Dorset church roof needed 'drastic' action

St Lawrence's Church, Folke
Image caption Parts of St Lawrence's Church are thought to date back to Saxon times

The roof of a Grade I listed church in Dorset was in danger of falling down unless funding for repairs was found, its warden has said.

The Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage have awarded £94,000 to St Lawrence's Church, in Folke.

Jo Osment, church warden, said "something drastic" needed to be done to repair the church, near Sherborne, which was built in 1628.

It has a congregation of 15, a colony of bats in the tower and an owl - and its roof has been leaking for 20 years.

The church, near Sherborne, was last restored in 1878.

Fossilised fish

Mrs Osment, who has been involved with the church for 46 years, said: "Luckily it hasn't really affected church services. We come in, we find damp puddles and we mop them up and put buckets under them.

Image caption Jo Osment and Ann Hyland realised car boots and coffee mornings were not enough to raise the funds

"It must be pretty bad up there [in the roof] because recently the owl got out and came inside the church instead. It was lovely to see, but it did make quite a lot of mess.

"Our new roof will benefit the owl and our resident bats, as well as the congregation."

St Lawrence's contains Jacobean joinery, screws and pews but it is thought that parts of the building date back to Saxon times.

Ann Hyland, project coordinator for the new roof, said: "There seems to be evidence of a Saxon church on the present site - the door in the north wall of the tower, which is now filled in, certainly suggests this.

Mrs Osment added: "We also have a fossilised fish - the early Christian symbol - in the stone floor before the altar step."

The church will receive an initial grant instalment of £19,000 for further investigations into the full extent and damage to the roof.

Image caption Roof repairs will ensure St Lawrence's does not "fall into ruin", said English Heritage said

Ms Hyland added: "It's a big project and there was no way that we, as a small community, could raise that sort of money."

The grant is among £15.7m given to 153 English churches under the Repair Grants for Places of Worship scheme.

St Lawrence's, which serves the people of Folke, Alweston, Haydon and North Wootton, is the only church in Dorset to receive lottery funding this year.

Andrew Vines, South West regional director of English Heritage, said without the grants "brave but struggling congregations" would watch their "beloved churches and chapels fall into ruin".

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