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Tiny thatched Suffolk church stands proud again

PUBLISHED: 18:00 30 April 2010 | UPDATED: 10:27 01 July 2010

Mark Boggis

After more than 700 years as a place of worship, St Michael's Church in Rushmere, between Beccles and Lowestoft, stands tall and proud once again thanks to nearly 20 years of community fundraising.

Two decades ago, the future of the historic thatched church in the tiny north Suffolk hamlet of Rushmere looked bleak.

Now after more than 700 years as a place of worship, St Michael's Church in Rushmere, between Beccles and Lowestoft, stands tall and proud once again thanks to nearly 20 years of community fundraising.

Back in 1992, the Rushmere Parochial Church Council (PCC) was set up as the village, with a population of just 60, sought to bring St Michael's back to life.

Lucy Budgen, PCC secretary and treasurer, said: “It is a very, very old building, which was virtually redundant. The roof was unsafe and it was a case of the parish deciding if they wanted to let it go to ruin or not. They didn't, so we took it on.”

Since then, countless hours have been put into transforming the picturesque church and reviving it from centuries of neglect.

New reeds were brought in to re-thatch the roof, internal walls were repaired and re-plastered, old flooring was replaced, damaged pews were renovated, and outside new church gates and a flagpole were installed.

More than £35,000 has been spent restoring the medieval church - boosted by a host of fund-raising events including cricket matches, flower festivals and special suppers. Locals' efforts have been aided by donations and grants including £9,000 from the Norfolk Churches Trust and £7,500 from the Suffolk Historic Churches, among others.

Mrs Budgen said: “Everyone in the village has helped out and nothing has been too much trouble for anyone - it has been a real community based effort and it is what the church is all about.”

But disaster struck when the thatched roof started to leak during a thanksgiving service in October last year which had been organised to celebrate the completion of the work.

She said: “The leak was getting pretty bad and although the main roof was ok, the ridge had worn through. We decided we couldn't afford to rest on our laurels and that immediate repairs were needed.”

Fortunately the villagers' prayers were answered as The Norfolk Churches Trust and the Suffolk Historic Churches came to the rescue once more, and help was also kindly given by Waste Recycling Group (WREN), which donated half the money needed to shore up the leaking roof.

Now up to six services a year are held at the church and it has also recently hosted two local weddings.

Mrs Budgen said: “It has been quite a labour of love. We are such a small community in a very rural setting, and the church has a big say in what happens locally. We've still got lots we want to do but to be honest I never thought we would get this far.”

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