Back to the future - church is restored ready for the 21st Century

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Video: Wow! That’s the reaction of everyone privileged enough to sneak a peak inside March’s landmark St Mary’s Church as the £2.2 million restoration project draws to a close.

Only the four main walls were left standing after the arson attack on March 15 2010. The blaze hit such temperatures it destroyed the main chancel arch, the arches on the north and south sides and the windows behind the altar.

New organ being placed into St Mary's church Westry'Roger High and Rev Anthony Chandler

New organ being placed into St Mary's church Westry'Roger High and Rev Anthony Chandler

Four years on the building is almost ready for worship and this week saw the arrival of a new organ.

Craftsmen have worked painstakingly since the fire to restore the well-loved landmark to its former glory.

The Rev Anthony Chandler, who was the Rector of St Mary’s at the time of the blaze, has overseen the restoration project and is delighted with how the craftsmen have combined the old with the new.

Everything inside the Victorian church is now state-of-the art from the under-floor air-sourced heating system, to the handcrafted pews.

General View of the inside of St Mary's church Westry

General View of the inside of St Mary's church Westry

The furniture, created especially for St Mary’s by nationally renowned furniture maker Luke Hughes is top of the range and has been designed to match the church and its needs for 21st century and beyond.

The oak pews made out of beautiful oak are not only lovely to look at and touch, but are surprisingly comfortable.

Mr Chandler was in the church on Monday to oversee the arrival of the organ built, like many of the other aspects specifically for St Mary’s.

Built by celebrated manufacturers Makins, the instrument has been designed around specifications drawn up by March organist Roger High with expert input from Professor Tacey of Liverpool Cathedral.

New organ being placed into St Mary's church Westry

New organ being placed into St Mary's church Westry

The hi-tech digital instrument has been made to take full advantage of what Mr High describes as St Mary’s “fantastic acoustics”.

Mr High, who was also present for the organ’s arrival, explained it is the equivalent of a 39 rank instrument - much more powerful than the original nine rank organ destroyed in the flames.

He explained that the digital instrument will not be affected by changes in temperature and humidity and so will not require the regular re-tuning of an old-fashioned pipe organ.

Over the next few weeks the organ will be slowly voiced to ensure it is functioning at its absolute best.

New organ being placed into St Mary's church Westry

New organ being placed into St Mary's church Westry

Mr High also praised the church’s acoustics and said they are perfect for small groups such as string quartets making the church an ideal venue for concerts.

Mr Chandler said all the work in the church has been done to the absolute highest standards, with only top notch craftsmen being involved in the project from Bowmans who restored the stonework and the roof, to Coulson Building Group of Cambridge who completed the second phase inside the building, to the furniture builders.

He also praised architect Shona McKay, whose vision has driven the project forward restoring St Mary’s so it is not only back to its former glory but is even better.

The church is light and airy. The leaded windows have tinges of green which Mr Chandler explained had been chosen to represent new beginnings.

“When the church was just a burnt out shell and you looked out of the charred windows you could see trees on all sides and during the spring and summer they were a bright green, and we thought that would be an appropriate colour to add to our windows to not only give colour to the glass but also to represent a new beginning,” he explained.

All the furniture can be moved to suit what ever event is being held within the church, which Mr Chandler hopes will become a well-loved and well-used community building.

A balcony has been created to accommodate the organ, which had to be lifted up and on to it. Below the balcony is an area for toilets and for serving light refreshments (teas and coffees) - something that was missing from the church before the fire.

“Looking round the church today you might be forgiven for thinking it is ready to re-open, but there is still quite a lot of work to do, but we are hoping it will be ready by the end of March,” said Mr Chandler.

And he added: “I would just like to emphasise the generosity of the local community and organisations who have helped with donations and gifts towards the restoration of the church. We have been overwhelmed by people’s support.”

The vast majority of the work was paid for by insurance, but extras such as a state-of-the-art projector and screen have all been paid for by money from groups and individuals.

WREN (the waste recycling) donated £15,000 for the projector and screen, Garfield Western Foundation gave £10,000, All Churches Trust £1,750 and Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust £3,000, which went towards the air sourced heat pump.

In fact a total of £112,000 was given for the church’s restoration.