Urgent bid to repair Halesworth church ahead of regeneration work

Emma Healey and Ann Wilkinson inside St Mary's Church in Halesworth. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Emma Healey and Ann Wilkinson inside St Mary's Church in Halesworth. PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Urgent action is needed to save a Halesworth church say a dedicated group of volunteers fighting to regenerate it.

St Mary's Church, Halesworth.

St Mary's Church, Halesworth. - Credit: Nick Butcher

A major restoration project is underway at St Mary's Church with the ultimate goal of making the building more open and accessible for both worship and community use.

And the church regeneration group says progress is being made behind the scenes to make that vision a reality, but before any improvements can be made, work must be carried out to fix some of the church's serious problems including poor guttering and drainage which has caused damp inside the church, along with issues with window mullions and stonework.

The group put in a bid for Heritage Lottery Funding which it hoped would cover most of the £1.5m costs of the project, but was unsuccessful.

St Mary's regeneration project coordinator Emma Healey said: 'It was a setback, but it has helped us. Of course it's disappointing not to get Heritage Lottery Funding but we know we can go back to them with the right bid.

Supporters of the St Mary's Church regeneration project outside the church.

Supporters of the St Mary's Church regeneration project outside the church. - Credit: Nick Butcher

'It's helped us really understand what our priorities must be.'

And while the daily life of the church is able to continue, the flurry of activity masks a serious problem.

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'I'm full of admiration for people like the church wardens and members of the church council and the Friends of St Mary's who put in a huge amount of work behind the scenes to keep it going,' she said. 'But however much they do, the fabric of the building is letting us down.'

The regeneration group is preparing to submit more applications for funding, including a bid to the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund, a government pot of money covering the cost of urgent repairs to roofs and rainwater disposal systems.

At a meeting in the church hall on Wednesday, friends of the church, donors and other interested parties heard an update on what had been happening since the project was first announced.

Eventually, the church will have toilet facilities, running water, and underfloor heating and the pews will be taken out to open up the church space.

Chairman of the Friends of St Mary's Ann Wilkinson said: 'Up until now we have been really raising the profile of the project and getting the community interested in it. We've been doing a lot of promotional work along with other community organisations.

'Part of the regeneration is to bring schools and children in, but the lack of facilities prevents us from doing that.

'Luckily we're in a community that's very generous and giving, but it's also a community where there are a lot of projects and there's a finite amount that everybody can contribute to each project.'

St Mary's is already home to an East Suffolk Foodbank drop in, and the church is working on a partnership with Suffolk Mind to provide wellbeing services to vulnerable members of the community.

Blyth Valley Team Ministry Vicar the Rev Jan Bunday said: 'We support young families and we work with elderly people who live insolated lives and we support them in so many different kinds of ways.

'There's momentum here, the project is moving, we have stages and goals in place. We're bidding for pots of money and money is coming in.'

It is hoped restoration would be underway by the end of the year.

Anyone interested in joining the Friends of St Mary's, holding a fundraiser or making a donation can contact the church office on 01986 875 941 or search for Friends of St Mary's Halesworth on Facebook.