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Government grant opens way to Christ Church restoration

Christ Church in St Leonards has received a “life-saving” grant from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund which will enable it to start a repair programme on its tower and spire. Nick Terdre reports.

Christ Church, one of St Leonards’ most prominent landmarks and a Grade II* listed building, has received a “life-saving” grant of of £89,000 from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage which will provide most of the funding required for a much-needed repair programme on its tower and spire.

“’This is a wonderful start to our £600,000 programme to restore Christ Church in time for our 150th anniversary in 2025,” said Bishop Peter Wheatley, priest-in-charge. “The building is especially vulnerable to the salt winds off the sea but we are determined to restore it for the benefit of the community for another 150 years.”

Steeplejacks from Heritage Stone Access carry out a close inspection of the spire (photo: Christ Church).

The grant will fund the first of three phases of restoration work planned by the church authorities. In the first ladders will go up on the tower and steeple in December to tackle urgent areas of repair identified by conservation specialists Heritage Stone Access during a comprehensive examination in the summer, Bishop Peter told HOT.

The tower and spire have suffered significant erosion, particularly to the more exposed elevations and higher levels. The inspection was prompted after pieces of stone and metal fell onto the pavement.

A condition of the Culture Recovery Fund grant is that the work must be completed by the end of March. It is a tight deadline but the long-range weather forecast is generally favourable and the main threat is from illness or enforced isolation of Heritage Stone Access’s workforce due to Covid-19, Bishop Peter said. As the tower’s east and north elevations abut pavements on London Road and Silchester Road respectively, these repairs have been given top priority.

This phase has been costed at £120,000, so the shortfall will be made good from church reserves.

“It is a matter throughout of repairing the building where it has weathered over the past 145 years,” Bishop Peter said. “Repairing or replacing stones, raking out and repointing defective joints, repairing or replacing broken windows. The more extreme weather which we are getting with climate change has made these repairs more urgent.

“There is significant erosion, particularly to the more exposed elevations and high levels of the tower and spire. This deterioration allows water and moisture to enter the structure of the building, leading to further deterioration and decay and possible damp penetration into the interior of the Church. Such decay and deep erosion may lead from there to the building’s instability.”

Second and third phases

The second phase of repairs will be to the west and south elevations and the third to the north elevation. The whole programme is costed at £500,000. While further support from the government is hoped for, local fundraising will also be necessary, as well as application to other resources such as the National Heritage Lottery Fund.

Eventually the stopped clock, the faces of which will be taken down for safety reasons in the first phase of work, may be put back in working order. “We hope we might be able to restore the clock in the second phase,” said Bishop Peter, though this will require separate fundraising.

The Culture Recovery Fund grant is also intended to safeguard jobs and offer training opportunities for the development of heritage skills. In this respect Heritage Stone Access have a young man who is currently being given a year of familiarisation with all aspects of heritage work before being offered an apprenticeship. The Christ Church job will provide greater security for the company’s entire team during the current pandemic.

Christ Church is one of 445 heritage sites in England which will share £103m from the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage to fund vital reconstruction work and maintenance.

The church is listed by English Heritage as a “particularly important building of more than special interest.” To obtain the grant it had to show its significance to the local community, such as accommodating homeless people in the winter as well as being open by day for visitors to pray and appreciate its beauty.

Christ Church’s spire – here seen from Warrior Square station – is a prominent landmark in St Leonards (photo: Nick Terdre).

 

Posted 14:42 Friday, Nov 20, 2020 In: Heritage

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