Specialist work to start on £120,000 ceiling repairs at Sheffield church

Steve Dugdale, the verger of St John's Ranmoor, inside the church. Picture by Steve Ellis.
Steve Dugdale, the verger of St John's Ranmoor, inside the church. Picture by Steve Ellis.
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Repairs are about to get under way at a Sheffield church closed for months on safety grounds after part of its ceiling fell down.

St John's, in Ranmoor - one of the city's biggest churches - had to shut last October after part of the Grade II* listed building's 130-year-old painted ceiling broke off.

St John's, Ranmoor. Picture by Andrew Roe

St John's, Ranmoor. Picture by Andrew Roe

Scaffolding has been put up throughout, evening prayer and communion have been moved to the nearby Ranmoor Parish Centre, and full choral services and musical recitals have been affected too.

Now the necessary work has been costed up with a start date finally arranged for Monday. Around 35 ceiling panels out of a total of 350 need to be replaced by expert plasterers with a traditional mix of horse hair and lime. A further 47 that have shown signs of deterioration will also be fixed 'in situ', said churchwarden Brian Parfett.

"The cost is in the order of £120,000 from start to finish," he said. However, the figure is only an estimate, and the time needed to complete the repairs is also difficult to gauge.

"Really, until they are on site, it's not possible to know how long the work is going to take. For the next couple of weeks we'll just have to cross our fingers they don't find anything worse. An open church would be very pleasant."

The diocese and the Church Buildings Council have both given their consent for the restoration. The plasterwork on the panels has 'debonded', breaking away from the wood beneath.

Obstacles stood in the way of bids for grant funding. "They all required months' notice - you couldn't complete the work while an application was outstanding. There wasn't really the opportunity."

An appeal for donations will be launched locally, and a Listed Places of Worship payment has been approved by the Government, but this is effectively a VAT refund of £20,000, said Brian. "They're continuing that into the current financial year."

Twenty-six weddings were booked at the building this year; alternative arrangements have been made for all of the couples impacted by the closure. Most have chosen a ceremony at a neighbouring church - which still counts as a St John's marriage - but some have opted to wait.

"We want to open the church as soon as is practically possible but not give false hope to people."

The decorative plasterwork company hired for the job is run by Keith Langton, who has worked on Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. "What's good enough for the Queen is good enough for us," said Brian.

The present Anglican church dates from 1888 and is the second to be built on the site off Ranmoor Park Road. The original was almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1887, leaving just the 200ft tower and spire, the tallest of its kind in Sheffield.