A MORPETH minister is hoping to raise the roof in a church restoration project with a difference.
Mike Willis, who serves the New Life Christian Centre in Dacre Street, has been enchanted by the building’s beautiful oak-beamed ceiling and lofty stained glass windows since he came to the town 20 years ago.
However, few others have noticed the delightful features as they have been hidden by a 1970s suspended ceiling.
But soon the original splendour could be revealed, with plans to pull down the false ceiling when repairs are carried out to stonework.
Mr Willis said: “I have been wanting to do this for a long time. I thought it was a great idea for many years, but it has never been practical until now.
“We have some cracks in the arch at the front of the church so we have to take the suspended ceiling out for that. We have talked about it as trustees and feel it is something we would really like to do.
“The church was built in 1898 and one of the things that started us off on this was a report in the Morpeth Herald from the time that described the building as a ‘handsome little church’.
“It will be nice to take the suspended ceiling off and really enhance the features it has.”
However, not all of the project will be about looking to the past as Mr Willis also has plans to add some modern features, such as a lighting rig.
And there will be no return of old pews or the church organ.
“We want to have the best of the 19th Century, the features and the windows and the beams, but also the best of the 21st Century, making a modern building. It would be quite swish,” said Mr Willis.
“We are not going to be putting pews back in, it will still be a very flexible space. The basic structure will be there, but we won’t be putting the organ back in because we don’t use it, we use drums and guitars and keyboards.
“It is about restoring the building to its former beauty and doing it sensitively, but also having something that can function. What we would really like to see is the building being used every day.”
The minister hopes that the project will enable a wider range of activities to be provided at the church, including weddings, but it will be left to the community to decide how it will be used.
“We want to enhance the building so that we can use it for things across the community, like our Wednesday lunch clubs and keep-fit classes, and it would be nice to do weddings as well. We can look at what our options are,” said Mr Willis.
“We need to find out what the needs of the community are. When we helped out after the flood we didn’t just do what we thought the community needed, we went to meetings and listened to what was being said and when people identified the need for a drop-in centre for people to come to, that is when I volunteered our building.
“We thought a mother and toddler group might be a good idea, but there might be enough of those already. We are going to talk to people about what their needs are.”
The overall project is expected to cost between £60,000 and £100,000, but while the church currently has funds of just around £4,000 Mr Willis is not worried about finding the cash.
“You just never know what is going to happen,” he said.
“We got our new kitchen in an unusual way when Noel’s Christmas Presents came in.
“That wasn’t on my radar at all so I’m really quite comfortable about the money. In my view, we have seen God move in an amazing way, out of nowhere we got a £20,000 kitchen. Even though we are looking for £100,000, it is not millions and I think it is a realistic target for us.”
He added: “People are quite supportive about our plans. We have lifted roof tiles up so people can have a look up and get an impression of what the church could look like. They can see the potential and they are really quite excited about it.”
Mr Willis is keen to see old pictures of the church and what it looked like before the 1970s ceiling was installed. Anyone who can help can contact him on 01670 511778.