A historic church that dates back almost 1,000 years is finalising plans for a £1.5million upgrade to preserve its future into the next millennium.
St Mary’s, in East Barnet, is waiting on final approval from the Church of England before submitting formal applications to Barnet Council for a major extension that has been almost 20 years in the planning.
The project has been led by former church warden David Howard, who was joined by Rector James Mustard when he joined the St Mary’s Road church two years ago.
Under the plans, the church will be carefully extended to provide a community hall, meetings rooms, toilets and, most importantly, a new entrance with greater disabled access.
As well as spending the past eight years painstakingly drawing up designs with two architects – the first tragically passed away suddenly in the middle of the project – the protagonists have been forced to look at ways of raising the £1.5million needed for the work.
Half of the money will be made through the sale of the dilapidated former church hall, located some distance away along Church Hill Road.
Designs have been created for one five-bedroom and two four-bedroom houses on the site so that the land can be sold with planning permission and a strong covenant preventing developers building anything unsightly.
For church rector James, the project paints an exciting picture for the future of the building, some walls in which date back to 1080.
He said: “It is very exciting. It will enable us to fulfil the role we want to have in the community, which is to be the parish church of East Barnet.
“The access to the church for weddings and funerals is not ideal and these plans will open the church up to everyone.
“It is a lovely building and we want to keep it that way but we are forced by the layout to worship as people did in the early 1900s.”
Authorities including English Heritage, the Victorian Society, the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings and the Archbishop’s Church Building Council have all been consulted on the plans, with final approval hopefully being given by the Church of England later this month.
David said: “20 years ago we were talking about trying to make this a seven-day building. This project will bring the church to life. It is the dreams of many people over many years coming to fruition.
“This is something we can share with other people - it is the culmination of 20 years of dreaming and a lot of hard work.”
The extension will cover some of the remaining graves at the church, where burials haven’t officially taken place since 1932 and are believed to have ceased some time before that.
Attempts to trace any living next of kin for the deceased, though, have come to nothing and the project organisers intend to move the headstones to another area inside the church grounds.
With much of the planning detail complete, the focus moves on to raising the remaining £750,000 needed to pay for the project – and for that, the leaders will be looking to the 130-strong congregation and the wider community.
James and David are already preparing a submission to the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the 39-year-old rector has begun putting together some fundraising activities for later this year.
He said: “It is daunting but not demoralising. It will be hard work but I’m confident the borough will step up to help.”
David added: “This has to be something that we as a church community believe in. We’re not doing it for the glory of ourselves or even the glory of St Mary’s – we’re doing it serve the community.
“We can’t sit here and say the Lord will provide because he doesn’t do it on his own. We will need a lot of help.”