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Ann Devereux - Christchurch, Needham Market

For centuries religious buildings have formed a cornerstone for community – a place to come together for worship, friendship, help and support.

But despite its 350 year history in the heart of Needham Market, the Christchurch congregation felt the front of the building was rather unwelcoming.

During a church meeting in 2010 one member suggested a makeover which would open up the front and revitalise the interior and the group began sketching out a design on the back of an envelope.

That simple doodle has formed the backbone of a project that has taken six years to turn into a reality.

Ann Devereux, who has seen the project elevated from pipe dream, said: “This site was first used for worship in 1662 at the time of the reformation and started in an outhouse.

“The building the church is now in opened in 1837 but as with a lot of architecture of that time, it has rather dour and sombre exterior and entrance doors on side of the porch.

“This means it was not very welcoming and could even be seen as difficult to access – a barrier to the very community the church wanted to connect with.”

The church representatives took their drawings to architect Clifford Patten who came up with a concept that was then approved by planning inspectors and conservation experts.

Then, thanks to the recommendation of a structural engineer, Robert Norman Construction was brought on board to bring the vision to fruition.

Ann said: “Their dedication to the job, understanding of the brief and commitment to deadlines was extraordinary.

“They started on time and finished on the very day they said they would.

“Communication was outstanding. I was the contact on behalf of the church and after many years of discussion, we knew exactly what we wanted, right down to the shape of the door handles.

“Robert Norman Construction never cut corners and we had monthly meetings to receive updates.

“On three occasions they hard hatted us and took us around the building site. We were in awe even at that stage.

“What could have been a traumatic experience was actually a delight – and it was all thanks to them.”

The new area is now flooded with natural light and there is a clear line of vision right from the High Street through to the pulpit.

Automatic doors invite people straight into a welcome area with small kitchenette and WC leading to a worship area which itself links to a series of meeting rooms and a main hall.

In addition the church has landscaped the garden area to the rear and has a car park for 10 vehicles.

Following completion of all works a Service of Dedication was held on 19 July 2015 with a weekend of celebration and thanks planned for October 2015 to share with all who have supported the project, helped make it financially achievable and worked hard to make Christchurch a community resource,  ready for the 21st century and beyond.

 “Robert Norman Construction have been really sympathetic to the history of the building and its religious roots and helped protect the site for many generations to come,” said Ann.

“We have been truly blessed to have such a sensitive and highly skilled team in charge.”

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