Work to regenerate fire-hit Carleton Rode church due to begin
Church officials have spoken of their excitement as work to reinvigorate an historic rural chapel which was devastated in an arson attack more than two years ago finally gets underway.
Builders are due to arrive at Carleton Rode Baptist Church, near Attleborough, on October 31 to begin an extensive �180,000 project aimed not just at repairing the damaged building, but also incorporating facilities which will transform the church into a new social hub for the wider community.
The plans include a coffee bar and patio area, a meeting room for youth clubs and community groups, an office, modern seating in the main hall, new toilets, and a kitchen suitable for serving lunches.
The work should take 12 weeks to complete and will be ready in time for the church's 200-year anniversary celebrations in June.
Rev Mark Taylor, Pastor of Carleton Rode Baptist Church, said: 'There are a lot of families who have a long connection with the church. For everyone it was really sad when the fire happened but right from the outset we said something good has got to come out of this.
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'It's like the Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times, it was the worst of time, and it really has been.'
Parts of the church were destroyed in June 2009 when the building was torched by arsonists.
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The damage led to the suspension of a youth club, called The Loft, and the congregation was moved to village halls at Carleton Rode and neighbouring Bunwell.
Evening services began at the church in January last year, but worshippers continue to be displaced due to the acts of vandals who have smashed windows and even stolen the building's outdoor portable toilet.
But over the last two and a half years, the congregation has rallied behind its stricken church and donated more than �50,000 towards its regeneration, while the rest of the required funds have come from a loan and grants.
Rev Taylor said he had been 'overwhelmed' by the support shown by the community.
He said: 'We said to the congregation if you're committed to see this coming into being then you have to be committed in prayer, committed in the time you can give and - you can't escape it - there also needs to be a financial commitment.
'I think the church has really stepped up to the mark. It's impressive that people have just given so much.'
He added: 'There is a sense of excitement. We have waited a long time for this.
'We want this to be a positive presence within the community, not just a building for people who come to worship here on Sunday morning and Sunday night.'