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Electricity brings new life for historic Norfolk church

PUBLISHED: 12:13 04 December 2008 | UPDATED: 14:51 07 July 2010

Kathryn Cross

For 700 years services at a Norfolk church have been rather challenging experiences, particularly in the winter months.

With no real heating and lighting only by candles the congregation of St Mary's Church in Great Witchingham has dwindled over the years to a handful of devoted worshippers prepared to withstand the elements for their Sunday prayers.

For 700 years services at a Norfolk church have been rather challenging experiences, particularly in the winter months.

With no real heating and lighting only by candles the congregation of St Mary's Church in Great Witchingham has dwindled over the years to a handful of devoted worshippers prepared to withstand the elements for their Sunday prayers.

But from tomorrow night the historic church, which dates back to the 14th century, will be warm, well-lit and welcoming thanks to a fund-raising campaign to finally bring the building up to date and install electricity.

Rev Selwyn Tillett, rural Dean of Sparham and rector of the Wensum group of churches, told the EDP that it had taken the group 25 years to raise the £30,000 needed to complete the work, which is hoped will boost the congregation and turn the church into the hub of the community once again.

“For a few years we only had enough electricity to power the organ and for one three-point plug which had to run the longest extension lead in the world,” he said. “The fund-raising proper started about five years ago but discussions about what sort of heating and how to go about raising the money began at least 25 years ago.

“It was not an easy task because it is a large building and a small congregation of mostly elderly people and it is difficult to put money aside when there are all the other everyday running expenses to pay for.

“But over the last couple of years we have had a few major fund-raising events and have made applications for grants.”

He said a letter went out to all residents asking for support and many gave generously and they also received donations from people living in neighbouring villages.

“We want to put the church back on the map because it is a wonderful building but it is a mile-and-a-half outside the village so many people might not even have known it existed. Now we could hold exhibitions, concerts, offer it for recordings because the acoustics are very good, and develop links with the village school. We just want it to be more accessible to more people.”

Tomorrow evening the church pews are expected to be full once again for a special service to mark the successful end of the fund-raising and celebrate the installation of electricity with villagers, representatives from the grant-giving bodies, and members of the 27 other Anglican parish churches in the Sparham deanery. Bishop of Lynn, James Langstaff, will preach and switch on the new system.

The service begins at 6.30pm and there will be seating available for 200 people.

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