Reach Development Project - background

The Story so Far - and it's quite a long story!

Back in 2014, St Etheldreda's church received a very generous legacy from the estate of Maisie Whitehead, who had been a member of the church all of her very long life. In Maisie's will it stated that the legacy should be used for 'the repair, renovation and decoration of the fabric of the church and its grounds', rather than the general running costs. It was soon clear that the first priority was to carry out some essential repairs, which had already been identified, and then to invest part of the money to provide for maintenance and repairs in the future. This still left a substantial sum of money which could be used to develop the church building for both church use and for use by the community. We therefore carried out a wide consultation within the community about what this could include, recognising that bringing it to fruition could be a long process.

The initial plans, produced in 2015, included better heating and insulation; better lighting and an improved and level floor. A toilet and a small servery were added, which involved enlarging the porch for disabled access and there were some minor adjustments to the inner glass door panel, because the door opening is too low, and causes problems for the passage of a coffin at funerals. It was suggested that pews should be removed and replaced with chairs to give greater flexibility. After further consultation, it became clear that the modern facilities were welcome and that more flexible space was appreciated, but opinions about removal of all the pews were divided. Discussions also began about the dangerous condition of the ruined arch in the church grounds and whether its repair should form part of the picture.

In the years that followed,various versions of the plans were produced, each further developing the requirements, and including consultation with both the village and the church authority (Diocesan Advisory Committe, DAC) that has to give permission for the work to take place. In 2018, a set of plans was produced that incorporated all suggestions received (including only removing some of the pews). Unfortunately, when it was costed, it proved to be too ambitious for the amount of money we had and was therefore revised in early 2019 to an accceptable version that was just within our budget. 2019 was, however, a time of great financial incertainty, with the approach of Brexit and its unpredicatable effects on the value of investments and some doubts about the future of the government scheme by which VAT can be reclaimed on work to church buildings. The PCC considered carrying out the work in phases and consulted the village about priorities, but paused the project until the financial situation became clearer.

By early 2020, the financial situation had improved and we were ready to move forward, but by then COVID had struck. It was clear from the 2019 consultation that the ruined arch was a priority with the majority of those who responded to the questionnaires and the work to conserve it was scheduled to start before the first lockdown, and fortunately was able to continue when restrictions were eased, and has been completed. Development of final plans by the architects was, however, delayed until recently and has now been completed. 

We are therefore finally ready to move ahead and our vision is to make St Etheldreda's a warm and welcoming space for us all to use. It will still be very much a sacred place, used for church services, quiet days and retreats, a space where people can drop in for quiet contrmplation and prayer. It will also have the flexibility to be used by the community for a variety of purposes, which could incude coffee mornings, small meetings, concerts and exhibitions; maybe a book swap area, a history display... and many other possibilities. 

We hope you will look at the attached plans. They will be submitted for consideration by the DAC at its next meeting in May and, if all goes well, we hope to have the permission to start work (called a Faculty) by mid August. It is important to stress, however, that the DAC may require some changes, which may delay this process. If you  would like any further information or to get involved, please do get in touch.