Village church at Forncett St Mary makes a Christmas comeback

From left, Paul Smith, Graham Prior and Paul Blake at Forncett St Mary Church. Picture: STUART ANDER

From left, Paul Smith, Graham Prior and Paul Blake at Forncett St Mary Church. Picture: STUART ANDERSON - Credit: Archant

In an age when all too many churches are falling out of use, it's refreshing to see one make a come back against the odds.

Forncett St Mary Church. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

Forncett St Mary Church. Picture: STUART ANDERSON - Credit: Archant

Just 10 years ago Forncett St Mary Church was almost physically inaccessible, its grounds overgrown with blackthorn and its windows and doors broken and boarded up.

But hard work, community spirit and some generous donations has turned the church around, and last weekend it hosted its first Christmas cabaret show.

More than 70 people attended two 'Step into Christmas' shows featuring about 20 amateur performers from across south Norfolk.

There were popular Christmas songs, carols, a Bible reading and a stirring rendition of The Night Before Christmas.

Forncett St Mary Church. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

Forncett St Mary Church. Picture: STUART ANDERSON - Credit: Archant


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Paul Blake, the show's director, said he was impressed with the efforts by Graham Prior, the chairman of the church's friends group, and his wife, May, to restore the church.

He said: 'When I heard about what Graham and May were doing I thought this would be the perfect place to have a Christmas show.

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'It's a way of putting a bit of money back into he village for what they've done because they've done an amazing job.

'We're really chuffed with the results.'

The medieval church is set on a gentle slope overlooking the Tas Valley. It went into redundancy in 1985 - the last service having been held six years before.

So in 2007 Mr Prior set out to breathe new life into the building, and a Norfolk County Council grant to replace the wooden floor followed in 2009.

Efforts by the friends group - now about 100 strong - raised more funds, and soon after came a £160,000 grant from English Heritage Lottery.

Mr Prior said: 'I couldn't bear to see the church fall into such a state of disrepair.'

The building has become something of a community hub, and has hosted weddings as well as every kind of event from fashion shows to an antiques valuation day.

Mr Prior said: 'Everyone has said how fantastic the church is looking now.'

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