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Phoenix churches are being rebuilt thanks to multi-million-pound restoration plans

31 December 2020

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service.

A drone image of the burned-out Church of the Ascension, Salford, February 2017

A drone image of the burned-out Church of the Ascension, Salford, February 2017

TWO churches that were gutted by fire are slowing rising from the ashes, thanks to multi-million-pound restoration plans.

In the greater Manchester borough of Salford, the first phase of a £5-million rebuild of the Grade II listed Church of the Ascension, Lower Broughton, has just been completed; and, at Mackworth, in Derbyshire, planning has already begun for the restoration of the 14th-century All Saints’, which was badly damaged last month (News, 11 December).

The Church of the Ascension is the last remaining 19th-century building in the inner-city district of Lower Broughton, which had been cleared for new housing. When it was hit by an arson attack in 2017 (News, 17 February 2017), it had just completed a £750,000 makeover to form the centrepiece of the new community that was developing around it. The blaze left a roofless shell, and, initially, it was feared that the building would have to be demolished.

But, on 21 December, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, was able to post on Twitter: “Destroyed in one night, rebuilding over 3 years. How one Salford Church is rising from the ashes of an arson attack, to serve the community regenerating around it, in the years to come. Rising from the ashes — the beautiful Salford church destroyed by an arsonist. First phase of £5m of repairs completed on time despite COVID.”

After visiting the site, he said: “Standing by the burnt-out remains with its parish priest, Canon David Wyatt, on a cold morning, felt very bleak; especially as so much effort and energy had gone into making it fit for its future, in a part of Salford undergoing major regeneration.

“But Salford people are both hopeful and pragmatic, and, with much prayer, a sound insurance policy, and committed contractors, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel for the reconstruction of the building. And we will have a church even more ready for the 21st century.

“At the same time, we are strengthening our ministry resources in the area. Fr David, who has been an incumbent in the area for over 50 years, has been joined by Fr Falak and Fr Rob. The Ascension is rising again.”

The Grade I listed All Saints’, in Mackworth, was insured for £11 million with Ecclesiastical Insurance, which is working on a road map for what, it admits, will be a long and complex rebuild.

Ecclesiastical’s claims director, Jeremy Trott, said: “It’s heartbreaking to see this beautiful historic building in ashes, but we know from experience that we can rebuild this church so it can once more be at the heart of the Mackworth community.

“It will be a complex project because of the age of the church, its listed status, and the rich history of the local surrounds which, along with the site, have scheduled monument status. This means accessing site will be a challenge, and we will need to be careful not to damage the ground when using heavy machinery to help clear and restore the site.

“This is the moment of truth for our customers, who are relying on our expert advice and our support to help them through these difficult times. We’ll be actively involved throughout, including helping the customer build a team of specialists to make sure the restoration is successful.”

The Priest-in-Charge of All Saints’, the Revd Jacqueline Stober, said: “The outpouring of love and support we have had since the fire has genuinely been astonishing. A church touches so many people — not just through regular Sunday services but by being the place that holds people’s memories of those important times in their lives: baptism, marriages, funerals.”

Ecclesiastical’s church operations director, Michael Angell, said: “It’s terrible to see a church devastated in such a way, but I am reassured by the experience and skills we have at our disposal that we can work to restore the church to its former glory.

“We have a huge amount of expertise in working with churches, and we understand the complex nature of a restoration of this scale. We’ve done it before; so that’s the key message on day one: to give the community that reassurance that we can get the work done in a way that preserves as much of the history of the church as possible.”

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