I’m glad we chose clear glass. We love watching the movements of the seasons outside
As part of our ‘Learning from the Past’ research, some of the EDP project team visited St Martin’s Church in Bilborough, Nottingham (a Church of England parish) to learn about their experience of restoring a historic building. Their church is the only surviving medieval building in Bilborough, built on high ground in the 14th century, in what was then a small rural village and is now a built-up suburb of Nottingham. A Grade II* listed building, the church has been through various phases of restoration over the past few centuries, most significantly the addition of a large modern extension in 1972, which saw one of the chancel walls demolished and the east window bricked up. By the 2000s, the church was in need of urgent repairs so the Church leaders, along with members of the congregation and the local community initiated a restoration project, led by project manager Hilary Wheat, with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, SPAB and other organisations.
The original nave and chancel have been brought back to life through this project, restoring the historic footprint of this place of worship. During the early stages of restoration, a mural by the artist Evelyn Gibbs was uncovered, which was thought to have been destroyed in the 1970s building project. The mural was deemed to be of significant heritage value and the group were successful in attracting funding for the full restoration of the work.
Gibbs’s mural depicts the ‘Annunciation’ scene, where the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. Unusually for an Annunciation scene, the moment captured is set in Bilborough and St Martin’s Church is one of the buildings depicted in the background. In recognition of their efforts, the Church was awarded the SPAB John Betjeman Award 2015 for their sensitive repair of the Evelyn Gibbs murals.
As well as thoughtful and sensitive restoration of a treasured historic building, the project also provided employment and training opportunities for local people. Four heritage trainees were involved in the project, working with lead stonemason Phil Turton, learning a range of new specialist skills that have helped them to secure further work in the heritage sector.
As researchers, we were struck by the cooperation and respect shown by the different members of the community who participated in the project. Through their restoration process, the group not only protected and enhanced the building’s heritage, but also connected with and engaged their local community – inviting them to contribute to decision-making on elements of the restoration such as the choice of materials, and keeping them informed throughout.
This engagement is ongoing. The Pew Cushion Club, which is based at the Church, are creating new pew cushions for the restored church based on the design of the 19th century versions. A range of community activities and events are held at the church and there are also a number of interpretive resources for tourists and visitors.
The restoration project has made the Church a focal point for the area, provided new employment opportunities, supported a valuable community resource and protected and enhanced the heritage of an important historic building in the East Midlands.
To find out more about St Martin’s Church visit their fantastic website where you can watch short films about different aspects of their restoration project and learn about the Evelyn Gibbs mural.