Saving the Church Tower: A Successful Campaign

The church tower needed substantial remedial work, related primarily to damp and to structural weaknesses. The problems were such that our beautiful Grade I listed building was added to the Heritage at Risk Register, as being in “poor” condition.   The costs of the works necessary have cost well over two hundred thousand pounds. A major award from the Heritage Lottery Fund in mid-2018 allowed the works to start, and these will be completed by autumn 2019.

 

The Problems with the Church Tower

There were problems with dampness in the tower for years.  The dampness caused deterioration of the timbers and beams and of the wall surfaces within the tower apartments.

A number of factors contributed to the problems being encountered, through moisture entering the tower and not being removed: water ingress, via leaks in the roof or through masonry walls; lack of ventilation; unsuitable modern materials applied over old that seal in moisture; use of cement-based mortars; environmental factors.  The tower cannot be ‘waterproofed’ – in fact most church towers are damp.  The challenge is to manage the problem:  to keep the damp under control, to correct structural problems that ha already arisen as a result of the damp, and to avoid the risk of more serious damage to the fabric of the building.

Several detailed inspections of the tower identified the following issues, all of which have received attention:

  • Cement pointing, which had been carried out in the past, doesn’t allow the stones to “breathe” and release moisture.  This contributed to the dampness showing on the interior walls of the tower, and to damage to the stonework: in freezing weather, the stone may fracture, and this was happening. Also, some of this pointing was loose and could fall.
  • Stonework round the ventilation louvres is a further source of damp retention and water ingress, and needed attention.
  • Two apertures in the tower (ringing chamber south side , and bell chamber north side) had been closed in the past, so reducing the tower ventilation and contributing to the dampness. These apertures have been reopened
  • The state of the wooden and steel beams supporting the vestry and ringing chamber ceilings was a concern.  These needed repair or replacement.
  • Floorboards in the bell chamber were unsafe and needed strengthening.
  • The ladder to the bell chamber was dangerous and needed replacing.
  • The vestry wall plaster needed to be removed and replaced by a new wall lining to create a more acceptable environment.
  • It needed to be possible to fix open the window in the ringing chamber.
  • The tower roof parapet needed to be repaired and the lead gutters needed reconstruction.
  • Damaged plaster to the nave wall of the vestry needed repair.
  • The boiler room roof was asbestos and had to be replaced.
  • The drainage around the tower needed improvement.
  • Lightning protection needed to be installed.
  • The wall painting on nave wall of tower needed remedial work.

Consequences had works not been carried out

  • Decayed beams in the ringing chamber ceiling and vestry ceiling (supporting the ringing chamber floor) would have continued to deteriorate and in time fail, with obvious and potentially dangerous consequences.
  • The tower rooms that are in regular use (the vestry and ringing chamber) would have become progressively unpleasant and difficult to use (eg there was extensive green mould on the ringing chamber walls and, in the vestry, continual falls of plaster, rotting of the wooden fitments, etc.)
  • The plaster on the nave side of the vestry wall would have continued to deteriorate with the likely eventual loss of the small wall painting there.
  • The ladder to the bell chamber didn't meet current safety standards and was dangerous.  Had there been an accident and we hadn’t done work that the quinquennial report clearly said we should do, the insurers probably would not have paid out.

Current status

Our Heritage Lottery Fund award required us to obtain further specialist reports, prepare a full schedule of works required, and obtain competitive tenders for the necessary works.

This was all done, as part of the HLF "Development Phase", for which we obtained a grant from the HLF of £10,568. We were subsequently awarded £109,300, in June 2018 for the Delivery Phase of our project, during which the works would be carried out.  These works are expected to be completed in autumn 2019.

When work started, the funds raised at this point were insufficient to complete all the scheduled works, but they ensured that the most critical work could be completed.  Fundaising necessarily had to continue.

The original fundraising target of £200,000 was set several years ago and it became clear that this figure was too low: the costs would exceed £200,000 and some contingency needed to be allowed for. A new target of £230,000 was set, but meanwhile some cost savings were made so that the sum of £226,000 which has now been raised is sufficient for all the works to be completed.

The total funds raised have included grants awarded by the Ian M Foulerton Charitable Trust (£15,000), the Garfield Weston Foundation (£15,000), the Sussex Historic Churches Trust (£10,000), and £5,000 each from two further trusts.  The ACTnow team gratefully acknowledge these awards.  The balance of our income has come from events (53%) and from donations (47%).  We are extemely grateful to all who have supported the ACTnow campaign.

 

While the PCC (the Parochial Church Council of Amberley with North Stoke) has a cash reserve, it would have been very imprudent to have allocated all this to the present works.  The PCC must keep a reasonable reserve for on-going maintenance, and parts of the church other than the tower will soon need attention.  A new five-yearly "quinquennial" report on the church's fabric is due, and it is inevitable that this will identify works needed over the coming years.

 

Total raised:
£
Original target: £200,000.