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Newport Minster on Isle of Wight reopens after £2.6m transformation

02 May 2024

‘Sleeping beauty’ brought back to life after ‘mammoth’ project

Diocese of Portsmouth

After the reopening service on Wednesday, the chair of the Friends of Newport Minster, Jacque Gazzard, presents Prince Edward with a bowl made from one of the old pews. The Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Jonathan Frost, looks on

After the reopening service on Wednesday, the chair of the Friends of Newport Minster, Jacque Gazzard, presents Prince Edward with a bowl made from on...

NEWPORT MINSTER, on the Isle of Wight, has reopened, after a £2.6-million refurbishment project (News, 5 January) that set out to bring a “sleeping beauty back to life”.

There has been a place of worship on the site for at least 1000 years, with a medieval structure completed in 1175. It has been closed since 2022 while work on internal refurbishment took place. This followed many phases of a project to conserve its exterior, which began in 2006. In 2023, it was removed from the Historic England “At Risk” register after more than a decade. During the closure of the building, worshippers have been meeting for services in the parish centre near by.

The work, carried out by local tradespeople, has included a complete reshaping of the inside of the building; the installation of an underfloor heating system; and improved lavatories, a new kitchen, new seating, and new meeting rooms. The main worship area includes 300 chairs that can be moved to enable community activities to take place. A press release from the diocese spoke of the building becoming “a magnet for community groups, as well as a spiritual hub for the island”.

The work has been made possible by grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England, the National Churches Trust, the Benefact Trust, and others, including a private benefactor who donated £100,000.

More than 400 people attended a reopening service on Wednesday evening, led by the Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Jonathan Frost. The Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, the Ven. Steve Daughtery, preached on the feeding of the 5000, drawing parallels with the overwhelming need that had presented itself and the underwhelming resources that Jesus had transformed. Students from Christ the King College, the joint C of E and Roman Catholic secondary school, also took part. 

A Bible reading was given by the Duke of Edinburgh, the patron of the Friends of Newport Minster. Speaking before his reading, he said: “I want to add my thanks to everyone who has been involved in it, everyone who has supported this, for all the wonderful craftsmen who have been involved in restoring this fantastic minster, and to say what a pleasure it is to be here at this event to see it being fully reopened and restored. It is what we set out to do. We are handing it back to you and please make the best use of it.”

NEWPORT MINSTERThe interior of Newport Minster

The church will officially reopen to the public on Friday from 10 a.mThe first community group to use the new facilities will be a toddler group that, since launching at the parish centre at the start of the year, has welcomed 65 families.

The minster’s community engagement co-ordinator, Hannah Griffiths, who helps to lead the group, said last week: “The extra space will be invaluable as we are starting to outgrow the space in the parish hall, and the new six-slice toaster will really help with snack time.”

One of the Team Vicars, the Revd Emma Cooksey, said that the new facilities would “enable us to do what we’ve been aspiring to do for years: to be a thriving hub at the centre of our community. We are looking forward to welcoming the community into the building for exhibitions, concerts, meetings, and plays, and to provide excellent facilities for our regular worship services.”

NEWPORT MINSTERThe interior of Newport Minster

In 2022, Jacque Gazzard, who chairs the Friends of Newport Minster, spoke of “bringing this sleeping beauty back to life and completing a mammoth project”.

Last week, she said: “Our aim all along was to see the church start to come to life again. It is one thing saving important bricks and mortar, but creating community is much tougher, and yet that is what is happening here.”

Newport has undergone significant pastoral reorganisation in recent years, after a diocesan bid for Strategic Development Funding that highlighted the area as a place where, “despite the best efforts of clergy and congregations, relatively few people go to church” (News, 26 October 2018).

The parish of Newport and Carisbrooke with Gatcombe was formed in June 2020, uniting the parishes of Newport Minster, St John’s, Newport, and St Mary’s, Carisbrooke, with St Nicholas’s, Castro. It has a population of 25,000.

The Commissioners agreed last year that there should be a “reset” of the SDF project in the area (News, 5 January 2024). The Minster has struggled financially during the restoration project and the pandemic, but there are hopes that this will be resolved now that it has reopened. Restoration funding has enabled the employment of a community engagement co-ordinator and commercial officer. To date, it has received 30,000 visitors a year. The last annual report put the electoral roll in the parish at 197.

The diocese is currently recruiting a Team Rector, to work alongside Ms Cooksey and the other Team Vicar, the Revd Stephen Sutcliffe.

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