Norwich city centre church hoping to reopen after two years of repairs

A church which has been closed for almost two years after a burst water main damaged its foundations and left part of it perilously close to collapse is hoping to re-open in 2012.

Medieval St Stephen's Church in Rampant Horse Street, close to the Chapelfield Shopping Centre in Norwich city centre, was forced to close in October 2009.

A large crack had been spotted in the wall of the church earlier that summer following a water main burst in Malthouse Lane.

It forced the church to close for vital repairs to stop the east wall from collapsing and it was initially thought it would re-open within about six months.

Twenty-two months later and scaffolding which surrounded the east end of the church has finally been taken down, after tonnes of concrete were poured into the ground to stablise the building.

New limestone paving has been put in, the crack has been repaired, three new toilet cubicles provided and the stained glass east window, parts of which dated back to the 16th century, will soon be put back in place after being painstakingly restored.

The font still needs to be moved, the Victorian reredos, which is a type of altarpiece, will be put back in a slightly different position and more efficient lighting and underfloor heating will be installed.

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The pews are also set to be removed and replaced with benches and chairs, which will mean the church is better suited to concerts and other events.

All that means the congregation, which has been meeting at Chantry Hall while the church has been closed, should be able to return to St Stephen's next year.

Rev Madeline Light, priest-in-charge at St Stephen's, said: 'We are hoping to be back in next spring or early summer, which will be three years since the crack was discovered.

'The elderly people in the congregation in particular are pining to be able to come back to their church.

'Ironically, it's been a very good time for the congregation, in that we are getting new people joining us, because they are interested in how the church relates to the modern city.'

A considerable amount of the cost of repairing and revamping the church has been covered by insurance, but the church still contributed just under a quarter of a million pounds and Mrs Light thanked her congregation for the generosity they had shown in helping raise money.

The church has become more accessible in recent years. The churchyard was once overgrown but the opening of Chapelfield and the creation of a route to and from the shopping centre which passes right by the church's entrance helped open it up to new visitors.

That path was recently relaid by Norwich City Council to help cope with the thousands of people which walk past the church each day.

With St Stephen's so close to the heart of Norwich's shopping area, its cafe, which has also been closed since last October, was always popular. And Mrs Light said the cafe will re-open along with the church, in a different part of the church, but still offering drinks, cakes and a listening ear six days a week.

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