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Chilly nights out

28 March 2013

"CHILLILY" was the word he used when I asked the Revd Jonathan Sharples how it was going, keeping his pledge to sleep for a week in the old Priest's Room in the church, up a stone staircase that is made of Saxon coffin-lids. The room has windows on three sides, but none of them has complete glass.

He was doing it to raise money for a ramp to improve access into St Mary's, Astbury, which is near Congleton, in Chester diocese. So far, they have £50,000, but need another £45,000. He said that it seemed like a good idea when he first thought of it, as the weather seemed to be getting warmer, and it would coincide with the annual display of daffodils on the village green outside the church.

After the first couple of nights, he was not so sure - and the daffodils were not coming up to scratch, either. But he had a good sleeping-bag with a hood, and had "wimped out" of sleeping on the stone floor by importing a camp bed: "a mod con, but not too mod".

When he got up, he told me, his first thought was to "pop back across the road for a hot shower"; but, other than that, he was more or less living in the church. He was not only sleeping there, but receiving visitors, who came to pay £30 to have their names laser-cut into what will be a 40-foot steel ramp. "We will create what would be a very boring functional thing into a feature," he said. "Names will be cut into it, and they will become part of the living history."

His wife and associate priest, the Revd Ella Sharples, said that one of the main catalysts that convinced them that a ramp was necessary, was when they had held the funeral of a parishioner whose wife of 72 years had been too frail to get up the church steps to attend it.

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