City shortcut reopens despite church wall damage being 'worse than thought'

St Margaret's Church in St Benedicts Street, Norwich

St Margaret's Church in St Benedicts Street, Norwich PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

A "lifeline" alleyway between a crumbling church wall and an over-55s complex has at last reopened — five months after it was shut for "urgent repairs".

People living of Helgate Court, flanking St Margaret's Alley in Norwich, were unable to use the footpath leading to St Benedicts Street from May to October because St Margaret's Church wall was thought to be at risk of falling down.

Norfolk County Council granted Norwich Historic Churches Trust (NHCT) - the charity which manages the site - permission to close off the alleyway for emergency repairs until November this year.

But as it turns out, the wall damage is far worse than initially believed — and the alleyway was recently reopened without such repairs having taken place.

The footpath has been closed for almost 2 months

The footpath was closed for five months - Credit: Sarah Burgess

A spokeswoman for the charity said: "NHCT is working towards a full repairs project to preserve the Grade I listed medieval church which it is hoped will start in Spring 2022.

"St Margaret's Alley was initially closed due to concerns about damaged wall core which could have caused some of the higher-up flints to fall into the alley below.

"Plans to carry out emergency repairs to this section of walls did not go ahead due to it requiring more extensive repairs than we first thought.

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"Instead, NHCT carried out minor repairs and installed protective scaffolding so access through the alley could be reestablished.

"Full repairs to the wall will be carried out as part of the larger project."

Pauline Taylor, Linda Chilver, Dorothia McGregor, and Mike Ball

From left to right: Pauline Taylor, Linda Chilver, Dorothia McGregor, and Mike Ball. All are unhappy about the closure of their lifeline walkway on St Margaret's Alley. - Credit: Sarah Burgess

Retiree Mike Ball, who in his 70s, said the news had come as a relief to Helgate Court residents.

He said: "The scaffolding will be up there indefinitely now, but it's not causing us an inconvenience the way the blockage was.

"A lot of people here rely on electric wheelchairs and used that alleyway to nip up to St Benedicts Street to do their shopping - it's a bit of a lifeline.

"It was really cavalier the way it was done in the first place. Surely you can't just close off a public highway without notice?

"I know the Historic Churches Trust are doing a good thing in restoring these buildings, but people were really caught out by this."