Parishioners praise the roof as historic church reopens

A community which rallied round to help save its local church joined parishioners for a thanksgiving service on Friday (11 January)

Five years ago, St Peter’s Church in Llanwenarth Citra, Abergavenny, was faced with the prospect of closure if it could not carry out essential work to its roof. The 16 or so regular worshippers were told they would have to find nearly £200,000 to carry out the work.

The Grade 2 listed building, parts of which date back to Medieval times, had been deteriorating for years and the stone roof tiles above the nave and chancel were falling off, leading to water damage inside. The tower was also unsafe and needed to be stabilised to hold up the floor and prevent the bells from falling down.

Closure, however, was not an option as far as parishioners were concerned. They organised a fundraising taskforce which set about learning how to secure grants as well as running an imaginative calendar of events to raise money locally.

The hard work paid off and today St Peter’s Church re-opened for a service of re-dedication and thanksgiving for the completion of its new roof.

“The cost of the repairs was eye-wateringly beyond our means,” says Pip Hassall, a church warden who stepped as a project manager. “However, if we had not been able to get the roofs fixed, the church would have closed – that concentrated peoples’ minds,”

“We are a pragmatic congregation which has been fully behind the project. We moved out into the church hall while the work was being done but no one complained.”

While Pip began to learn a lot about filing in forms for grants and funding, other members of the church threw themselves into fundraising events. These included bingo evenings, plant sales, open gardens, a barn dance, hog roast, a promise auction, Yoga taster day and a concert of choral music. They also set up a Just Giving page online and appealed for individual donations. Enough money was raised for work to begin in May 2018 and thanks to the hot dry summer it was completed quickly.

“The fundraising events were brilliant at bringing together people from across the community,” says Pip. “People who don’t attend our services also got involved, not just supporting events but organising them too. Everyone was very supportive – I think we all value the church which has been in the heart of the community for so many generations.”

Once the roof was repaired, the inside walls, damaged by water ingress, had to be re-plastered and repainted with breathable paint

“Raising money for this project has been hard work but worth it to see the beautiful new roof we have and to know that our church is now dry inside,” says Pip. “It has been a privilege to meet and work with the skilled people who have worked on this project.”

Grants for the work came from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Churches Trust, the Headley Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Church in Wales, The Welsh Churches Trust and the Diocese of Monmouth. It was carried out by conservation builders, Taliesin Conservation under the watchful eye of expert conservation architect Stefan Horowskyj of Morgan Horowskyj Architects.

Before the work was completed, parishioners hid a time capsule in the roof in a tin box which included a Sunday paper, a local paper with the story and picture of the open roof day, a pound coin with leek on it, some photographs of the church, its congregation and events, a copy of the diocesan magazine, a pew leaflet, a green book of common prayer and a note of explanation about the parish and the roof repairs.

The thanksgiving service wase led by the Rector, Canon Mark Soady, and the Archdeacon of Monmouth, Ambrose Mason. The preacher was the Revd Dr Jean Prosser, the project advisor.

Fr Mark said, “We have got to this point today because the community rallied round and helped us to raise the monies necessary to match fund the grants we had been promised. It has been great to see how local people have rallied to save their church – I am very grateful to them.”

Dr Prosser said, “This church is for all of us, inside and out. This building is where we celebrate and mourn where we bring our troubles and joys and just by standing here, cared for, filled with light and music, it stands in the community for active Christian belief and life.  This project has done more than replace the roof – it has also reached out into the community.”

The work on St Peter’s is not finished yet though.  The next phase of the renovation project is to repair the tower, put in an accessible loo and small servery, move the vestry and rehang the two bells. Parishioners hope once all the work is done the church will be able to be used more widely by the community, particularly for concerts as it has an excellent acoustic.