity, said: "I'm enormously proud of how much has been achieved over the past 43 years."

Earlier the NCT's president, Lord Dannatt, who opened the conference with the Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Jane Hedges, said that since the charity's formation in 1976 more than £6.5m had been raised to fund conservation work.

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Norfolk has 659 medieval churches and last year, the trust gave more than £182,000 in grants to 48 parishes across the Diocese of Norwich, said Lord Dannatt.

Remote and isolated rural churches urgently need support, said the Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Rev Dr John Inge. In an upbeat speech, he said that many churches were currently in a much better condition than the "parlous state" of two centuries ago.

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However, he stressed that rural churches, which were "the jewel in the crown of the national built heritage" had to have active financial support from central Government.

Dr Inge, who was a former Bishop of Huntingdon, said that the annual cost for long-term backing to maintain and preserve such key heritage buildings would be "peanuts" in the context of total government spending.

"We must continue to make the case for support all levels of government," he added.

Isolated rural churches faced major challenges, said Trevor Cooper, chairman of the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance. Almost 10pc of the country's churches or 1,400 were in communities with a population of under 150 people.

It was not feasible in many remote areas to adapt the church for community uses as often proposed, added Mr Cooper.

It was a point echoed by Matthew McDade, of the Norwich Diocesan Churches Trust. In Norfolk, 50 churches were in communities with a population of less than 50.

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