Campaigners bring ancient East Hatley church back to life

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A disused Cambridgeshire church is getting back its floor and windows so that it can take its rightful place as a valued community asset after transferring ownership to a conservation charity,

Roger Evans, chairman of The Friends of Friendless Churches, received the keys of the Grade II listed church of St Denis in East Hatley from South Cambridgeshire District Council’s deputy leader, Cllr Nick Wright, watched by members of the local community.

The church dates back to at least 1217 and was restored in the 19th century by Victorian architect William Butterfield, who was known for his Gothic Revival style.

The church has been owned by South Cambridgeshire District Council since 1985, after it was declared redundant by the Church of England.

Taken on as a nature reserve, it is currently home to cave spiders and bats.

Repair work in 2003 found severe damage to part of the external walls with the gable ends unstable and in danger of collapse.

The church was placed on the Heritage at risk register for Grade I and II buildings, maintained by English Heritage, in June 2004 but it has since been removed from the Register.

A £130,000 restoration project funded by South Cambridgeshire District Council, English Heritage and Hatley Parish Council has seen the walls and roof repaired, leaving the church wind and watertight.

The transfer to FOFC includes a £60,000 endowment grant from the council to fund the work now needed to bring the church back into a useable condition, including replacing the floor and glazing.

The surrounding churchyard is still open for burials and remains in the care of the local rector and parochial council, with support from a volunteer management group.

FOFC has cared for another disused church in South Cambridgeshire – St John the Baptist in Papworth St Agnes – since 1979.

Supported by an active local friends group, the building is now regularly used as a community space.

Cllr Nick Wright, deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, who has overseen the council’s management of St Denis’ in recent years, said: “St Denis’ church is an iconic building loved by the local community and its restoration is certainly something to be celebrated.

“I’m proud of the part we’ve played in helping to preserve the church for future generations and am grateful to The Friends of Friendless Churches for taking the building into their expert care to bring it back into community use.”

Roger Evans said: “The council deserves praise for its initiative in saving this historic church and the Friends are most grateful for the endowment grant, without which we couldn’t take the church into our care.

“Much still needs to be done after the present phase of work, but we look forward to working with the local community to bring St Denis back into good order for occasional use.

Cllr Sebastian Kindersley, district and county councillor for East Hatley, said: “Villagers are absolutely delighted that the future of the building is now secure.

“Huge thanks to all those involved in making this happen. It’s a very exciting day and we look forward to playing our part as the church comes back into use as an important part of our community.”