RENOVATION work to transform an Isle church into a multi-purpose community hub got underway in earnest last week.
The £700,000 project to revamp St Andrew’s Church in Epworth will see the introduction of new seating, flooring, heating and a new balcony and meeting room.
Changes to the grade-one-listed church sparked outcry from members of the community after it was announced that the Victorian pews could be removed as part of the plans.
Despite 140 names on a petition to keep them, the pews will be replaced by oak chairs with rushwork seating as well as a small number of stackable benches.
Among the objectors is Mrs Liz Fennell of Belton Road in Epworth who this week again voiced her anger at the way the matter had been handled, this came after she discovered all 20 pews had found new homes to go to, but she was not one of the lucky recipients.
She claimed: “Too many decisions have been made behind closed doors. The pews have been removed, we should have had a proper auction for them.
“I have fought for six and a half years for the pews, I’ve lost my case, I accept that. Some of us who value our heritage think the church has been desecrated.
“I have attended this church for 40 years and when I asked for one of the smaller pews they wouldn’t let me have one. It was only the chosen few who were lucky enough to get a pew.”
However priest-in-charge, Rev Ian Walker said Mrs Fennell’s claims were unfounded: “The plan has been in process for seven years.
“There were several public meetings before I came here, we had exhibitions at the Epworth Show and Festival of the Plough. It’s been an open process.
“The faculty process was published in November and notices were put up in the church which is what we were obliged to do.
“There were objections and the Chancellor weighed the evidence in our favour.”
He went on: “The Parochial Church Council’s restoration committee decided we would offer the pews for sale.
“This matter was delegated to Melvyn Rose by the committee, which is elected by churchgoers. Many people asked to buy a pew last year. They were offered to those who enquired.”
Rev Walker added: “We hope that people will get together and work for the church in the future. I want us to be united and to play our full part in the Christian life of the town.”
Services are currently being held in the Ivy Andrew Hall but will to return to the main church when possible. The work is expected to be complete by March.