A disused church, originally built in 1217 and then rebuilt in the 19th century by renowned architect, William Butterfield, is set to once again become a community focal point, as ownership transfers to conservation charity The Friends of Friendless Churches (FOFC).
The Grade II* listed Church of St Denis in East Hatley 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.
A £130,000 package of restoration work from 2005 to 2006 saw the walls and roof repaired, including retiling. Funded by South Cambridgeshire District Council, English Heritage and Hatley Parish Council, the work left the church wind and watertight, but not safe to use on a regular basis.
The transfer to FOFC includes a £60,000 endowment grant from the Council to fund work to bring the church back into a useable state for people, 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 Cabinet who has overseen the Council’s management of St Denis’ in recent years, said: “I’m proud of the part we’ve played in securing St Denis’ future, and am grateful to The Friends of Friendless
Churches for taking the church into their expert care. While we as a Council have not been in a position to fund repairs to bring the building back into community use, I am certain that the enthusiasm and regard for St Denis’ locally will help FOFC to reach this goal.”
Matthew Saunders, Director of The Friends of Friendless Churches, said: “We hope that this news brings early Christmas cheer to local residents, who we know have a great affection for St Denis’. Plans are already being laid for phase one of repairs to make the roof watertight,
reglaze the windows and refloor the interior during 2017, and we’re looking forward to getting
Cllr Sebastian Kindersley, district and county councillor for East Hatley, said: “St Denis’ is a gem of a building and confirmation of transfer of ownership to Friends of Friend is wonderful news. I and many others in the community are looking forward to working closely with them as work begins.”