Roofs at Risk: CCT's 100th Church Reopens following a Major Regeneration Project.

The medieval church of St Peter’s is placed in the heart of Sudbury, Suffolk, on Market Hill. The building dominates the local landscape and has done since the 14th Century.  It has hosted a series of music concerts, live performances and community events run by the Friends of St Peter’s, with regular pop-up cafes. 

St Peter’s was not originally built as a Parish Church but was instead a Chapel of Ease to St Gregory’s Church. The earliest building phases are 14th century, yet it is by the mid-15th century that we have the building we recognise today.

The church is central to the town of Sudbury physically, emotionally, and aesthetically. By the 1970s St Peter’s had become redundant due to a lack of congregation and financial problems. In 1976 the local Friends Group came together to protect and raise money for the church and in the same year it was also vested into the Churches Conservation Trust as its 100th church.

In March 2018, we were delighted to secure initial project support from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support urgent repairs and the creation of new facilities to make St Peter’s sustainable for the future. The reasons for regeneration can summed up in three main areas; the urgent need for repairs, infrastructure improvements and increasing the audiences the historic church attracts.

The roof of the 18th century Chancel reached the end of its design life. Similarly, the north aisle roof has also had to be completely replaced. In both cases the roofs lead had deteriorated, and water was entering the building. Without intervention it was clear that in five to ten years people would not be able to safely enter the church.

St Peter’s has always functioned best as a multi-use venue that hosts events, music festivals and even farmer’s markets. From October 2018 to June 2020 conservationists, accredited architects, engineers, consultants, and archaeologists refined plans to work out what could work in the space.

This resulted in a comprehensive plans of design development. A contemporary internal new build at the West end has provided an improved draft lobby, a mezzanine floor, meeting and events areas well as toilets.

The conservation led approach of CCT is highlighted by the fact the new mezzanine is fully reversible meaning future generations can adapt the church if needed. It has also been vital to take the public on the journey with us and people have been invited to join on hard hat tours of the site.

During the Autumn of 2023, this central cultural landmark unveiled its new name and identity as it entered its next historic phase, now known as Sudbury Arts Centre. The site was also leased to CCT’s charity partner, The Bridge Project, who are committed to making Sudbury Arts Centre a welcoming place for the whole community, in line with its vision to provide a safe, nurturing environment to individuals living with dementia and learning disabilities, as well as those experiencing mental health issues.

As is so often the case with historic buildings, we never know what we are going to discover until repair works begin. Some highlights include poignant graffiti found during the roof repairs that dates from 1885 and was written by local carpenter William White. A colony of sixty to seventy thousand bees was also discovered living in the roof. Upon discovery, the bees were safely rehomed and are currently living happily just outside of Ipswich.

The project, of which the roof repairs were a key element, means many things for St Peter’s and Sudbury. Firstly, it strengthens the town’s offer as a cultural destination. As multiple organisations have been involved with CCT, St Peter’s is now once again a beacon of hope the community can rally behind. The lively market town of Sudbury now has its cultural and community centre back at its heart. Therefore proving the importance roof conservation work as roofs provide much more than barriers to the elements.

Whilst encouraging and supporting communities to enjoy the continue use of our churches, CCT, and its dedicated expert partners, aim to lead by example in maintaining and repairing our church roofs across the country. Donate towards our Annual Appeal, Roofs at Risk, today.

Your donation towards this Annual Appeal will contribute to our emergency and planned roof repairs and intervention projects. Donations will have a visible and overwhelmingly positive impact on our work.

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