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Restoration and Access Project

In 1999 it became clear that major restoration work was needed: large cracks had appeared in the south wall and after extensive investigation, it emerged that the south transept, the site of memorials of national importance, is in urgent need of underpinning. Hale has a modern village hall, but no public buildings of character and atmosphere other than St Mary's Church. So the congregation decided that they wanted not only to save the building itself for future generations to enjoy, but also to improve access and facilities so that the building can be used by the community as a whole, without compromising the architectural and artistic heritage of the building. Full consultation is now in progress with the church architect (a specialist in this field), the Archdeacon and DAC, the New Forest District Council Conservation and Planning Departments, English Heritage, and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

The project falls into two parts: the underpinning of the south transept (for which the necessary permissions are in place), and the provision of access and community facilities. There are no kitchen or toilet facilities, and the church is not connected to the water mains. The hillside setting means that entrance from the car park in the past has had to be made via several sets of steep steps. These are pressing problems in a community that is predominately elderly. We feel it is essential that those who have maintained the life of the church for so long in the past are enabled to continue using the building they have worked so hard for as they grow older. Also there is a growing number of young families (drawn to the area by the excellent local schools) who have begun attending services and other activities in the church such as children's holiday clubs and concerts. The lack of basic facilities is a serious problem - it is no longer appropriate for groups of children to meet, especially in a relatively isolated public area, without toilet facilities being available for them.

The congregation have been working with the church architect to provide facilities that will encourage use by community groups while taking into account the architectural heritage of the building and its natural setting. For instance, there was much debate about the route of the ramp. Given the fact that this ancient church is built on a steep hill within a National Park, the architect sought to balance conforming with building regulations and minimising the visual impact. The current proposal is the fourth attempt to find a solution: following the current path through the churchyard and entering via the north door.

The overall target has now been identified:

  • to bring a water supply to the church
     
  • to install a biotoilet for disabled / general use
     
  • to install a sound system, including induction loop
     
  • to provide fully ramped access from the car park to the churchyard
     
  • to provide ramped access through the churchyard to the church along the route of the current footpath
     
  • to install a small kitchenette

We have made a start already: the sound and loop system has been installed and a ramp has been built from the car park to the churchyard. These have been paid for by funds raised locally. After discussion, the congregation decided to move ahead with the project as a whole rather than do the remaining work piecemeal because we felt that we would never catch up with rising costs and that a focussed appeal would be more effective if launched for a limited period of time. We plan to launch the appeal to the wider community once we have consulted with planning and heritage bodies so that the details of the target, and their costs, are clear.

Already the profile of the church building has been promoted locally.

  • The county village Primary School now regularly use the building for curricular activities such as performing music, public speaking and drama, and identifying the local impact of historical events and the role of local people in national and international events of the past.
     
  • A two year research project into the lives of the men on the Parish Roll of Honour was recently completed by a member of the congregation, with great support from the village and the local branch of the British Legion: a Book of Remembrance was published (100 copies were sold in a fortnight!) and has also been made available for visitors in the church.
     
  • Local cycling and rambling groups using the Avon Valley Footpath alongside the church are being given tours and teas to encourage them to visit the building.
     
  • Children's workshops and holiday clubs regularly take place in the church.
     
  • Several local bands and music groups have used the building for concerts (the acoustics are excellent).
     
  • A recent flower festival in the church drew together many community groups and attracted a large number of visitors from surrounding towns and villages.
     
  • We have also joined the local tourism group which advertises throughout the New Forest.

Local support for the project, both the restoration and the provision of access and community facilities, has been expressed at three public meetings over the past 15 months. The PCC, though expressing anxiety at the sums involved, at each stage of the discussion has voted through the proposals without dissent.

The facilities we plan to install will help us to develop these growing links further and, we believe, will help to promote opportunities and community spirit in this area. Our aim is that St Mary's Church, Hale will be an asset for the current community and a secure one for future generations - an accessible place of heritage and peacefulness, and a building for the community as a whole to enjoy.

The Reverend Simon Horne

01425 650563