BISHOP'S VISIT: Crowds gather to celebrate Fenland church that came back from the dead
WHEN a Fenland church began to subside, the vast cost of repair meant a bulldozer looked like the only option for the small congregation in Ten Mile Bank.But on Saturday evening, the Bishop of Ely paraded to the Fenland parish, where rousing hymns of cel
WHEN a Fenland church began to subside, the vast cost of repair meant a bulldozer looked like the only option for the small congregation in Ten Mile Bank.
But on Saturday evening, the Bishop of Ely paraded to the Fenland parish, where rousing hymns of celebration were sung in the restored Grade II listed building after a magnificent �390,000 was raised to keep the church alive.
Having already lost their post office, pub and railway station, the 250 villagers were determined they would not lose their church too.
Seven years after it was deemed unsafe, St Mark's Church has reopened its doors to the community.
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The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Rev Dr Anthony Russell, who led the rededication, praised the hard work and determination of the villagers and said the project proved how important churches were to small communities.
He said: "It is a very considerable achievement. It is symbolic of a lot that is happening at the moment.
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"People take a lot of trouble and care about it.
"These churches mean a lot to the local communities and they symbolise community life."
Ten Mile Bank and the surrounding villagers raised around �46,000 through a range of events, including making calendars, recipe books, dances in Downham Market, bingo and a classic car parade.
A raft of other organisations helped the village to find the cash to underpin the church, including English Heritage which pledged almost �250,000.
The Prince of Wales, who is the patron of the Norfolk Churches Trust, has also been following the villagers' campaign.
Sandra Starling, who headed the church conservation committee, said: "There were times when we thought it might not happen, when we started calculating how much it was going to cost.
"We were never going to do anything to the church if we did not have the money for it.
"We've managed to pay all our bills with all the support we've had.
"I think the church is a centre point. We did a survey in 2000, and 95pc of the village said they wanted to keep the church."
"A lot of them have family in the church yard. If the church had been knocked down they would have all gone and they would have sold the land. It has been hard work, but it's been worth it."
Servicemen and cadets from RAF Marham and RAF Mildenhall led the bishop's parade along the Ouse floodbank to the church.
They had been involved with fundraising because of a close association with St Mark's. In 1995 they held VE Day celebrations in the village.
Christopher Fraser, MP for South-West Norfolk, said: "I take my hat off to those involved in the fundraising.
"Over the last few years many of the villages in this part of Norfolk have lost their services. Even the pubs are closing down.
"The heart has been taken out of the communities.
"It is the dedication of the people that live here that has saved this church. It's a great example and I hope other villages can follow."
Now the project is complete there are a number of community activities planned for the church, including an art day for children.