After almost two years of planning, fundraising, seeking permissions, and sensitive renovation and building work, the 14th Century parish church of All Saints Lydiard Millicent has a toilet for the first time in its 650-year history.
No longer do worshippers at the Wiltshire church have to dash across the road to the village hall or wedding parties sprint to the local pub to use the nearest facilities: on the west side of the church they can use a sparkling new accessible toilet and washroom.
It’s a project that sparked some creative thinking in the autumn of 2013, when a humorous calendar of toilet euphemisms was one of the more original fundraising ideas. It was widely publicised and even featured in a BBC Radio 2 news report.
As an historic building with architecture dating from the 14th, 15th and 18th Centuries, permission was restricted to allowing the washroom to be installed in a former boiler room. But the relatively small size of the project made it more rather than less challenging.
Andrew and Alison Spencer of local builders Living Solutions said the challenges were “numerous”, from putting a new drain in through the church yard (involving an archaeologist in case there were any bones that would need to be moved), to “stabilising the old building, decommissioning and replacing the old boiler, moving a gas main and replacing the roof and roof timbers“.
As part of the project, the church also now boasts a new boiler which keeps the church and congregation snug even in the chilly depths of winter.
When the Bishop of Bristol, Rt Revd Mike Hill, visited the church in February 2014, he prayed for the project and quipped that: “The Church of England had moved with customary speed in installing a toilet – hundreds of years after the church itself was built.”
But the waiting was finally over on Sunday 14 June, when excited churchgoers of all ages gathered to give thanks and declare the washroom open for customers.
The job of cutting the red ribbon was shared between 7-year-old Joshua Lingham Scellier and longtime church member Margaret Tapscott. It was her letter to a previous church council almost 30 years ago that had finally been heeded! She had written appealing urgently for a church toilet and complaining because male churchgoers were sometimes visiting the bushes behind the church!
Last Sunday All Saints Vicar Revd Tudor Roberts, thanked all who had played a part in funding the project and had worked long and hard to see it through. He led around 50 churchgoers in praying that the church’s new smallest room would benefit all who use the church as it serves the wider community in increasing ways.
“The church is being used more and more for different groups outside of Sunday,” Mr Roberts said, “and we are want to facilitate that as much as we can. The next phase will be to develop a servery for refreshments.
“But already,” he added, “the smiles on the faces of the mums of the 3-year-olds at our Stepping Stones toddler group in the previous week had told a story! The bellringers are really pleased too and a 10-year-old member of our Saturday morning puppet group said, ‘It’s brilliant: it’s so good’.”