For three years, between 2011 and 2014, Annesley Old Church won the Lottery. Literally.
Funding, totalling £450,000, from the National Lottery Heritage Fund was secured by Ashfield District Council and skilfully used, with help from the Friends Of Annesley Church group, to bring back to life a 14th century ruin that had fallen into a sorry state of repair and was most definitely off-limits to the public.
Vandals were defied, and the Friends worked hard to not only preserve the building, where Lord Byron’s childhood sweetheart, Mary Chaworth, was married in 1805, but also to turn it into a community facility for Annesley.
The church, which held its last service way back in 1942 and was sold to Ashfield Council in 1981, was transformed.
The crumbling stonework was repaired, the listed tower was saved and the whole place became more accessible.
The church re-opened in 2012, since when events such as literary festivals, folk festivals, guided walks, ghost-hunting tours, bus tours and Christmas carol services have been held there.
However, supporters are worried that another round of funding is required to maintain the Old Church’s revival.
Contributers to the Annesley Old Church Project Facebook page have reported smashed glass on paving stones, broken gravestones, long grass “taller than most of the gravestones” and slates from the fire-hit roof of Annesley Hall next door falling into the churchyard.
“Please take care when walking around,” warns Wayne Meats.
The council says it has no plans to create a public space protection order at the Old Church, and it insists the grassed areas are cut regularly.
It is clear too that the site retains its pulling power. For Mr Meats goes on: “Although overgrown, it was so beautiful and peaceful. Birds were singing in the magnificent trees while I relaxed in the afternoon sun.”
However, it is equally clear that more hard work is needed if ideas to turn the site into a heritage and craft centre, tea rooms, wedding venue or Scout camp are ever realised.