St Leonard’s Church in Flamstead embodies 900 years of social, religious and architectural heritage. As with any building of that age, it is a unique structure which has evolved over the centuries as a result of extensions, renovations, additions, repairs which went well and repairs which caused problems. Landowners, vicars, churchwardens, architects, artists, and craftspeople in wood, stone, metal and glass have all left their marks for us to read. Whether rich, powerful or ordinary, those people have handed the heritage on to us to care for – and this project was born out of a desire to protect and preserve it for future generations. Although St Leonard’s is a church, we’ve realised that it’s also a heritage building hiding, as it were, in plain sight.
Our huge initial challenge was raising the funds to make the building safe, weatherproof and accessible, interpreting the heritage to new audiences in imaginative and engaging ways, and creating new and sustainable opportunities for the church building to be used by the wider community. Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and to the fundraising efforts of people and organisations in and around the local area, we have succeeded in securing the major funding needed to repair the nave roof and make it structurally sound, and to repair the south clerestory windows and upgrade the gutters and downpipes to make the building weatherproof. Once this is done, its future is secured and damp will no longer degrade the medieval timbers and valuable wall paintings. Our commitment as part of that proposal is to engage many more people with the fascinating heritage of the building and the lives and journeys of the people who have left their mark on it over the centuries.
We were also awarded EU funding from the Chilterns LEADER project to make the building accessible and better equipped to welcome a more diverse range of people, and to host them more easily. As a result we have installed a kitchen, disabled toilet, step-free access and meeting room, making the church a more welcoming place for all, rather than somewhere which is only used regularly by the few. One of the most significant changes was to install a new door with glass panels, breaking down the psychological barrier of a solid oak door between people “outside” and people “inside”. Visitors are now easily able to tell if there is a service going on, as well as feeling more able to open the door and come in to see the fascinating heritage.
Our vision is to open doors to the past, better interpreting the heritage for visitors, developing event opportunities, and creating educational learning resources tied in with key-stage curricula. We want to open doors for the present, making the building more accessible and developing towards a being hub to benefit the whole community. And we want to open doors to the future, ensuring that the building is managed in a sustainable way, and offering ideas which can be used to safeguard other rural churches.
This vision has seven themes, all of which will be enabled by receiving the funding, all of which will involve local people and volunteers, developing new skills. The result will be heritage which is protected, sustained, made accessible, better interpreted, used for learning and more widely shared.
ENGAGING – getting a wider range of people involved in new ways with the heritage of this remarkable building
PROTECTING – making the building structurally sound and weatherproof to protect the heritage
SHARING – developing ways to make the building more relevant for more people as a social hub
ARCHIVING – fully researching the heritage in its historical context and creating an online archive
INTERPRETING – presenting information in new and engaging ways for a new generation
EDUCATING – using the heritage as a resource for learning, tied in with key-stage learning curricula
SUSTAINING – ensuring that the forward management of the heritage is adequate and sustainable
Engaging people with the heritage will underpin everything we do: the more people who become fascinated by the 900 years of history and community commitment represented in this building, the more will support it. This building can earn its keep by becoming a place for the many, not just for the few. We want to organise activities bringing to life the stories of the building and the people who have left their mark on it , creating compelling experiences to draw in new visitors from a wider area.
Protecting the heritage will be accomplished by making the building structurally sound in a conservation-led way which respects its Grade I listing and sympathetically restores and repairs the medieval roof. To prevent future degradation we need to eliminate moisture ingress from leaking windows and downpipes, and enable the walls to “breathe” in the way originally designed. For this we will be reliant on support from Heritage Lottery. See our project page for details.
Sharing the church building more effectively as a resource for the wider community is a key part of our overall vision. We will look at how other church buildings have been steered to becoming again what they used to be: hubs for the whole community. With support from Chilterns LEADER we have remodelled the entrance to be step-free, connected water and sewerage services, and provided toilet facilities and a simple kitchen. These will help us to use the church for a wider range of activities.
Archiving will be achieved by using volunteer effort to uncover archives of photos of the village, its people and its events spanning 120 years, and to conduct a photographic survey of the medieval graffiti. The results will be published online, along with our church scrapbook of documents and parish records, including the history of restoration of the church building over the centuries. Together these will highlight the continuity of care and engagement between the church building and its community.
Interpreting the heritage will involve professionals in creating new display panels, explanatory welcome packs and mobile guides. Our National Lottery bid proposed that visitors to the church will find a welcome stand with leaflets, large laminated explanatory cards, and the option of using apps for tablets and smartphones which explain the heritage as they move around the building. Heritage guides will be trained and available for larger groups.
Educating young people about heritage will be achieved by using the church as an example when teaching about local history and culture. We want to create professional learning resources for use by teachers in schools from early years to Key Stage 3. Children will be able to relate their learning to a real life local example, making it much more tangible. College students studying media production can use the building as a setting for creating documentary coursework – and we even want to invite robotics competitions to be held in the building and give them a new heritage twist.
Sustaining the heritage going forwards will be improved by a more structured maintenance plan and creation of a sinking fund for future maintenance works, putting building management overall onto a sounder footing. Preventative maintenance is far better than heritage being put at risk, saving money and creating a more sustainable approach to building care. We have already conducted a governance review and created a new Building Maintenance Team.
Our fundraising efforts will continue, so that we can make the matched funding contributions to which we have committed.
If you would like to be part of making this vision a reality please visit our page to see how you can help.
If you are able to support this vision financially as an individual or an organisation, please consider donating.