Restoration begins for the Isle of Sheppey’s ‘Fallen Giant’!
18 NOV 2020
An Allchurches’ grant is supporting one of the most exciting heritage regeneration projects in the South East, which is now underway after five years of planning and fundraising.
Sheerness Dockyard Church, on the Isle of Sheppey, is being rescued after it was nearly destroyed by fire in 2001, and transformed into a new centre to support young people to build new businesses and develop entrepreneurial skills and financial independence.
Allchurches Trust provided £102,000 in match-funding to help secure a major grant of £4.2 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which has enabled the Sheerness Dockyard Trust’s pioneering project to go ahead.
The restoration work started at the beginning of November, led by a team of award winning architects and conservation specialists, and is due for completion in summer 2022.
Jeremy Noles, Head of Grants and Relationships for Allchurches Trust, said: “This unique project will bring Sheppey’s nationally significant naval church back from the brink and breathe new life into the local economy.
“It gives young people in Sheerness new opportunities to build a bright future for themselves and their town. We’re delighted to have been able to support the Dockyard Church’s restoration and look forward to seeing its new future.”
William Palin, Chair of the Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust, said: “It is thrilling to be starting work, at last, on the repair and transformation of this landmark building which has lain derelict for so long. When complete, Dockyard Church will provide a major cultural and economic boost for this special but little known part of north Kent which has suffered decades of under-investment.”
A bit of history…
Sheerness is the largest town on the Isle of Sheppey (population 43,000), and was originally a fort, built in 1665 to protect the River Medway and the larger navy dockyards on the River Thames. By 1669, under Samuel Pepys’ management, the more fortified Royal Navy Dockyard was built on the site to clean, stock and repair English warships. The dockyards were the heart of Sheerness until the Admiralty closed them in 1960.
In 1823, the old docks were replaced with a much larger complex comprising a dockyard, dry docks, the imposing Dockyard Church and additional buildings. It was the envy of the engineering world due to its state of the art design and successful siting on the marshy wetlands; a masterful feat by engineer, John Rennie, and architect, George Ledwell Taylor.
Industry and manufacturing has remained an important part of the Isle of Sheppey’s identity and economic wellbeing since the docks’ closure brought hardship and 2,400 men directly lost their jobs in 1960. Recovery, still centred on industry, has been slow, with steel manufacturing prominent until 2006. The Sheerness port is now one of the UK’s largest importers of cars and fresh produce from Europe.
But reliance on a single or few industries in isolated areas and in changing times can be hard; and the Isle of Sheppey has not had it easy over the past 50 years, despite its significance in terms of environmental and historical richness, its proximity to both London and Europe, and its warm climate and lack of rain.
There are many areas of high need and deprivation on the island, and unemployment, lack of educational attainment and opportunity is a serious issue. But organisations like the Sheerness Dockyards Trust are ensuring that young people, in particular, are in a position to play a significant role in developing a new economy and sense of community for the future. They are leading that process with renewal of the remarkable heritage that has shaped and forged the island and its identity for centuries.
Photo credits: James Brittain