One of Ipswich’s most significant buildings, and one of the oldest Dissenter chapels in the country, is currently undergoing a £550,000 restoration, with a grant from Historic England covering most of the cost, according to the Ipswich Star.

The 18th century Unitarian Meeting House has been used as a place of worship for 320 years, since opening in 1700, and for the next seven months, its congregation will be moving to a nearby community centre while the building is restored and updated for more modern use, and more events.

As work began on the restoration, Historic England confirmed it would be making a grant for £421,000 for the work, with the church already having raised £20,000, boosting funds with other grants obtained to £125,000. The work will continue until September 2020.

Tessa Forsdike from the church said: “It is wonderful that the work has been able to start. When it is complete we really hope it will be able to be used for more events but we are still raising money to ensure we can install the toilet.” Anyone wanting to support the appeal can donate here.

The rising Dissenter population in Ipswich in the 18th century gave cause for the church to be founded, and is now a Grade 1 listed building, along with its neighbour, the Willis headquarters.

Historic England has been heavily involved in the development of the plans for the project, giving expert fundraising advice, and technical guidance. In December 2018, Historic England awarded £47,477 in development grants to the trustees of the church, which allowed architects to survey the timber frames of the building, the internal and external joinery, all of which was suffering from deterioration due to damp.

The roof also required repair and maintenance, with repairing and replacing missing and broken tiles. The grant of £421,000 covers 71 per cent of the total costs, making Historic England the major contributor to the restoration project, which includes wall and roof covering repairs.

The Unitarian Meeting House had been placed on the Heritage at Risk Register due to the poor condition of the building, from which it will be removed once repairs are completed. Tony Calladine, regional director at Historic England in the East of England said: “We’re delighted to support the repair of the Unitarian Meeting House with this grant.

“It’s one of the finest buildings of its kind in the country, with a remarkable interior, and represents an important part of 18th-century history, both nationally and locally.

“We’re pleased to play our part in repairing this important building and protecting it for future generations to enjoy. It will be a wonderful achievement to see it removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.”

Ann Baeppler, chair of the trustees for the Unitarian Meeting House said: “We have been overwhelmed by the dedicated support given to us by Historic England right from the very start of our approach to them for funding towards our major restoration project, without which the fabric of our unique Meeting House would have continued to deteriorate relentlessly. We are so grateful!”

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