Decaying churches in Norfolk and Suffolk face major challenges to ensure future

2015 Heritage at Risk List. Denton Church. Johnnie Carslake looks at water damage. ANL-151021-153811005

2015 Heritage at Risk List. Denton Church. Johnnie Carslake looks at water damage. ANL-151021-153811005

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Parishes in south Norfolk and north Suffolk face major challenges to address the future of their churches, after a national register deemed another set of historic buildings at serious risk of degradation.

Five more churches across the Diss Express area have been placed on Historic England’s Heritage At Risk Register, a list published this week which highlights Grade I and II listed buildings in poor condition that require solutions and funding to carry out urgent repairs.

Among those listed in Norfolk is the Church of St Mary in Denton, a 13th Century structure needing approximately £220,000 to address issues including roof leaks and rising damp - problems which the church rector, Reverend Chris Hutton, said were “no secret”.

Rev Hutton told the Diss Express: “Denton is a brilliant village because it’s very community minded. Maintenance wise, they are very generous. But as you can understand, it’s no small amount to raise.

“Because it’s Grade I listed, these things add up very quickly. You can’t use modern materials - you have to replicate the original materials.”

He explained the action plan for doing these repairs now rested on next month’s decision over their application seeking a substantial Heritage Lottery grant, which could also help fund greater access to the church for wheelchair users.

Another new entry on the register also looking to obtain a Heritage Lottery grant is the Church of St John the Baptist in Bressingham, a building with 14th Century fabric categorised as a ‘slow decay’ concern, resulting from extensive water ingress damage.

Diana Burroughes, church warden for the Bressingham parish, one of six in the Diss Team Ministry, stated they were optimistic, but conceded they would be “very lucky” for their application to succeed “at the first time of asking”.

“We can only hope and pray that it goes well. We are talking about a very important historic building. Take away the service - the actual structure itself is very important,” she told the Diss Express.

“Nothing gives quickly in this sort of situation. If everything goes according to plan and we get the grant, we imagine the work will be done in 2017.”

She added she felt churches “don’t stand a chance” of receiving grants unless they are added to the ‘at risk’ register, and emphasised the importance of the village’s support raising funds in the long term.

Elsewhere in Norfolk, the Church of St Mary in Banham and the Church of St Mary in Kenninghall were both registered as being at ‘immediate risk of rapid deterioration’.

The former is said to have an unstable tower staircase, cracked stained glass and damp, while the latter needs restoration to its nave roof, as well as repairs to weathered stonework, although both churches have already been offered grants in the past year.

The final notable addition, in north Suffolk, is the Grade II listed Church of St Andrew in Redlingfield, which reportedly shows signs of masonry collapse and water penetration.

It was more positive news, however, for three parishes in the area, following the removal of their respective churches from this year’s register.

The Church of St Martin in New Buckenham, the Church of All Saints in Old Buckenham and the Church of St Peter in Palgrave all appeared on the 2014 list, but have now been taken off after each received grant aid.