Last year, the parish was delighted to receive the news that the Heritage Lottery Fund had awarded St Joseph’s Catholic Church a grant. Made possible by National Lottery players, the grant will support a project to renew the fabric of this historic building and make it more accessible to the wider community. Only last year, the Church, which is a Grade II listed building designed by the famous Pugin family and boasting some unique Gillow furnishings, was placed on the National Buildings at Risk Register. The Grant will help to galvanise local support to preserve this unique building in the lives of the people of Skerton and beyond.
More than one hundred years on from its foundation, St Joseph’s church is facing problems that are besetting much of our national Victorian heritage. Recent architectural surveys have revealed structural faults in the Tower, and damp ingression caused by corrosion of the external masonry and damage to the spouts and guttering. Development funding of £15,700 has been awarded to St Joseph’s to help to ascertain where the difficulties lie and to explore ways in which to address them. Plans will also be developed to make the church more accessible with disabled access and facilities, and ways will be explored to make the church open throughout the whole year so that people can enjoy the beauty and tranquillity that the church provides. These development plans will enable St Joseph’s to apply for a full grant at a later date.
Parish Priest, Fr Philip Conner, says that the wider parish community is delighted to have received support thanks to National Lottery players. ‘The project is the fruit of much hard work from our parish finance and property committee, and reflects the desire of our parish to reach out to the wider community, to welcome people of every age, background and nationality, and to find ways to serve the particular needs of Skerton. It is our desire’, Fr Conner explained, ‘that St Joseph’s, once restored to its former glory, will continue to serve as a beacon of hope for many generations to come: a place of rest for all people in this busy world, a place to enjoy the beauty and history, prayer and silence, and warmth and friendship that St Joseph’s offers’.
Already a group within the parish has been looking at ways to involve as wide a group as possible in the fundraising and the development of outreach with the local schools, the university, musicians and artists, other churches and religious groups, local heritage groups, and of course, its faithful parishioners who hold amongst themselves a rich tapestry of memories and experiences associated with the church. ‘The great thing about this Grant’, Fr Conner added, ‘is that it provides an opportunity to generate a sense of local pride in what we have, a sense of community, and a sense of hope as people learn new skills and take up the new opportunities that we hope will emerge from this venture’.
Towards the end of last year there has been a raft of preliminary investigations so that we can develop our plans. There seems to have been an endless stream of surveys: bat surveys, asbestos surveys, drainage surveys, topographical surveys, structural surveys, pigeon guano surveys... Additionally, the Parish Social Committee has been organising a number of fundraising initiatives to help to support the project and to bring the wider community on board. Plans are now lodged with Historic Churches Committee and are available for inspection.