Donnington church roof project completed in time for Christmas

The inside of the new roof, which will light up for the candle-lit Midnight Mass of Christmas Eve
The inside of the new roof, which will light up for the candle-lit Midnight Mass of Christmas Eve

CHRISTMAS came early for Donnington villagers with the completion of the new nave roof at St George’s Church.

Following the removal of the scaffolding, James Cooper, the parish priest and chaplain to St Wilfrid’s Hospice, who took over in August, said: “It was so nice to take over a parish where I can concentrate on caring for the people rather than worry about the church roof.

“The church, which was re-built around 1246 AD whilst St Richard was Bishop of Chichester, is Grade 1 listed as being of special historic and architectural interest, so the best part is that the new roof blends in so well that it does not look new.”

Under the direction of conservation architect Richard Meynell, the contractors, Farndell Ltd reused as many of the original tiles as possible and, apart from some ridge tiles that had to be hand made by a specialist and the addition of some special bat access tiles, used only tiles salvaged from derelict old buildings.

“The church is in a very exposed location and as most of the battens had started rotting and the nails holding the tiles in place had rusted away, last winter we had to visit after every gale and frequently had to get someone in to replace missing tiles,” added church warden Alan Martin.

The project was made possible by a £75,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

However it was not without moments of anxiety. When the roof was stripped the contractor noticed many of the nails holding the ceiling panels had rusted away too and it was becoming unstable.

This could only be seen from above. To re-fix that required a full scaffold inside the church at extra cost.

“The LPOW Grant Officer was brilliant, although the system is complex he was there for us to quickly deal with any queries and problems,” said Mr Martin.

“And Terry Farndell managed to get the extra work done inside at the same time as the re-roofing so that there was no delay in completion.”

It was not just making the roof weatherproof either.

There was no access into the roof void so removal of the tiles enabled the installation of insulation for the first time, reducing both carbon footprint and heating bills for future generations as well as making it more comfortable for users in winter.

The repairs to the ceiling meant it had to be made good and painted and it now looks so much cleaner and lighter, such that the parishioners are particularly looking forward to one of the main services of the Christmas season when the church will be lit entirely by candlelight, by Candlelight at 7 Midnight Mass by Candlelight which starts at 11.30pm on Christmas Eve.

They expect the hundred or so flickering candles to reflect off of the ceiling like never before.

Having had to undertake some major fundraising and dig deeply into their funds, to meet the parish’s share of the cost, the parishioners can now look forward to their major challenge for 2016, to raise the money to install toilets in the ancient church for the first time.

With toilets, facilities for disabled people and baby changing, it is intended that the building will be more available for use by the community in addition to its ongoing use for services.

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