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Maggie Durran: Lessons from an organ rebuild

07 January 2009

Christ Church, Wanstead, wrote to me about their organ project. They raised funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) under its old scheme:

An independent report in 2001 showed our organ to be in very poor state and of little musical merit. In 2005, we located an instrument in Bradford, examined by our organ consultant, and found to be of significant importance as an 1878 organ by Hill, unaltered.

With just enough funds, we had the organ purchased, dismantled, and moved into storage in our church in 2006. To prepare a bid to the HLF for funds to restore the organ, we had to address the Access and Education programme that leads such restoration work. With Duncan Chapman and William McVicker, more organ consultants, helping us turn our outline educa­tion package into an all-singing, all-dancing programme for schools, we were offered a grant of £261,000 towards a total cost of £333,000.

On the education project, we worked with the local primary school, a large multi-cultural high school, and a local art group. Our education theme was “Build-an-organ”. We used everything from an inflatable mattress, a bouncy castle, car inner-tubes, plastic piping, and organ tubes of various types and pitches to explore the science and the music. Lessons at various ages were special project sessions of about an hour each, except when the school asked for longer. . .

The finale of the project was the organ performance of Animal Parade by Iain Farrington with verses by Esther Eidinow.

St George’s, Southall, similarly has their organ in mid-restoration with a grant from the HLF. The instrument was rescued decades ago from a Wren church in the City of London, and is a mostly original instrument of the time. Again, for that church the education programme with schools was a critical part of the plan.

Anyone else’s plans would have to demonstrate the same aspects: the particular and unique significance of the instrument, and the quality of educational partnerships and pro­grammes that would deliver the access and learning elements of the contemporary HLF scheme.

The preparatory pre-application form from the HLF will allow a church to find out whether its HLF region has any interest in their organ for such a project. Always see this primarily as an integrated education project that includes an organ re­build rather than a way to get an organ rebuilt: you will make more progress.

An added element is having specialists, as at Wanstead, with a pas­sion for the organ and the neces­sary educational experience.

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