A Melton man who has been attending services at the town’s St Mary’s Church for 77 years has given a thumbs-up to the completed £1.9 million renovation project which has transformed its interior.
Harold Veazey, who is 99, was one of the first people to see the inside of the historic building after workmen spent nearly 11 months levelling the floor and putting in modern features such as underfloor heating, toilets and a kitchen servery area.
As he gazed around the church - parts of which date back to the 12th century - Harold said: “This is excellent. It’s a really good job.”
Incredibly, Harold has been visiting St Mary’s since 1940, when Britain and its allies were at war with Germany. He remembers the building back then was very cold in the winter.
“We used to come in wearing an overcoat, a scarf and gloves because it was that cold so it is nice to see the heating has been put in,” he said.
“They never bothered about things like toilets back then - people who went to church were very good at controlling their bowels.
“I like the way the floor is now flat - there are quite a few old people in the congregation so it makes it easier for us to get around the building now.”
As you walk into the church the first thing that hits you is that the floor is all one level now. This is to make it more accessible for elderly and disabled visitors and to provide a more flexible space for a wider range of events.
Toilets have been installed as well as a servery hatch for hot drinks and snacks, with both facilities in keeping with the historic interior, and there is a warm feel to the old building with the underfloor heating constantly on at a low temperature.
There is now a draft lobby in the west porch, with a glass interior door which opens automatically when visitors arrive through the large main door.
Other features include 25 pendant lamps, eight stunning Flemish pendant lamps and a completely refurbished organ.
Ian Neale, who has been co-ordinating the work with specialised contractors Midland Conservation, said: “We are thrilled to bits with how the church looks now - I’m extremely impressed with the work done by the contractors.
“The level floor will make the building so much more usable. We now have a very accessible space which can be used in a lot of different ways without the restrictions of the steps which were here before.”
English Heritage insisted that the original stone floor was used again, along with ledger slabs, which indicate where burials had taken place in previous centuries. This made the flooring job a lengthier process and more expensive than if a totally new surface had been put in.
Many extra power points have been installed throughout the church to make it easier for organisations to hold events there.
Since the church closed in January, it has missed out on a estimated £5,000 worth of bookings from community groups, as well as the fees for weddings and funerals.
Couples have already started booking up to get married in the transformed venue with the first ceremonies due to take place in April.
Mr Neale said: “I’ve been in the church virtually every day since it closed to check up on the progress of the work.
“I’ve enjoyed it - it’s been exciting to see the new features taking shape.”
He added: “We’ve missed not being in the building for services this year, particularly for the Easter Sunday service.
“The council and the other local churches have been very good to us by allowing us to have our services there but we are now looking forward to returning to the church.”
The church is hosting the popular annual Christmas Tree Festival from Saturday through to Tuesday, with a grand re-opening of the building scheduled for Wednesday December 13, at 7.30pm.
That event will be attended by the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Martyn Snow, and the Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Lady Gretton, who is patron of the church.
A new stained glass window, created by artist Derek Hunt around a ‘tree of life’ theme, will be unveiled and dedicated that evening.
Most of the cost of the Re-Ordering Project has been funded but fundraising is required for the £160,000 shortfall which remains.