Norfolk church restored to its former glory

A historic church in the heart of the Broads has celebrated its first service in more than a year following a �200,000 project to save it from a damp-induced decline.

More than seven centuries old, St Edmund's Church, in Thurne, faced an uncertain future because of a degraded roof that let water through, causing lasting internal damage.

However, following two years of hard work, dedication and craftmanship it is once again open for holy communion – with an eagerly-awaited visit from the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, planned for early next year.

Rev Jeanette Crafer has been church rector for nearly seven years and said: 'Before the work there was no ceiling in one part, you could see exposed woodwork and muck was constantly flowing down. We even had a pair of Egyptian geese nesting.'

However, it took an inspection by Norwich-based conservation architect Nicholas Warns, three-and- a-half years ago, for the scale of the problem to truly emerge. The results were startling.

The �209,000 project meant an extensive redesign of the roofing that saw the ceiling raised, stainless steel ties to pull the roof together and new oak beams.

The key element, however, was to change the pitch of the thatch roof from 32 degrees to 45 to allow water to run off.

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'Our hearts sank when we heard the news, but Nicholas was supportive and worked with us,' said Rev Crafer, who cares for the site with church wardens Pat George and Pauline Parker.

'The way we looked at it was that it's our duty to preserve this beautiful church because it is a place of pilgrimage and we were determined that it needed to be sound and secure.'

Grants and donations provided a funding lifeline – the most significant of which was �160,000 from English Heritage, and it was following a year of planning that Mr Warns, his team and Phoenix Builders set out to save the church. Nine months on, and work has progressed rapidly, allowing for the Sunday service.

Mr Warns, 51, said: 'It's a very important church historically, and with it's position in the landscape and atmosphere I was taken with it. I remember coming here on a school trip and when you enter it almost sends a shiver down your spine.'

'We took the scaffolding down a few weeks ago and it's always exciting when that happens because you're never quite certain if it will look like the drawings but it's lovely and I'm very pleased.'

Alongside drainage to complete, the church still needs to raise �15,000 to cover the costs. There is also the matter of a replacing another section of roofing, with costs estimated at �100,000.

However, for the time being those involved have the bishop's visit in February to look forward to, as well as a deep sense of satisfaction about what has been achieved.

Pat George, who is also secretary of the Parochial Church Council, added: 'I am elated with the work that has been done, and we just hope it will last a long time.'

To donate towards the restoration efforts, call Rev Jeanette Crafer on 01493 740240.