Fire-hit church wins award

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Volunteers who saved their church from ruin after arson and lead thefts have been awarded the English Heritage Angel Awards for their hard work and dedication.

It has cost about £1.25 million to put right the damage and carry out repairs to the stonework at All Saints’ church in Leamington Hastings.

And sterling work by volunteers and former church warden Brian Cooke who, as project manager, has seen the 13th century church brought back to full glory.

Mr Cooke, who has lived in the village for 35 years, said they felt “very honoured and grateful” after receiving the award for the “best rescue or repair of a historic place of worship”.

He said: “This has been more or less a full-time job for seven years. The Rev Jane Close, priest-in-charge, has been a huge support to the project. The whole of the parochial church council has been very supportive and without their trust I would not have been able to do this work.”

In November 2009 the church was badly damaged in an arson attack and in August 2013, with the last part of the restoration just completed, lead was stolen on two separate occasions from the roof, causing further extensive damage after heavy rain.

Mr Cooke said: “You can’t just measure it in money – you can imagine all the despondency of people who use the church.”

Parishioners had spent months scouring the country for an organ, which was restored to its full use by Stretton craftsman Richard Young, but it was left damaged and the pipes left full of water.

“But I was determined that we would not let these things prevail and we would get these things sorted, so we did.”

Mr Cooke said just under £1 million of the costs was covered by insurance and the rest was paid for through parish funds, fundraising and grants.

“The generosity of people, not just villagers or churchgoers, has been amazing. It was a huge amount of effort by many.”

Repairs also included non-fire damaged parts of the roof and the church lighting enhanced.

Money from people included a “very generous donation” from American couple Ernest and Julia Knell, who Mr Cooke had met on holiday, who flew over for the organ dedication in June. Grants included English Heritage, the On Organ Fund, the Veolia Environmental Trust and the Church of England church care fund.