The Bishop of Norwich helps the village of Foxley celebrate the return of bell-ringing after 60-year absence

The triumphant chimes of church bells rang out as a residents of a quiet mid-Norfolk village celebrated an historic moment for their community.

The bells have remained largely silent at St Thomas' Church in Foxley, near Dereham, for more than 60 years.

But yesterday, following a remarkable three-year fundraising campaign, their dulcet chimes could be heard once more.

The Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, rededicated and rung the bells before a packed church of local villagers and bell-ringers from across the region.

Bishop James, who is patron of the Norwich Diocesan Association of Ringers (NDAR), said: 'Thousand of pounds have been raised to enable this to happen and it has been a remarkable community effort for a very small village.

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'It is great to see and great to be asked to here to become a part of it.

'Now more people can learn to ring and it is a new activity for the village.

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'It is also nice to see part of this church restored.'

It was the second time in the same day that Bishop James rededicated church bells, having earlier visited the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Saxlingham Nethergate.

He said: 'I would say bell-ringing is healthy at the moment but there is a neeed for a new generation of bell-ringers to ensure it remains that way for many years to come.

'Bell-ringing is one of those wonderful activities that brings people of all ages together.

'I remember bell-ringing as a child myself, it was the first activity I felt I was trusted by adults to do.'

The six bells and bell frame at St Thomas' Church in Foxley were cast in Norwich in 1755 but some had cracked and the tower floor was crumbling.

The restoration project was made possible by a huge £45,000 fundraising effort.

Church warden Tony Rushbrook said the community had managed to raise £25,000 before they were awarded a grant for £6,000 from the NDAR.

A final £13,000 was raised in just three days through local fundraising.

The work, by Taylors of Loughborough, started in January last year and a large number of volunteers appeared each day to help the bell hangers.

Mr Rushbrook, who has led the project, even slept in the church on a freezing January night when the bells were taken down, as they had not been insured.

He said: 'The support has been amazing.

'This church goes back more than 1,000 years to Anglo Saxon times and if we did not do projects like this it would just crumble and die.

'It has helped to attract more interest in the church and we have had bell-ringers from across the country come and have a go.

'We have even had one man who has rung at all the towers in East Anglia, come to visit us.

'He tried to ring the bells in Foxley in 1952, but was unable to because they were unsafe.

'He had been waiting 61 years to ring these bells and he can finally tick Foxley off the list.'

The bells were up and ringing again in May but yesterday, they were dedicated again, for the first time in 250 years.

A group of villagers have formed Foxley band.

They are all new ringers and have been helped by tutors.

They now practise every Wednesday evening, ring for services and welcome visiting tower bands each month.

Yesterday's service will also be the last service held in Foxley by Rector David Head who is moving to another benefice in north Norfolk.

He said: 'It was not planned this way but it is a great send off.

'This is a wonderful church and I hope they find a nice new rector.'

Do you know of any remarkable fundraising projects? E mail

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