Following a journey that has spanned three years, the work covered by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) towards urgently needed repairs to St Denys’ Church in Aswarby near Sleaford has been completed.

The church spire had been deemed unsafe and had to be repaired before it could be used again by parishioners and also to welcome the range of visitors from around the world who visit the church, where the famous Royal Naval surgeon and explorer George Bass was baptised.

On Sunday, 9th September 2018, friends and supporters of St Denys’ Church came together to celebrate the completion of these building repairs and to launch a range of information and educational material, also supported by HLF, on the history of St Denys’ Church and the village of Aswarby and the life of George Bass.

The HLF funded a grant of £219,087 towards the project, on top of a development grant of £22,900, with the money awarded through HLF’s Grants for Places for Worship programme and the grant made possible by the support of National Lottery players.

A committee was formed of residents and supporters of St Denys’ Church to manage the project, research and draft information material, undertake community activities and to raise additional funds to support the HLF grant for this work. As a result, work has now been completed to the tower, spire and drainage, with the spire having to be taken down several layers and re-built to its former glory. During this time, lead was stolen from the north aisle roof, and so this required additional fundraising and replacement with a material that is not attractive to thieves.

Huge historical importance
St Denys’ is a Grade-I listed building with huge historical importance. George Bass, after whom the Bass Strait between Tasmania and mainland Australia is named, was born in Aswarby and baptised in the church. His father and grandfather were both churchwardens. The significance of this building to Australian and British history has been shown by notable letters of support from the High Commissioner of Australia, the Director of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, the Royal College of Australasian Surgeons, the Director of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and three local historical associations in Australia. The local MP, Caroline Johnson, also visited St Denys’ Church to see work progress.

New resources include a guidebook to St Denys’ Church and the village of Aswarby, information banners and horn books, a leaflet outlining the famous explorers from Lincolnshire with links to Australia, a booklet/travelogue following the story of George Bass, a children’s illustrated booklet titled A Boy Called George and various other children’s activities, including i-spy sheets.

In addition, the local Osbournby Primary School has been working with the committee to tell the tale of George Bass and has started a twinning project with the Bass Valley Primary School in Victoria, Australia, named after an area that George Bass explored. To support this and other schools interested in this local historical figure and the village where he came from, a teachers’ resource pack has also been developed.

A celebration of hard work
The launch event was a celebration of the hard work of so many people who had given many hours of their time to work on this project, supported by a range of dedicated professionals. Commenting at the launch, the chair of the committee, Sonia Playne, said: “We are delighted to reach the end of months of hard work and to see the glorious repairs and construction made to St Denys’ Church. None of this could have been done without the significant support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Lottery players. In particular, we are hugely indebted and give thanks to the marvellous help from our HLF mentor, Lisa Davenport, and our architects, Peter Rogan Associates, Midland Stonemasonry, Charlotte Mulliner (Grants Officer of the HLF), Dr Matthew Godfrey (Historic Churches Support Officer) and the Diocese of Lincoln, all those who have given generously to help finance this project, and finally to all those on our committee who have come together and worked tirelessly to make this project happen for current and future generations of visitors.”

Jonathan Platt, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East Midlands, said: “We are delighted that National Lottery players have been able to fund essential restoration works to St Denys’ Church, returning the spire to its former glory and celebrating the heritage of Aswarby within the local community. The village’s link to explorer George Bass brings visitors from as far afield as Australia to St Denys’ Church, and it’s fantastic to see the project creatively engaging schoolchildren in learning about George’s story.”

The committee will continue to fundraise to undertake other work at the church, and looks forward to welcoming visitors and receiving their future support. Look out for future events, including a walk around the village due to take place in October.

More information is available here.