Historic Harrogate church faces cathedral-sized challenges

The spiritual health of parishioners may be paramount but, as a Harrogate church in the middle of its biggest restoration in 100 years is discovering, fixtures and fittings are important, too.

Friday, 10th November 2017, 4:02 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 6:17 am
Part of the stunning interior of St Wilfrid's Church in Harrogate. (1711065AM5)

The only Grade I listed building in Harrogate, the stunning St Wilfrid’s Church dominates the town’s skyline for miles around from its prime location on Duchy Road.Designed by famous architect Temple Moore, it is generally regarded as one of the largest and most beautiful churches in Britain.But the latest step forward in its current multi-million project to make this magnificent building fit for purpose in the 21st century has received a particularly, er, warm welcome.For St Wilfrid’s finally has central heating again!Team Rector Father Gary Waddington said: “It’s such a vast and tall building that sometimes in winter, in particular, it’s absolutely perishing.“You can’t just stick a couple of calor gas heaters in and expect the congregation or concert-goers to be warm.”

Avoiding sad fate of many other churchesSince the small team at St Wilfrid’s launched the restoration appeal in 2015 they have already made major strides.Their vision is to avoid the fate of other churches across Britain which have been converted into flats or bars or restaurants or now lie simply boarded up.The aim isn’t just to protect and restore St Wilfrid’s amazing architecture or update the fixtures and fittings but to transform the church into a centre for the community - and to raise its profile in Harrogate itself.Fr Waddington said: “People who haven’t visited St Wilfrid’s before are always amazed when they first step through the doors.“It’s an extraordinary sight. It’s quite moving. It’s a building of great significance, not just for worshippers or the Church of England butr for the Duchy area and Harrogate as a town.”Being located in such a leafy spot as the Duchy comes with baggage - some people assume it is naturally wealthy in a bubble of its own.The truth is something different.Attendance figures at St Wilfrid’s may have been bucking the trend of decline not only for Britain as a whole but for much of the Harrogate district but its financial position is challenging.Fr Waddington said: ““We still have some incredibly generous individual donors in Harrogate, mainly in their 40s and 50s but the historic funds we once had are gone. We now have to mak more effort.”

Financial challenges for Harrogate's only Grade I listed buildingWith a 1,583 square metres of floors space, St Wilfrid’s is a cathedral-sized building but it does not receive the public funding of a cathedral.

Father Gary Waddington of St Wilfrid's Church in Harrogate. (1711065AM2)

The new heating system boasts three new boilers and 48 new radiators and should be fully operational ljust in time for Advent.To get to this point, £150,000 had to be raised from events, donations and grant-making bodies, though the bulk came from the community itself, rather than the public purse.The work is more crucial than might be thought.Since the old heating system broke down finally in 2014 the church has not been heated.Yet not a single service has been cancalled.The church, which has four chapels, hosts 20 services each week, with over 1,000 people visiting every week and costs more than £250,000 a year to run the church. Part of the aim of the restoration it to make it a centre for events for the broader community in Harrogate and beyond.It already hosts many concerts from classical to choral to pop and folk; the popular Shwo of Hands played thetre just last week.

Transforming St Wilfrid's into a centre for the community & eventsBut the ultimate goal is to transform St Wilfrid’s into a welcoming and flexible, multi-functional space for a huge range of community events - from public concerts to dinner dances, art exhibitions to conferences, theatrical productions and more.Fr Waddington said: “Our task is to do the very best we can for everyone - the life of any church, is ultimately about people and we’re passionate about improving a building that has to serve people, rather than people serving the building.” To achieve all the necessary restoration work and repairs, St Wilfrid’s would need to raise £3 million over the next ten years.In the current climate in an increasingly competitive world for grant applications, the small team simply doesn’t have the resources to pursue that potential source of revenue.Instead, the work will progress in stages, hand-in-hand with fundraising.

Next fundraising target for church repairsThe top priorities for repair and refurbishment include new heating, new lighting a new sound systems and the restoration of art workShould the £20,000 target be raised, the first half of next year should see St Wilfrid’s famous Darlington panels restored to their full artistic glory.Then another even more hefty sum will be required towards the end of 2018 when the team turn their attention to another vital matter - the electricity and lighting set-up.And don’t even mention the organ!

Fr Waddington said: “It’s a great gift to have this building but all gifts come with a price. We are the stewards of St Wilfrid’s present and future.“No one will thanks us if we let it fall into disrepair or oversee its closure at some point.”

Father Gary Waddington of St Wilfrid's Church in Harrogate. (1711065AM2)