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Weather ‘setting the pace’ for work on church spire

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CATHOLIC worshippers face the prospect of the Island’s largest church being closed for some or all of the forthcoming Lent and Easter period.

St Thomas' Church workmen constructing a scaffolding platform on the spire Picture: ROB CURRIE. (27174623)

Steeplejacks are currently assessing the extent of structural damage to the spire of the 133-year-old St Thomas’ Church in St Helier, which has been closed for health and safety reasons while the work takes place.

Specialists from UK company Rafferty are working on the first phase of the project which will see a scaffolding ‘cradle’ erected around the base of the spire.

The project has been hampered by recent adverse weather, which on several occasions has seen winds above the safety threshold for working on the 250-foot spire.

St Thomas' Church workmen constructing a scaffolding platform on the spire Picture: ROB CURRIE. (27174621)

Reverend Canon Dominic Golding said that the weather was ‘setting the pace’ for the project, but that everything possible was being done to keep it on track.

‘We originally anticipated six to eight weeks for the first phase, which would have taken us up to Ash Wednesday, if the weather had been kind,’ said Canon Golding. ‘The contractors are now working seven days per week, when the weather allows, and hope that increase will enable us to keep to the schedule.’

Initial inspections showed that four steel fittings used to secure the eight-foot iron cross at the top of the steeple were showing ‘excessive corrosion. The discovery prompted the closure of the church and surrounding area to remove any risk of injury should anything fall from the building.

Canon Golding said the project was complicated by the need to ensure appropriate planning consent and to safeguard peregrine falcons, a protected species that has been known to nest in the spire at certain times of year.

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‘Once the scaffolding is up, we hope that we’ll be able to reopen,’ he added. ‘We hope that this will be in time for Easter, but if not then we are blessed to have six other churches, including St Mary and St Peter, nearby.

‘People have been very understanding and obliging and this has shown the Catholic community in Jersey at its best.’

Canon Golding said funeral directors had been notified in January that St Thomas’ would be unavailable for services, and that some christenings had also been moved. No weddings were scheduled in the immediate future, he added.

The view from the top of St Thomas' Church looking west PictureL Rafferty Steeplejacks (27179983)

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The Catholic Church in Jersey is also facing a significant increase to the cost of work, originally estimated at £220,000.

‘We had been able to work out how we would fund the project, but now it’s going to go up,’ said Canon Golding.

‘We will have a revised schedule of costs, but there have been a lot of supportive comments, and one of the strengths of Jersey is the willingness of people to help in fundraising if this is necessary – the church is much-loved both by Catholics and the wider community.’

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