On the second anniversary of the fire that tore through Royston’s St John the Baptist Church, treasurer Phil Burchell has updated the Crow on the restoration project – and said what they are thankful for as Christmas approaches.

Royston Crow: The church tower has now been uncovered. Picture: Phil BurchellThe church tower has now been uncovered. Picture: Phil Burchell (Image: Archant)

“It is now two years since the fire that devastated Royston Parish Church. After all this time we are beginning to see the re-emergence of the building which has been cocooned throughout the period.

“Although this is just starting to happen a great deal of work has been going on beneath the covering. The first year saw the removal of all the debris resulting from the fire in preparation for the restoration, phase 2, which commenced in the early part of this year.

“This was then severely impacted by the lockdown caused by COVID-19 which meant that seven weeks were lost from late March until mid-May.

Phase 2 of the restoration involved the stripping of the roofs, both in the tower and the nave, which were badly damaged by the fire as well as repairs to masonry also affected.

“We also saw the lowering of the bells, all of which were cracked, so that they could be sent away for recasting.

READ MORE: Firefighters tackle huge Royston church fire“It is pleasing to report that work on the tower has largely been completed and the roof made watertight, which has enabled the temporary roof and scaffolding to be removed. Some of the work is now visible particularly the stonework and glazing, which has been restored, above the west door as well as the reworking of the clock face together with the erection of the flag pole.

“With the work now also complete in making the roof of the nave watertight the temporary cover and scaffolding is being removed. We will, therefore, be able to once again see the higher level of the building totally exposed by Christmas.

“We are grateful for the hard work and co-operation which has involved many people from contractors, surveyors, engineers architects, insurers and so on.

“While we are pleased to see progress to date, the result of which can be seen by the community of Royston, there is still a long way to go. Although phase 2 is not yet complete we are close to agreeing the works required for phase 3 which includes the remainder of the restoration internally together with the refurbishment we have determined is required to provide a building to serve the community in the 21st century. Work on this phase will commence in the new year.

“Much work has also been going on behind the scenes with a number of important decisions made that will be incorporated in the final phase. These include the new organ to replace the old pipe organ, the chairs to replace the pews, heating and lighting as well as the new audio/visual system.

“It is also pleasing to note that the bells have been recast and are ready to be rehung. This will take place early in the new year.

“All of this has involved the physical part of the restoration and refurbishment but we have on the worship side continued to meet weekly although some of this has had to be virtual.

“Prior to lockdown in March we were very grateful to King James Academy Royston for allowing us to use their hall for Sunday services but this is no longer available to us.

“Initially we were able to provide a recorded service on our YouTube site and then when restrictions were eased we moved to meeting, with limited numbers, at Royston Town Hall – where the service has been streamed live for those not able to attend. Such has been the demand that we are now having two services each Sunday.

READ MORE: Fundraisers hope to future proof St John’s one year on from devastating blaze“The other thing that we have been truly thankful for is the support both, financially and spiritually, from the community of Royston and friends elsewhere. This has manifested itself in the amount of cash donations we have received, amounting to nearly £60,000, as well as the number of people who supported our market stall at the end of October and last week.

“The Sponsor a Chair scheme has also got off to a good start with over £16,000 being received to date. Anyone who would like to make a donation this way can find the information on the church website at www.roystonparishchurch.org.uk, this will also provide details on how to donate towards the cost of the refurbishment.

Royston Crow: The fire happened in the early hours of December 9, 2018. Picture: DANNY LOOThe fire happened in the early hours of December 9, 2018. Picture: DANNY LOO (Image: ©2018 Archant)

“We feel blessed that we have had such generous support from everybody and look forward to welcoming all to join us when work is complete and we can return to our beautiful house of prayer.”