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Ludlow church looks to future after £500,000 repairs

South Shropshire | News | Published:

Nearly £500,000 has been spent preserving reminders of its glorious past - now officials at one of Shropshire's most historic churches are looking towards its future.

Treasures at Ludlow's St Laurence's Church include paintings and stained glass - not to mention a 15th century tower and an 18th century organ.

Two major schemes - one to repair paintings, carvings and stained glass, the other to overhaul the roofing and stonework on the ancient building - are now complete. The focus is turning towards making the church, which dates back to 1199, more environmentally friendly and more accessible to all.

Shaun Ward, clerk of works for the church's £4.8 million Vision Project that was launched in 2009, said: "In September the final plans for St Laurence's will go public."

Plans are afoot for a complete re-organisation of the nave - the main interior of the building - to allow it to be used more flexibly by the general public, including the staging of concerts.

There are also plans to reduce the building's energy consumption and carbon footprint, including installing solar panels on the roof and a biomass boiler.

But first, for the 13th most popular free visitor attraction in the West Midlands, a four-week campaign has just been launched to raise money to replace all lighting in the church with LED lighting - which Mr Ward said could reduce energy costs by 80 per cent.

Inside the church that would cost £20,000, he said.

"A commercial sponsor is being sought for external floodlights for the tower, which would be about another £10,000," said Mr Ward. "We want it to be lit red from August 4 to November 11 to mark the centenary of the Great War."

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Mr Ward said the modernising projects were the next phase of the Vision Project, as the final touches are put to the repairs and renovations.

"Target One involved restoration paintings, the coat of arms, some stained glass work," he said, looking at an early 19th century portrait of St Barbara that was just being unwrapped and re-installed in the church.

"St Barbara has just come back after months of work - the painting was absolutely black, and the frame. You couldn't see anything," he said. The marble mosaic-style floor around the altar had also undergone three months of cleaning, he said, with a total of £90,000 spent on Target One as a whole.

Target Two has seen £400,000 had spent on urgent roof repairs and work to preserve 16 crumbling stone pinnacles on top of the building. One of the roofs repaired was to the church's 15th century parvise (paradise) room above the porch, in which fragments of medieval painting can still be seen on the walls.

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"It's the oldest original interior in the town," said Mr Ward.

He said all in all about £700,000 had been spent since the start of the Vision Project, with 10 per cent of the money coming from private gifts and 50 per cent from the Conservation Trust for St Laurence's, an independent charity mainly made up of money left to the church by people as a legacy.

There have also been grants and donations from external bodies and local groups, such £5,000 from Ludlow Methodist Church across three years.

But one of the most urgent challenges facing the church was not just funding, but manpower, Mr Ward said.

"We have 70,000 visitors a year, and with five paid members of staff we totally rely on volunteers to welcome them, especially on a Sunday - and we're really struggling at the moment. Stewardship is absolutely crucial to us," he said.

He said the church was the number one tourist attraction in the town and had received a TripAdvisor certificate of excellence this year. There were already about 200 volunteers in all helping out, but more were needed, he said.

"It's of no interest to us what their beliefs are - this is the parish church, it is for everyone. We have atheists, Methodists and Roman Catholics, though no Muslims as yet," he said.

He said all that was required was a love of the building and what it stood for.

More information on the lighting campaign, or becoming a volunteer, can be found by visiting the church, or at www.stlaurences.org.uk

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