A former church visited by more than 50,000 people a year could be set for a £1.2million makeover.
St Peter’s in Market Hill, Sudbury, is already extremely popular, with very few Saturday slots available throughout the year, but volunteers are embarking on ambitious plans that will see the church undergo a £1-1.2million renovation.
The building is vested to the Churches Conservation Trust after being saved in 1976.
The Friends of St Peter Sudbury, which runs the 15th Century building, is working with the Trust’s regeneration team on ambitious plans to improve the building’s facilities, seeking a “high-quality” design to welcome in even more visitors and community groups.
Admitting to being “very nervous” about taking on the large-scale project, Friends chairman Roger Green, who this year won an award for his volunteering, has agreed to stay on and see through the changes, which are not likely to be complete until at least the end of 2019.
“I think we are getting quite excited now,” said Mr Green.
“The architects are going to show us where things might go. We are going to have to shift a lot around.”
The plans, which may force the building to close for a period, include the installation of toilets, something Mr Green feels would be a major development, allowing organisations such as mother and toddler groups to hire it out.
A new kitchen would also be installed, with other plans to attract visitors and tourists.
These include interactive facilities, as well as provision to display the Alderman’s Pall and Jacobean reaching cloth, and resiting of the stained glass window hidden by the organ.
There also plans for projection facilities to the chancel arch, to project angels that were painted over in the 1960s, or to show messages during the various exhibitions and events that take place there.
Alongside these new facilities there is a large amount of repair work needed to the fabric of the building.
“I think if we improve the visitor experience more people will come in,” said Mr Green.
Already more than 55,000 people walk through the doors each year, with it open at some point every day.
“Quite often we have people come in on coach trips and the have one hour ‘to do’ Sudbury. Of course they go to Gainsborough’s House,” Mr Green added. “But this is so obvious some of them come here.
“I think if they came in and said ‘wow’, they would go back and tell others about it.”
“It should be an exciting project. It is unknown how far our plans will go and how much will materialise.”
The biggest challenge to face the Friends committee is to find the £1.2million to fund the project. It is quietly confident of securing between 60 and 70 per cent of this from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Mr Green is already looking at other grant schemes, but said inevitably they would require the support of businesses and individuals from the town and the wider area and the groups that use the building.
First of all the Friends management committee needs to produce at least 200 responses to a questionnaire on the project, to show the HLF there is public support for the plans.
The committee is also desperate for more volunteers to help out in a number of ways.
For more information on the project, to volunteer or to fill in a questionnaire, email firstname.lastname@example.org.