Wortham’s Raise that Roof appeal launched with grand family tea party

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Challenge to raise at least £150,000 to replace the nave roof at unique church

A group photograph outside St Mary the Virgin, Wortham, marked the official launch of an appeal to raise funds to replace the nave roof.

The appeal’s patron, BBC presenter and long-time Wortham resident, Martha Kearney, welcomed friends, family, parishioners and guests, on Sunday, September 24. She is pictured in the centre.

The Round Tower Churches Society helped to kick start the appeal with a £5,000 donation and the Friends of Wortham Church have added £30,000.

A new website – www.worthamchurchappeal.org went live two days earlier. Details of how to make donations and support are also featured.

The September edition of the Society’s quarterly magazine, reported the success of the Friends, which became a charity in 1996. Actually it had been started in 1995 to help a struggling PCC raise funds for the maintenance and improvement of St Mary the Virgin – the church with the largest round tower in the British Isles, said a former chairman Edward Coales.

In the past 27 years, the Friends have raised almost £200,000. Now they are tackling an even bigger challenge – to raise £150,000 to replace the nave roof.

The Friends aims to encourage people who weren’t necessarily church-goers to boost resources with an annual membership fee and demonstrate support for fundraising events.

Over the last 27 years the friends have arranged functions including flower festivals, Christmas markets, barn dances, concerts and talks, all of which have raised a total of £195,000.

These funds, augmented by grants, paid for work on the east nave wall with strengthening of the buttresses and the re-roofing of the vestry in 1997/98.  In 2002 a toilet, kitchen area and car park were completed. 

In 2005 it was the turn of the chancel and north aisle to be re-roofed and repairs were made to the bell-cote. Two years later, 2007 brought the rewiring and installation of electric heaters, with the Friends contributing two-thirds of the cost. 

In 2010 it was found that the south chancel wall and its buttresses needed urgent attention and the Friends were able to contribute to this repair.

In 2014, to celebrate the centenary of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the Friends commissioned a beautiful new stained-glass window in the north aisle.

More recently the friends have funded a ‘loop’ sound system, a structural engineer’s report into subsidence in the porch area and general ongoing maintenance work.

But now St Mary the Virgin is facing its biggest challenge for many years – the complete re-felting and re-tiling of the nave roof.  A splendid Norman & Beard organ is at immediate risk if the roof develops further leaks and of course the entire church fabric is at risk.

The project was costed in the region of £125,000 in 2022 but it is expected that this will have risen with inflation.

The Society was represented by the chairman, Stuart Bowell, vice-chairman Michael Pollitt, grants’ officer, Nick Wiggin, and treasurer Nik Chapman.

Cathy Hume