All Saints is an important historical building and a ‘local treasure’, strategically located at the point at which the Pilgrims Way crosses the River Medway. A church has stood on this site for over a thousand years and is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1066). It was placed on the English Heritage ‘at risk’ register in 2014. There is a need for around £500,000 worth of repairs to be carried out, but about £250,000 worth is urgent.
In December 2015 the PCC was offered an initial first-round development grant of up to £25,100 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This money was for the Development Stage of an urgent repair project which would hopefully include repair to stonework above the chancel arch, on the tower, in some of the windows and at the entrance, all of which were in a seriously deteriorating condition, and also a strengthening of the floor of the ringing chamber.
In conjunction with these repairs, the project also aimed to develop an Activity Plan to make the building with its historical features and spiritual resources more open to the wider community and better utilised. The engagement and support of the community was essential to the success of the project.
The Development Stage funding was awarded to help the church progress plans to apply for a full grant in December 2016. The money was to enable a detailed study of the work needed and associated costs to be undertaken.
Before applying for a full grant for the Delivery Stage at the end of 2016, the church needed by the beginning of December 2016 to have carried out the preliminary investigations, raised around £35,000 in match funding, and drawn up a detailed Activity Plan. This was done, but the report arising from the investigations unfortunately revealed that the chancel arch and tower in particular were in a worse state of repair than originally thought. In December 2016, only a few weeks before Christmas, the PCC reluctantly decided that, with the risk of falling plaster from the chancel arch explicitly mentioned in the report, All Saints Church would need to be closed.
The Heritage Lottery Fund was approached for additional funding, to ensure that all the urgent, high level repairs could still be completed (and the need for expensive scaffolding in any future stage of repair work could be avoided). This entailed a two month wait for a central HLF committee to meet and consider the request. To our great joy and relief, however, an augmented grant for the Delivery Stage of the repair project was approved in March. A pre-start meeting with the architect and contractors was then held on 24th May, and repair work by Sally Strachey Historic Conservation Ltd. began on 12th June.
From the start-date onwards the project proceeded during the course of the summer of 2017 quite smoothly, though the completion date (originally mid-October) had to be put back several times (and eventually to the end of January). This was due to a number of factors: the scaffolding taking longer than expected to erect, the quarry having difficulties in providing suitably cut rag stone, and periods of bad weather. The quality of the work, however, impressed our architect, Paul Sharrock, and others too who came to see how it was progressing; Sally Strachey Historic Conservation Ltd carried it out within budget, and following a massive clean-up by a large church working party, All Saints was reopened for worship (whilst external work continued) at the beginning of December in time for a celebratory Christmas Concert and important services such as the Snodland C of E Primary School Christmas Service, the Christingle and the Midnight Communion.
Throughout the year the HLF Project Team worked hard to implement the Activity Plan they had drawn up during the Development Stage of the project. The basic vision for All Saints, located as it is at an historically important river crossing along the Pilgrim’s Way, is to see it become a centre for pilgrimage: a place where people of all ages and at all levels can be encouraged to pray and reflect upon their own journey of life. To further this end, the Activity Plan sought to raise its profile, to make people new to the area more aware of it, awaken their interest in it, visit it, and find it a place where they can relax, reflect, talk to people, and if they so wish, pray.
‘Hard Hat’ visits to the church were undertaken by children from all three Primary Schools in Snodland and ‘Hard Hat’ tours of the scaffolding were also available to adults from the local community during a special summer Open Day. One of the stone masons came to the Snodland Carnival to demonstrate his work and talk to people about it.
New Adult and Children’s Guide Books were published in the autumn. A leaflet entitled ‘Wildlife Walks from All Saints Church, Snodland’ (with a map of circular walks starting and finishing at the church and information about it and the local wildlife) has been prepared in conjunction with Kent Wildlife Trust and will be published and launched shortly in May 2018. The aim is to encourage walkers to discover All Saints Church and perhaps visit it on Saturday afternoons in the summer when it will be open and manned by our new team of Welcomers. Links continue to be developed with the national Church’s Pilgrims Way project and we now have our own special stamp for pilgrims visiting the church on their way to Canterbury.
An educational programme for local schools entitled ‘Journey of Life’ has been developed and will be rolled out to local Primary Schools in the summer of 2018. The programme utilises the position of All Saints Church on the Pilgrims Way and the recent installation of a prayer walk in the churchyard ‘The Snodland Stones’, to help Year 6 children learn about history and nature of Christian pilgrimage and reflect upon their own journey of life as they prepare to move on to Secondary School.
The repair project has shown how important All Saints is to the wider community. Donations towards the project have been received from a wide variety of local organisations such as the Bowls Club and Active Retirement Association, and numerous individuals. One family connected with the local fish and chip shop raised over £1,000.
There will still need to be a second phase of repair work, to resolve the outstanding problems highlighted in the Quinquennial Report. This however will involve much lower level work to stonework around some of the windows, the west porch, the east end, and dealing with the damp (particularly in the north wall of the nave) caused by poor drainage. The heating system, which keeps cutting out, needs sorting out as soon as possible.