Gallery: Historic St Mary’s church at Erwarton is preserved for generations to come thanks to the dedication of parishioners
- Credit: Su Anderson
Once in danger of crumbling, the tower of an historic Suffolk church has been saved for future generations.
And it’s thanks to a passionate and dedicated congregation who refused to be daunted by a bill for more than £130,000.
They all knew the tower needed repairs.
The ancient stonework was crumbling, the steps of the spiral staircase were a bit flaky, and the tower was a problem that couldn’t be put off much longer
And with a congregation of about 12, worshipers at St Mary’s in Erwarton weren’t surprised to find out that urgent repairs were needed following an inspection in late 2011.
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June Pendle is the treasurer for the St Mary’s parochial church council (PCC) – the body that looks after the maintenance of the building.
She said: “We had a quinquennial inspection which said if the tower wasn’t repaired in the next two years it wouldn’t be safe and would have to be roped off. It would be close to collapse.”
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June said by then the stonework on the ancient tower – thought to date from the 15th Century – was clearly crumbling and needed replacing.
She said: “We knew it was in need of repair but we didn’t realise how urgent it was. In early 2012 we decided we needed to start doing something about raising some money.”
The PCC and congregation never entertained the idea of declaring the village church redundant. Instead June and the PCC set about finding more than £130,000 to keep the church open.
June said: “The church means a great deal to the entire congregation. It is part of people’s lives and an important historical building. We knew we needed to raise more than £130,000 and it was a daunting prospect. And we knew it would take some time.”
Approaching a number of charitable trusts and organisations, the PCC waited to see what the response would be.
June said: “We were amazed when the money started to come in. By the end of 2012 we knew we would be getting around £75,000 from English Heritage. We heard on Christmas Eve which was a wonderful Christmas present.”
Other funding sources – including waste firm Viridor’s credits scheme which donated £25,000 – began to come in.
June said: “By the end of 2013 we knew we had enough funding and we would need to do a bit of fundraising ourselves as well.”
The congregation organised concerts, hosted a visiting play, held a spud bash, and even a 100th birthday party for the church’s organ to raise money for the tower.
June, who has worshipped at St Mary’s for more than 20 years, said: “The community pulled together and people were keen to help.”
By the end of 2013 preparation work to make the repairs was under way and in 2014 the bulk of the work was carried out.
June said: “The work was finished in September 2014. It was thrilling when it was finished. We were all relieved but amazed at what we had achieved. The tower is secure now for the next 100 years and we have just celebrated the project with a special service.”
Famous for its links with Anne Boleyn – legend has it her heart was buried there after her execution in the 1530s – St Mary’s at Erwarton has a high number of visitors interested in the story.
It’s a legend that June admits did no harm when it came to fundraising.
Val Mann, PCC secretary for the last 25 years, said: “There is a history of 700 years of worship in this place. The church has been cared for by generation after generation and it is a very special place. People come here from all over the world due to the Anne Boleyn connection. We all felt it must be kept open for people to pray here, reflect and enjoy.”
Reverend Liesbeth Oosterhof is the rector of the shoreline benefice which includes St Mary’s at Erwarton. She paid tribute to the PCC and congregation.
She said: “I am delighted the tower has been repaired. The PCC, and June especially, has done a remarkable job and raised a great deal of money. There has been huge support from the wider community as well which has been great. There is a great deal of affection for this church here in Erwarton.”
Churchwarden and reader Wendy Sadler said: “I have been worshipping here since I was 15 and I am now 72. We are very pleased the tower is repaired and we are able to keep the church open for future generations. It was a bit daunting to begin with. We have no other public buildings in Erwarton so it is also a community asset.”
Doreen Bacon has recently been recruited to the PCC.
She said: “I am absolutely thrilled. I would have hated to have seen the church become redundant. It is such a lovely place to come to.”