St Mary’s: Update On Roof Replacement Project
Our beautiful church has existed in various forms since the 13th century and during that time has seen many changes – both externally and internally – to make it fit for purpose for the age. For example, the Lady Chapel used to be a separate meeting room with an external door, there have been box pews for the landed gentry and the rood screen was added by the Victorians.
In more recent years, the kitchen and toilet facilities have been added. Some of the features which we take for granted now, such as the current pews, have only been added relatively recently. We have now reached a momentous time again when we have the opportunity to plan for the future of our church within the village and we need to make bold decisions.
The professional assessment of our lead and tiled roofs are that they need replacing within the next five years. An experienced lead worker who visited the church in March 2021 with our architect concluded that there are significant signs of corrosion under the lead sheeting on all roofs, with substantial stressing of the lead due to the length of the lead used on the bays and previous temporary repairs. It is also noteworthy that the lead worker said these were the oldest lead roofs he had worked on, and so replacing them was not necessarily surprising.
The tiled Chancel roof will be replaced this autumn once the necessary bat survey has been completed. We are very grateful to the St Mary’s East Bergholt Church Preservation Society (PS) who have agreed to fund this work.
However, the cost of such a huge project cannot be met by the church and the PS alone. We are working towards an application to the National Heritage Lottery Fund (NHLF) for a grant of over £250,000. We will also be applying for smaller grants from other donors, but the NHLF is our biggest source of funding. In addition to grants, we will continue to fundraise ourselves and look forward to resurrecting some of the ideas that we had planned before the pandemic.
Unfortunately, the NHLF will not award a grant just to replace the roofs. To successfully meet their criteria, we will be expected to offer a wider vision for the future of the church. We will need to visualise it as a building that is not only a place of worship but also the centre of our village life, offering a wealth of interest and opportunity to our community, embracing our rich heritage, enhancing the local economy and providing a space that can be utilised in many different ways.
We already have several ideas as to how we can make this happen but a significant reordering of the church will be necessary to achieve our goal. This will undoubtedly mean removing the nave and aisle pews to provide us with the necessary space.
Of course, this is a bold and contentious plan and we understand that this will have a big impact on the internal look of our church. However, done sympathetically (which it will be), it will enhance the existing architectural features of the rood screen and the pillars and provide us with the opportunity to improve accessibility. Every change will necessarily have to be approved by the Diocese, who will require detailed plans.
It is a dramatic plan and involves far more than the roof project. However, without the Lottery grant, we will not be able to afford the roof project and without reordering the church there will be no Lottery grant. Also, without a Lottery grant, it will be more difficult to raise money from other organisations, and with a successful Lottery bid, more grant ‘doors’ will open.
If we do not attend to the roofs now, they will continue to leak, causing more damage to the roof timbers and will soon make the church building unsafe. As wardens, we feel it would be extremely negligent on our part if we were to allow this to happen so we hope that you will support us in our endeavours to keep the church building safe at the heart of village life and, of course, to maintain and improve its purpose as a place of worship.
This is not an overnight project and we recognise that these decisions will need to be discussed at length with our congregation and the wider community, but we do hope we can all move forward together. We feel excited and very ready for this challenge but also daunted at the enormity of it. Rev Steph is wholeheartedly supportive of our plans as she feels the building is there to serve the village, as the congregation is called to do too.
If you feel uneasy about these changes and are concerned about the future of St Mary’s, please contact us about it.
We need to be together on this as a church and village family, helping each other through difficult decisions and enjoying the successes together too.
St Mary’s Church Art Exhibition
Friday 24 – Monday 27 September 2021
This year marks the bicentennial of the completion of The Hay Wain, arguably the most well-known of John Constable’s paintings. He also painted and sketched St Mary’s Church many times so it seemed fitting to make this exhibition a fundraiser for our roof replacement project. The previous lead roof was fitted about 150 years ago, just after Constable’s death in 1837, so it is nearly as old as The Hay Wain and clearly doesn’t owe us a penny!
The exhibition is for all local artists and will include photography, ceramics and crafting as well as painting and sketching. We will be holding a competition for children and hope to find a suitable speaker one evening who can take us through The Hay Wain painting and speak more broadly about John Constable. We have lots of other ideas that are still being planned but it will be a packed four days, and hopefully a most enjoyable exhibition to visit.
If you are interested in exhibiting or wish to have more information, please contact:
Please put these dates in your diaries, and watch out for more information in the July, August and September magazines.
Churchwardens Liz Digby and Fiona Trott