Scheme to save ancient Great Yarmouth graves is the running for Andrwe Lloyd Webber-backed English Heritage award


- Credit: Archant

The restoration of 3,000 Norfolk gravestones has been nominated for a prestigious English Heritage award.


- Credit: Archant

It is hoped that Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust's (GYPT) ambitious cemeteries project – which involves a small army of volunteers repairing grade II-listed monuments in Yarmouth cemetery – will not only save the badly damaged gravestones and tombs from being lost forever but create a new generation of skilled workers.

The scheme is one of only 17 to reach the finals of the English Heritage Angel Awards. The awards, which are backed by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, aim to celebrate the efforts of individuals and local groups who put hours of effort, enthusiasm and endurance into rescuing historic landmarks.

Over the past few decades, monuments were vandalised as the neglected site became overgrown. The GYPT, together with Great Yarmouth Borough Council, secured a £140,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and others to conserve some of the monuments considered most at risk and, to date, 40 have been fully repaired.

A further 500 have been surveyed and recorded and acres of ground cleared of damaging growth.

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Volunteers, who worked through the bitterly cold winter and the recent heatwave, have discovered previously unrecorded monuments and some 20 trainees, who hope the conservation skills they pick up will help them secure work, have been involved since the scheme began last year.

A Friends of the Cemetery group was recently set up for the long-term management of the site and the next stage is to repair a neglected cemetery chapel building for use as a visitor centre.

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Darren Barker, project organiser for the GYPT, said: 'The cemetery is a wonderful 40-acre site representing a rich social and architectural history.

'When we publicised our intentions to reclaim, repair and conserve this important space and to provide meaningful training opportunities, we were inundated with offers of help – this demonstrated the enormous commitment and passion the community has for its heritage.

'Many worked through the last winter enduring temperatures below freezing, refusing to leave until clearance and repairs had been completed.'

Mr Barker said they had far exceeded the initial plans to repair 15 monuments and have created a viable training scheme.

'This training has begun to address the acute skills shortages in the town,' added Mr Barker.

'The success of this project is a testimony to the hard work and determination of the volunteers and trainees, many of whom are long-term unemployed, hard-to-reach groups and the marginalised.'

The nominees will find out if they have won when they attend an awards ceremony in London's West End in October.

Judges include Andrew Lloyd Webber and chief executive of English Heritage Simon Thurley.

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