Lottery windfall for Pennoyer's school

Dreams of restoring an historic former school to the heart of its community will finally come true thanks to a near-million pound lottery windfall, announced today.

Dreams of restoring an historic former school to the heart of its community will finally come true thanks to a near-million pound lottery windfall, announced today.

The £934,000 award from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) means that delighted residents at Pulham St Mary can now conserve and transform the dilapidated site, with its architectural gem of a rare guild chapel, into a thriving village centre with a range of facilities.

The plight of Pennoyer's School first came to the public attention through the BBC's Restoration programme, where the project was regional runner up in August 2006. Since then The School Charity of William Pennoyer has worked closely with HLF in developing their plans.

Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, said: “This announcement is fantastic news. The Pennoyer's School is at the centre of the village. The fact that this building has lain dormant for so long has been a cause of great sadness to many people.

“The conservation of this historically important building will provide a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the heritage of south Norfolk, and create a vital resource for local people. The tremendous potential Pennoyer's School has offered to our community will now be fulfilled.”

Sheila King, chairman of the Pennoyer's Village Centre Team, said they hoped to start the restoration work at the end of this year, and complete the project by Christmas 2009.

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“We are thrilled and delighted with this award. It has taken a huge effort by many people, providing their time and expertise without charge, to reach this turning point in the life of the building,” she added.

“The village centre, with its range of facilities, ensures a sustainable future for Pennoyer's and restores its role as the hub of this community.”

The original Grade II listed chapel was built in 1401 for the Guild of St James, and is one of only two remaining free-standing guild chapels in the country. In 1670, William Pennoyer, a rich Puritan merchant from London, left an endowment in his will to pay for the running of a 'free school'.

From 1674 until its closure in 1988, the school provided continuous free elementary education for the children of the village, near Harleston - the east wall of the chapel having been removed and a two-storey Victorian building added in the 19th century.

Now, thanks to the award, the Victorian part of the school will be transformed into a vibrant village centre with more than fifty local groups expected to make use of the building. The guild chapel will be restored and opened to public access, the work including opening up the chapel's arched west doorway and removing later internal additions to reveal original features.

The history of the village will be celebrated through archive material displayed in the centre. An IT suite and meeting room will enable training services to be offered locally in the rural community, and businesses will be able to use the unique location for meetings and small conferences.

People will also be able to learn more about the heritage of Pennoyer's through a series of Heritage Open Days, outreach visits and an e-learning 'platform'. Interpretation of the site, including hands-on activities for children and audio facilities, will be available seven days a week.

Robyn Llewellyn, Heritage Lottery Fund East of England manager, said: “This project will ensure that this site will remain the centre of village life and local identity, both now and for generations to come.”