Church plans to go-ahead

WORSHIPPERS are poised this weekend to embark on a radical shake-up of their centuries-old church to make it warmer, more comfortable and more accessible to the wider community.

WORSHIPPERS are poised this weekend to embark on a radical shake-up of their centuries-old church to make it warmer, more comfortable and more accessible to the wider community.

For more than 10 years the congre-gation at All Saints', Mattishall, has been trying to modify the interior of the building to make it more suitable for events as well as worship.

It has been a delicate balancing act between traditional and modern, and parts of the scheme upset some villagers and churchgoers, particularly the proposed removal of many fixed pews. The church team has also had to convince diocesan and conservation experts that the changes would not harm key architectural features of the building.

But this week, it announced in a newsletter distributed to villagers that all the hurdles had been cleared and permission had finally been granted for the project.

Vicar the Rev Gordon Kegg, who has steered the project through thick and thin, was unavailable for comment. But Mike Pearson, one of the churchwardens, said the congre-gation was buzzing with excitement and eager to get things started at last.

The scheme will involve:

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Installing staging at the front of the church for the music group, drama group and preachers.

Providing 150 new single, but interlocking, wooden chairs with padded seats and backs.

Carpeting the centre of All Saints'.

Installing a new heating system.

The newsletter conceded that the pews issue had been the thorniest part of the plan but said fixed pews were limiting the use of the church considerably. It added: “We are taking this step because we feel that the loss in their removal is significantly outweighed by the benefits of increasing the times and types of use of the building.”

A group is expected to start work on removing some pews this weekend. Those being taken out are to be put into storage so they can be reinstated if need be. Remaining pews may be shortened, and the project organisers have promised to retain the 26 medieval poppy-heads in All Saints'.

The ancient screen will be retained, too, but lifted up in its same location.

The team is confident the changes will make All Saints' more welcoming, particularly to the young and the elderly, and benefit everything from youth activities to holiday clubs and Christian cele-brations. And it hopes other people will start to use the church more for art and craft exhibitions, orchestral, gospel and jazz concerts, and that it will be used increasingly by Mattishall Primary School.

The new chairs were being ordered this week, and Mr Pearson said there had been a good response among churchgoers to a scheme to buy a chair for £70. He said the congre-gation still needed to raise money for the new underfloor heating, but added: “It would certainly be wonder-ful if it were in for next winter.”

“I think people are beginning to get a real buzz now. Some of our congregation have traditional views, and these have, of course, had to be considered, but I think everyone is interested now in how things will go from now on,” said Mr Pearson.

“Certainly I think everyone is united in welcoming having a warmer church. No one should need to go to a public meeting, let alone a religious service, in this day and age and sit and freeze. People should be able to be comfortable, and the facilities will be there.”

Benefice youth worker Sarah Byrne said the changes would open up major opportunities to improve activities for youngsters, and these would no longer be marred by the winter chill. She added: “I can't wait for it all to happen. I think it is going to be fantastic.”