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Marathon of endeavour

28 March 2014

IT STARTED eight years ago, when members of the congregation at St Michael's, Betchworth, in Southwark diocese, realised that their Victorian organ was dying. On some Sundays, it would not work at all. A rebuild was ruled out as too expensive; so the PCC decided to try and raise £250,000 for a new pipe-organ - an enormous venture for a parish of 900 inhabitants.

It was a marathon of fund-raising, starting with a calendar-girls-type calendar; then a magnificent Edwardian Fair, when the whole village turned out in period costume; an auction of promises; a flower festival; quiz nights; golf days; bridge afternoons; a dog show; and a cooking show. There were swimathons, a Young Farmers' Cowpie Rally (whatever that is), and concerts.

Eventually, they offered sponsored pipes to suit every pocket, and each sponsor had a beautifully designed certificate naming the pipe and a dedication - and that alone raised £33,000.

But, not unsurprisingly, after a few years, ideas began to flag until their new Rector, the Revd Carol Coslett, suggested that the space where the old organ had been should be converted into a new vestry/green room. That was universally agreed to be a great idea, and it was incorporated into the scheme, the cost of which had now risen to £400,000 - and they still did not have enough funds to place an order for an organ.

So they went back to the village, and asked individuals to pledge a monthly sum for three years. The money started to come in again, and so did a generous grant from the Peter Harrison Foundation.

In the mean time, however, while excavating the floor for the new vestry, they found two old vaults from the 17th century which had to be expensively reconstructed, and one of the churchwardens, Graham Williams, fashioned a new casket for the disordered bones from one of the old wooden organ-pipes before a service of internment.

Now, after eight years, the whole project is nearly done, and the inaugural organ concert will be on the last day of May.

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