Final funding push begins

THE final funding push is under way to make one of Morpeth’s oldest buildings fit for the 21st century.

Parishioners at St Mary’s Church, which dates back to the 12th century, decided seven years ago that a series of improvements needed to be made to the historic building if it was to serve as the heart of the community.

But a series of thefts and vandalism, including damage to its ancient door and rare Jesse window, meant thousand of pounds collected for the work had to be diverted to pay for repairs.

Now, however, the momentum is building once again and the church is just £20,000 short of its £100,000 target to begin the renovations.

Rector’s warden Sally Keith said: “St Mary’s plays such an important role not just for the parish, but for Morpeth as a whole.

“It is one of the oldest buildings in Morpeth and one of the best preserved medieval churches in Northumberland.

“We have a lot of people coming to the church for weddings and baptisms and so on, but it would be nice to have more people using the church and coming along to see it, which this work will allow.

“We were so close to our target, but then the money had to be used. We have a grant from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport through the diocese for about £18,000, but we are still this further £20,000 short so we are really trying to have a big push now. We have already done a lot of fund-raising and the church has had lots of things, such as coffee mornings, but now we have the final bit of the fund-raising appeal.”

Work planned for the church includes creating a new door in the north aisle to provide disabled access, adding a lobby, new kitchen, servery and toilet, and making a meeting and education space.

After this, parishioners will set about raising further funds for new heating and lighting systems.

Mrs Keith said: “We really want to try to make the church more accessible.

“At the moment people come into the church at the south side, through the 14th-century door, but there are steps down into the church, which means anybody with a buggy, or a wheelchair, or anybody who is a bit unsure on their feet, finds it difficult to get in.

“We are going to add a new door on the north side, opposite that entrance, that will give us level access to the church.

“The idea of the education space is because we would like to be able to share the heritage of the church because it is such an unusual building and it is so old. We want to encourage more people to visit the church and look at the building, and maybe we can work with schools and people interested in the history of the church to find out more about it.”

In creating the new features, the parishioners are keen that none of the character of the building will be lost.

“There won’t be partitions or anything like that. There will be some glass part of the way down, but that is it. It is a Grade I-listed building so we have to be careful about what we do, but we want to be very careful anyway and look after the church because it is so special,” said Mrs Keith.

She added: “There has been a feeling that we have been so near, but so far for so long and when you get so many setbacks you really can feel quite despondent and think it is never going to happen, but now the momentum is coming back for the project and parishioners are starting to get excited.”

To give people the chance to see the unique building for themselves, the church will be open every Saturday this summer, culminating in the Heritage Open Days from September 6 to September 9.

Visitors will be able to view its ancient features, including the stunning stained glass Jesse window in the chancel, which is considered one of the most important examples of medieval glass in the north of England, and parishioners will be at hand to answer any questions about the church.

The church will be open on Saturdays, from 10am to 4pm.

For more information about the appeal contact Morpeth Parish Office on 01670 503326, or email frances@majorringer.plus.com