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An eyesore is transformed into an inspirational artwork

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In 2021 structural investigations at St Peter’s Church in Forncett St Peter near Long Stratton revealed that the chancel roof was potentially dangerous and a forest of scaffolding was urgently installed to prop it up. The scaffolding was then sealed off with a wooden hoarding, an ugly eyesore until local artist and volunteer Gill Starkie took on the task of transforming it with an inspirational mural, assisted by children
from the adjacent Forncett Church of England Primary School.

The mural is a stunning solution to the problem and will provide a wonderful focus in the church for at least two years until the roof can be permanently repaired as part of a major restoration project. The scaffolding was funded by the Friends of St Peter’s.

Gill said “As you sit in the pews, it is one of the joys to look around and take in the beauty of the architecture and the fine details, so it seemed right to create a backdrop that didn’t distract, but complemented – in colour and content. The central sewn textile piece [which masks the contractors’ door] represents the nature and wildlife that is all around the church. The cross and the rainbow are symbols of forgiveness, inclusivity and acceptance.”

Each of the 95 children at the school created a self-portrait on fabric which Gill then stitched together to create one of the most eye-catching features of the mural. St Peter’s is Grade 1 listed with a striking Anglo-Saxon / Norman round tower, one of the finest in the country. The church is on the ‘Heritage at Risk’ Register as it urgently needs extensive repairs to its roofs, flint and masonry walls, rain-water goods and surface drains. A major project, Forncett: a Village of Stories – the Restoration of St Peter’s Church has been launched by the Upper Tas Valley All Saints PCC to save this exceptional church from closure. The National Lottery Heritage Fund has awarded £33,274 for the Development phase of the project (2023-4) to investigate the causes of the structural instability and draw up specifications and costs. The PCC will then apply for a full grant for the major repairs – including the chancel roof- hopefully to be carried out in 2024-26.

The current phase of work is also supported by a £3,000 grant from the Round Tower Churches Society. Commenting on the mural, Priest in Charge, Revd Lydia Avery said “This is a marvellous creative response from Gill Starkie and the school and we’re delighted
and hugely grateful to Gill and the children.”