Alnham Restoration Project

Alnham Church Update

As many will know Alnham received the go ahead from the National Lottery Fund back in July to commence the work on the church.

The whole project can perhaps be split into 4 stages, some run concurrently, some consecutively.

Stage 1.

We are currently undertaking stage one which is all the investigational work into the precise structural condition of St Michael’s Alnham. As such the following surveys have taken place, all of which have or will be funded by the heritage lottery fund.

  • A full structural survey. This involved inspecting the roof and roof space, the extent of damp penetration into the church, the extend of infestation   of woodworm and rot, examination of joists, timbers and beams. As yet we have not received the report from the engineer so cannot say with any certainty what the findings are other than what we saw whilst he was undertaking the survey. The roof looked structurally sound; there is felt lining under the stone slates; the roof space is boarded out and the beams in the roof space relatively new and in good condition. There is rot and wood worm in the dry lining of the church and wood boring weevils have attack the joists on which the pew plinths sit. There is woodworm in the pews and alter furniture. We hope the engineer will make recommendations as to the best way forward with necessary repairs.

Whilst undertaking this survey the two remaining gable crosses were removed as they we unsafe. Both crosses are now situated in the church until we know if they are repairable or need renewing altogether. If they cannot be repaired we can keep them and put them on display along with the Roman grinding wheels given to us by the National Park which were found on the hill.

  • An electrical survey. This involved a wiring and a lighting survey and when we have the report we hope it will tell us what needs to be done to bring the church up to date electrically to make the best use of li ght not to mention ensure we have safe wiring that meets our needs.
  • A bat survey. We do have bats which will effect when and how we do any structural repairs. We have not yet received this report either!
  • A environmental survey. This is to ascertain the water supply into the church and the drainage away from the church. Again, we are awaiting the report.
  • A tree survey/external survey. This looked at the church yard and the condition of the trees therein. The report has recommended that there is some pruning of all the trees to make them safe. Sadly the two beech trees along the south wall of the church yard are rotten – the one to the left of the lytch gate whilst looking at the church and the one 3rd to the right of the lytch gate. The former has been recommended to be felled before it falls down, the latter may be saveable with some significant pruning. We won’t know this for certain until some of the limbs are removed to ascertain the level of rot. It is very sad that such beautiful trees should be felled but it has been suggested that we could make something out of any the timber when they are so we have a lasting memorial.

This survey also found that the beech tree to the left of the lytch gate has pushed against the gate so distorting it. The timbers in the gate also have woodworm. For the safe felling of this tree the lytch gate will have to be taken down, treated and then re-erected. It is clear that that the church path is inaccessible for wheelchair and other less able users.

The east wall of the church yard has kindly been repaired by Johnny and Jenny Sordy but further work to this may be needed to make the church yard sheep proof – without the sheep it would be an impossible task to keep all the grass down!

 

  • A heating feasibility study. The current heating is grossly inefficient with two 1950s GEC blowers operating on unsafe wiring. A whole host of options have been examined from renewable heating systems such as ground source, air source and biomass, electrical heating and oil fired heating system. Again we have not yet received the written report but it is likely that any new system will have a large capital cost which we will need to seek funding for.

When we are in receipt of all these reports we will be far better placed to examine the options for the way forward and come to a decision collectively on how we all see the future of St Michaels not just structurally but how the church is used and made use of. We will maintain communication and regular updates through email, Over the Bridges, website, twitter and consultations. Whatever that outcome it is clear that the church is in need of a great deal of repair work if it is going to survive into the future. It is also clear that we will need all the necessary permissions both from the church authorities and from English Heritage as the church is a grade 1 listed building. We are working closely with both every step of the way; we are in regular contact with English Heritage and are having the DAC committee (the planning committee for the church) coming to see the church for themselves on Tuesday 20th October.

 

Stage 2.

Once we have decided the best way of tackling the problems the church faces and have all the necessary permissions in place we can start the repair work to the church; it is inevitable that we will see some disruption for a relatively short period both inside. Again it will be funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund with 16% of the grant being available for new works. This would leave us sufficient money for a proper loo and kitchen, situated in what is now the vestry making the church a better place for all users and opening up a whole host of other fund raising opportunities for us.

The National Park have already funded a stand alone computer and BT have agreed to install wifi free of charge which will give us a fantastic opportunity to make the church an information point for groups and individuals be they occasional visitors wanting a weather report, a school group undertaking outdoor education or individuals seeking help from the Samaritans, Farming Network Crisis or CAB. This work will be undertaken at the same stage as the repairs along with the necessary work to the church yard and the trees.

We will obviously try to avoid undertaking any work at busy times such as over Christmas and we have had offers of other venues should the church be unusable for any period.

Stage 3

Stage 3 is the installation of a new heating system whatever that may be. This stage will hopefully run concurrently with any major building work in stage 2 to minimise disruption. One of the problems we currently have with the church is that the heating goes on and off, expanding and contracting the stone work causing mild structural damage each time we heat the church. This mild damage over a period of time accumulates into serious damage A cold church is no good to any one – especially for service. At the moment we can’t even have a bible in church as it is too damp. A constant back ground temperature would both protect the structure of the church and make it welcoming all year round. There is inevitably a cost to this both in terms of a capital cost and additional running costs. We are confident that any capital cost could be covered by grants; the additional running costs though have to be taken into account or we are no further forward. A warm church would see an increased usage and with a little bit of imagination we may be able to up our income through sales of local produce, sales of literature, local DVDs, additional fund raisers in the church such as concerts and dinners, equipment rental and hire charges. It is hard to know what the additional cost may be until we receive the feasibility survey but nothing should be ruled in or out at this stage.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is the really exciting part of the whole project where we make the church both the focus of the community and a resource centre for the whole community and provide the church with as much or as little equipment as we are able to source finance for. It is clear from our own church lunch that there is no one place in our community where a marquee, tables, chairs, cutlery, crockery, glasses can be obtained free of charge for a community event. If we were able to stock the church with equipment such as this then not only do we have it for our own use but we can aid other community organisations with their activities, and if private individuals would like to hire the equipment it helps boost our income.

If we want to help promote the area to attract visitors who in turn will boost local holiday lets and B&B bookings, spend in local shops, make use of rural pubs we can tap into finance that will ensure the church is a local information centre, with wifi, internet access, retail opportunities such as local produce, literature and DVDs – all supporting our own income and promoting the area into the bargain. Internet connection at the church would have a wide variety of uses be it a visitor just checking on the weather forecast before setting out on a walk, or research family history or local heritage, or an individual seeking help for what ever reason from Farming Crisis Network for example, or the Samaritans or CAB, or a group come to learn more about our history, heritage and happenings all around us.

With the right equipment the church has the ability to be used as a conference centre or meeting place with widescreen TV, IT equipment, projector and sound bars. Not just allowing a commercial opportunity for us but also a educational one.

We can extend this further and encourage school trips with learning facilities geared towards key stages of the national curriculum in art music, history, science and RE, all based on Alnham and its surrounds. Funding is available to develop and deliver this and so we can take the opportunity to reach out to others, developing a better understanding of rural life with the next generation of voters and politicians.

As mentioned above we will have the opportunity to extend our own activities promoting local artists through exhibitions, show case local talent with concerts and performing arts, establish adult learning of rural crafts, have the potential for exercise classes and children’s play.

With stage 4 the sky is the limit. We are bounded only by our imagination and by what we are prepared to do to establish better community cohesion and assist others who in turn benefit our local economy and enrich our own extended community