The first service to be held in Freeby church for more than 13 years will take place on Sunday, October 2 – and church-goers will have to take their own seats.
The 600-year-old St Mary’s Church has undergone major renovation work and when this took place the seats were in such a bad state that they had to be removed.
Some pews have been restored but there is not enough seating, so anyone attending the Harvest Festival celebrations on October 2, at 6.30pm, is asked to take their own picnic chair.
The medieval Grade I listed building started having problems in the heat of the summer of 1952 when cracks started appearing in the chancel wall, and these became progressively worse and spread over the years.
The church fell into disrepair and was closed to the public when it was deemed no longer safe for community use. A lengthy project, including re-roofing, re-glazing, re-pointing and installing a lighting scheme, got under way, also taking into consideration the rare Natterer’s bats for which the church is home.
The process has been a rollercoaster ride for people like Jane Meakin, who has been a church warden at St Mary’s for nearly 40 years.
She said: “We were told initially that the church would have to be pulled down. Then we were told by English Heritage that they would give us some money for the repairs, but we would have to match that and we couldn’t do it. When the church closed I never thought I’d see the day when it would open again for a service.”
But it still has its problems, despite all the renovation work. There is no heating in the building and the small congregation is finding it difficult to keep the building clean of bat droppings.
“It is not a job for the faint-hearted,” said church warden Mel Greaves. ”We have plastic coverings for the floor but the mess from the bats is terrible. Our problem is that we have a very small congregation, so we could really do with more pairs of hands to help with the cleaning.”
Rector of the Melton Team Parish, the Rev Kevin Ashby, added: “Over seven years ago, when I came for interview here, we went inside Freeby Church and my instant impression was of something from a gothic horror film.
“The place was in a dangerous state. The roof was in danger of falling in, the walls were in danger of falling out, the interior was covered in bat droppings and the church had not been used for services for some years. All the talk was of closure and how to handle any resulting demolition.”
The renovated St Mary’s Church was revealed in April at a special open morning, where visitors could see the work carried out by the Churches Conservation Trust, which cost £450,000, in partnership with Historic England.
The church is now in the care of the trust and only six services are allowed each year.
* If anyone is able to join the small team of dedicated people to help clean up the church, call Jane Meakin on 01664 564827.