It has been wonderful seeing St Leonard’s being used for community events again.
Last week it was the Young Person’s Puppet Theatre and “The Spirit of St Leonards”. It told the story of a young girl who travelled through nine centuries of church and village history. The talented young people (years 5 & 6) of Flamstead Village School did it all themselves: made and operated the puppets, the scenery, lighting, narration, etc.
This week it was “An Evening with Matthew Biggs”, a fund-raising event put on by the inspirational Wish Tree charity, in which Matt from Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time entertained us with his unique mix of funny stories and gardening tips.
Soon it will be the Friends of Flamstead School’s Quiz Night and then “The Reverend Richard Coles in conversation with Ian Ridley” for the Flamstead Book Festival.
I am sure that we have all missed this kind of event during the worst of the pandemic and of course while the church was closed.
If you have not visited St Leonard’s since it reopened you may not know how good it is as a venue for such events: atmospheric and beautiful as ever, but also now structurally sound, dry, conservation cleaned, and equipped with running water, a kitchenette, and a WC. It has step-free access and a hearing loop. It has moved into the 21st Century with the installation of internet, Wi-Fi, and a new sound system so good that many have remarked they can hear the sermon for the first time.
There is of course a connection between all the above. Like most churches, especially Grade 1 listed buildings, it is simply not realistic to expect the regular church-going congregation to have sole responsibility for the extremely expensive conservation maintenance and repairs that benefit the whole community.
For the recent work repairing our nave roof, we have had major funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, from generous local donors, and from the Friends of St Leonard’s, a secular charity, who continue to support maintenance of the building. We are extremely grateful to them all. But the work does not stop there. We now must fund restoration of the wall paintings, the bells and more stonework, install a new boiler, and carry out regular ongoing preventative maintenance.
An important part of the mission of the Flamstead Heritage Project, alongside the PCC (Parochial Church Council), is to make the church more financially self-supporting for all its operating costs such as heating, cleaning, insurance, and internet provision. To do so, the church is being developed as a building open and available to its community, to complement its core, traditional, spiritual role. As can be seen from the above list of events, this has started very successfully.
Another task for the Project is to make us all fully appreciate the depth and breadth of the heritage we have in the church, the village and all around us. In fact, the Puppet Theatre was the first activity of many in this programme.
If you are interested in learning more about the Heritage Project, especially if volunteering to help, please get in touch via the Contact Us page.
On behalf of the Programme Board of the Flamstead Heritage Project