As most people in the village will know, we have been in the throes of applying for a big grant from Heritage Lottery for restoration works in the church. The process of obtaining such a grant is long and time-consuming and involves jumping through what seem at first to be almost impenetrable bureaucratic hoops. We started in 2013 and our first application was rejected. We thought again and clarified a more manageable project and this project was accepted in 2014. Then came the Development Phase, during which tenders were received from architects and an architect appointed, architectural drawings were completed, permission from the Diocesan Advisory Committee sought and obtained, the legal permission for the works obtained from the Diocesan Registrar, tenders invited from contractors and a preferred contractor identified, a heritage plan written – expertly by Keith Hawley – seemingly innumerable costings, management plans, maintenance plans, a five-year forecast of income and expenditure during and after the project – also very expertly produced, this time by our Treasurer, John Luckett. Then there were the bat surveys: one bat was seen to fly out of the south porch on the night of June 6th and one bat flew in under the roof of the south porch at dawn on June 7th. The ecologist I was with was unwilling to identify them as the same bat. I asked whether the required provision of two bat boxes on the oak tree to the south of the church was so that this bat could spend alternate days in each box … the ecologist was not amused. Total bat fees and cost of a Mitigation Licence from Natural England amounts to around £8,000, a disproportionately and scandalous exploitation it would seem.
However, leaving all that aside, the moment for rejoicing has come, for the Final Report and Request for Development Grant has been made (the Submission to be accepted into the Delivery Phase was made back in February); the Start-up Meeting with the Grants Officer has taken place and the Application Form for Permission to Start completed and submitted. Finally, the Permission to Start was signed on 10th August and here we go! Scaffolders will be working in the chancel from Tuesday August 30th setting up scaffold to enable removal of the windows for re-leading and restoration. These windows are Victorian, installed in the 1840s and on the north and south sides of the chancel show the coats of arms for most of the Bishops of Oxford since the see was established and the first bishop appointed in 1542. They are quite unusual because the episcopal coats of arms are set on a backdrop of small diamond panes, each of which has been pressed in high heat so that the flower or other motif in each pane is seen in low relief. The central light of the east window was re-leaded and restored and some of the external stonework replaced a few years ago but the rest of the window will now be removed for restoration.
As the work proceeds, the chancel will be sealed off so that the vault can be attended to: some of the wooden bosses are missing and replacements will be carved and fixed. A new and more sympathetic lighting system will be installed so that we shall be able to look up and actually appreciate the vaulting. The tiled floor will be re-laid so that we shall be able to walk through the chancel without all the current clatter of loose tiles beneath our heels. Damp has affected the plaster on both sides, particularly towards the east end and some removal of plaster and replacement is necessary and then the whole chancel will be redecorated.
The two other areas of work are in the south porch and in the north transept. The old cupboards in the area behind the organ will be removed and in their place an ambulant disabled toilet is to be installed in a sort of pod. New cupboards will be built on either side of it. The condition of the south porch is evident to all who enter the church through it: great cracks have appeared and it seems that the porch is both falling sideways and slipping away from the wall of the south aisle. Similar to the work carried out on the west porch some years ago, the structure will be stabilised by inserting metal rods into the stonework. Some stone will be replaced and the roof reconstructed.
All this means that our much loved and very fine church will be in a mess for the next four or five months and so, thinking that we should attempt to get most of the disruption over at the same time, we are also attempting to raise funds for the conservation and restoration of the west windows during this period. Being exposed to the prevailing rain and wind, they are all leaking and their paintwork deteriorating and they are in urgent need of repair. It would also be good, if we can afford it, to install a serving area in the church. The installation of the toilet will involve connecting up with the mains water supply and sewerage and so it will become feasible to bring running water and water disposal facilities to a servery on the north side of the church. I shall write in more detail about these other projects in a future newsletter.
What will all this cost? Our total grant from Heritage Lottery is in the region of £200,000. The PCC has undertaken to contribute £15,000 and we have already received and spent some £25,000 during the Development Phase, with the PCC again contributing around 5% and, of course, a great deal of voluntary time. Additionally, the West Window Project is estimated to cost around £24,000 and we are busy pursuing other grant resources to help cover this cost. And we must also remember that throughout the past couple of years, Keith Hawley and Waveney Luke have been working hard to build up grant-aid and other funds towards a retuning of the bells and necessary reinforcing of the bell-frame…and that will cost between £80,000 and £100,000.
The PCC is committed to keeping the community informed of what is going on in the church and we shall be inviting anyone interested to come to an evening meeting later in the autumn when the whole project can be presented in more detail. We had hoped to arrange such an evening this month but, as you will have seen, the official go-ahead did not come through until a week or so before my writing of this report. We apologise to all who will be in any way inconvenienced or annoyed by the sounds and sights of restoration work but ask you to rejoice with us that this very necessary work is at last underway.