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Heartbreak over ‘catastrophic state’ of iconic Preston landmark

Written by on June 21, 2020

The Canon of an iconic Preston landmark says it is ‘heartbreaking’ to see the building fall into disrepair as an emergency appeal is launched to raise millions.

St Walburge’s Church needs £3.5m for a five-year project, beginning with £500,000 to repair the roof as a matter of urgency before the winter, as it is now leaking.

The church was built in three stages in the mid 19th century and although improvements have been made over the years, it now has no heating, an inaccessible toilet, as well as the leaking roof.

The church was set to apply for funding from various organisations, such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, Albert Gubay Foundation, All Churches Trust and Garfield Weston Foundation before the covid pandemic, which has now halted the application, meaning the church is relying on the community and their worshippers to help raise funds until they can resubmit the application.

Inside the medieval hall of St Walburge’s church

Canon Gwenael Cristofoli, who came to lead the church from France several years ago, says it is “heartbreaking” to see the church in its current state of disrepair.

The church is a Grade I listed building, with the tallest spire of any parish church in England at 309 feet, as well as the largest bell in the country.

He said: “The church is in a catastrophic state.

“The roof leaks, and it is really heartbreaking.

“The repairs are a long process and we are taking care of every aspect.

“We were all ready to apply for grants then covid arrived and they said sorry, there are no grants available.

“We can’t keep it safe if it’s constantly full of water.

“We are in a deprived part of Preston and people don’t have a lot of money and they’re already doing a lot with cleaning and gardening.

“But unfortunately the matter is money.

“It’s not just the worshippers – a lot of people are interested in the church.”

Canon Cristofoli, after serving his mission in France, was given the choice of either going to Naples or Preston, and says he chose Preston due to St Walburge’s Church.

He added: “The people here have been so welcoming.

“I feel really at home and it’s a new family for me.”

Church of St Walburge’s

Events planner at the church, Walburga Weston, had previously planned a list of events to encourage the community to enjoy the church as well as the congregation.

These included a three-day beer festival in October, and a previously well-attended spire at night event.

She said: “The events are focused on bringing people in, for example the spire beer festival which would have brought in around 1,100 people over three days, which may now be held after Easter next year.

“We’ve had a lot of support – around Christmas we invite the local schools to come and sing – it’s a very exciting and interesting event.

“They all complain about the lack of heating though.

“We introduced the spire at night – we encourage people to enjoy climbing up the spire, and when they come down they have a nice glass of homemade hot mulled wine.

“We were flooded with people this year and had to actually close our doors.

“We have a lot to offer.”

Mrs Weston would like to emphasise that the church is for everybody to use and enjoy, not just the congregation.

She added: “Our doors are open and we would to see people come and visit.”

The full list of repairs to the church, to be carried out in four phases, are:

Phase 1

  • Roof repair (complete re-roofing of the whole church where a temporarily roof will be created for St. Walburge’s)-

  • Stained glass and stained glass protectors repair,

  • Heating system renewal (the current system that is removed, was one of the causes of condensation and roofing problems).

  • West-End re-ordering (The only very inaccessible toilet in the church that often requires repair, is not appropriate for the number of congregation and visitors. The plans are to build a new extension to provide suitable toilets for men, women and the disabled.).

  • Disabled access improvement (critical issue that affects parishioners’ participation and visitors).

Phase 2

  • Repair to The Parish Hall

  • Repair to the Talbot Library

Phase 3

  • East- End re-ordering,

  • New lighting system

  • A/V system installation;

Phase 4

  • Conversion of the Convent Building