Hexham Abbey has now reopened following completion of the first phase of vital roof repairs.
Works on three areas of the roof - Chancel East End, North Transept and North Nave Aisle – began in December and were completed at the end of March.
The essential repairs were needed to counteract deteriorating slate roof coverings which had required continual maintenance over the last decade.
It was feared that if the work was not carried out the timbers would decay and rot, causing irrevocable damage to the mediaeval roof – regarded as being of the highest significance to the fabric of the Grade I-listed abbey.
Costing in excess of £500,000, the restoration was funded by a £356,861 grant from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, with the remainder coming from the Hexham Abbey Restoration Trust.
During the renewal of the roof, a large proportion of the green Westmoreland slates have been re-used. However, some insulation to the roof construction has been installed to reduce the abbey’s carbon footprint.
Challenges were met along the way, as works to the roof progressed, including the discovery of asbestos which had to be carefully removed before repairs to some rotten timber could continue. Part of the roof, which had undergone previous repairs and had been replaced with grey Welsh state, has now been renewed with green Westmoreland slates to match the rest of the roof.
The abbey has also taken the opportunity to make provision for a potential nesting place for peregrine falcons in the decorative pinnacles – which may also help to reduce pigeon droppings around the East End of the abbey and Market Place.
Scaffolding which has adorned the Abbey since Advent last year is methodically being dismantled, with the last pieces of the structure expected to be removed by mid-May.
Revd David Glover, Rector of Hexham said: “This has been a huge project which has been vital in preserving the abbey both as a beacon for Christian worship and as a place of rich and nationally important heritage.
“The project was completed on time despite losing many working days to harsh winter weather and, for that, I am very grateful to our contractors, Hodgson Sayer and Kaeffer. I am also hugely grateful to the Chair of our Buildings Committee, Richard Thornton, who has done a huge amount of work to ensure the project was successful.”
The abbey was closed throughout the works, with the first in-person service taking place on Palm Sunday.
Parish Eucharist, Evensong, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer services resumed in April, and the Refectory Café (outside seating only) and the Abbey Shop have now re-opened.
In line with the Government’s lockdown roadmap, the abbey will open for general visiting and the café will fully re-open on Monday 17 May.
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Abbey secures government funding
It's double cause for celebration as Hexham Abbey has been awarded £291,000 from the second round of the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund.
This award will help the abbey to safely re-open, enhance the visitor experience, safeguard jobs in the abbey and Refectory Café, and ensure it can recover from the financial impact of the Covid pandemic.
The abbey is among more than 2,700 recipients to benefit from latest round of awards from the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.
This is the second grant the abbey has successfully secured from the fund after it was allocated over £350,000 during the first round of awards.
Revd David Glover, Rector of Hexham Abbey said: “The awarding of this grant is wonderful news for the abbey and will help to ensure that we move into the future with confidence and hope.”
In addition to funding essential repairs and maintenance, the award will enhance the welcome and visitor experience through a series of opening events over the summer months to engage with a new, more diverse audience.