A project to make essential repairs to a landmark Lowestoft Catholic church and widen its community access, with a digital visitor guide, has received support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) with a grant of £221,500 thanks to money raised by National Lottery players.
The historic Our Lady Star of the Sea church in the town centre, built in 1902, will receive the grant towards the £284,266 project, with the balance from church fund-raising, the Diocese of East Anglia Alive in Faith scheme and VAT recovery.
The listed building is a prominent feature of the Lowestoft townscape and its central location suits a wider community role. The interior is a fine example of the Gothic revival style, has an excellent acoustic for music and a splendid church organ.
The project aims to carry out essential external repairs to prevent rainwater getting inside the church, to restore damaged stonework and the tracery of the West window.
To increase wider community use, the scheme includes developing an innovative digital guide and map of the church, so that visitors can use their own mobile phones or tablets based to find out more about the architecture, art and religious significance of the building. Stewards will also be trained in how to use it.
The church already provides a wonderful venue for musical performances with its wonderful natural acoustics and funds will be used to create more flexible space and provide easy-to-erect modular staging for choral and instrumental concerts.
In recent years, the church tower has become a well-used nesting site for Kittiwakes, a rare Gull species and the project will also provide for close up public viewing of the birds and giving information about them. And the work is even being planned around the rare birds with a start on site being planned for September when the nesting Kittiwakes will have departed.
An initial grant from the HLF, in March 2017, of development funding of £25,400 has been used by the church to progress the plans to the current stage with the help of conservation architects, Nicholas Warns Architects Ltd of Norwich. The HLF grant was made possible by money raised through the Lottery.
Commenting on the award, Father Paul Chanh, parish priest at Our Lady’s, said: “We’re delighted that we’ve received this support thanks to National Lottery players. As well as continuing to be a place of worship we are pleased that the local community will have a greater chance to use and enjoy it.”
Tony Walmsley, parish treasurer and project director, said: “We have essential repairs to do because of water getting into the roof and affecting the plaster ceiling inside, and because masonry on the tower is failing and some actually fell to the ground two years ago.
“We also want to make the church more accessible to the public to come in and look around as one of the few places of genuine historic interest in the town centre. We want to help people understand what the church is all about, its history, architecture and art and how the Catholic faith is practiced here.
“Nowadays people like to access such information online and we are developing a digital guide and map which they can access through their own electronic device or ones which we will provide. We will also be able to help children who are doing Religious Studies at school with that part of their curriculum.”
“We also want to provide extra facilities for people who want a place of quiet and contemplation.”
Pictured above, looking at the plans outside Our Lady Star of the Sea in Lowestoft are, from left, Father Paul Chanh , Beryl Edwards finance chair, Bishop Alan Hopes, Tony Walmsley and Deacon Stephen Pomeroy.