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“We are one step ahead of the criminals” - Roof Alarm Scheme protects 80 churches from lead thieves

PUBLISHED: 14:54 31 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:54 31 August 2017

Church warden, Richard Vere, at North Lopham Church, the first church to benefit from the roof alarm scheme. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Church warden, Richard Vere, at North Lopham Church, the first church to benefit from the roof alarm scheme. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

A campaign to safeguard the future of churches in Norfolk is securing funds at a rate to protect a new building every day.

One of the cameras at North Lopham Church, the first church to benefit from the roof alarm scheme. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY One of the cameras at North Lopham Church, the first church to benefit from the roof alarm scheme. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Churches across Norfolk have been suffering from a sustained spate of lead thefts with, on average, three to five buildings targeted every month.

But following the launch of a campaign spearheaded by Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) and supported by the Bishop of Norwich and a number of other charities, it is hoped the threat can be stopped.

The Roof Alarm Scheme, which is backed by this paper as part of our own Stop The Roof Raiders campaign launched last year, has already received £250,000, which includes £100,000 from the PCC’s office.

At the beginning of August enough money was in the coffers to fit alarm systems to 50 churches.

Signs at North Lopham Church warning of the roof alarm system. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Signs at North Lopham Church warning of the roof alarm system. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Today, it has been revealed a further 30 churches will be secured in the new year due to funds raised since the launch of the scheme.

“We still have quite some way to go to alarm all the churches we consider at risk - that is why this appeal is so important,” said Norfolk PCC Lorne Green.

“I see this as an invest to save project. If you strip £10,000 off a roof that is a tremendous burden for the local community.

“If we can save police resources here then we have freed up resources to attend other crimes around the county, whether it be child sexual exploitation or domestic abuse.

“Secondly it is an investment to save this county and this country’s heritage. We have the greatest number of medieval churches in the world. We are stewards of this heritage and we do not want to be the generation who breaks that link.”

One of the first recipients of the alarm systems was St Nicholas’ Church at North Lopham, where the roof was stolen last October.

“The thing is with all these people is they are desecrating the house of God,” said church warden Richard Vere.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a religious person - if it is your village church the chances are you were baptised there, married there, and one day may be buried there. It is special to people because it is their church.”

Mr Vere added the alarm system was “brilliant”.

“We are one step ahead of the criminals now,” he said. “The scheme has given hope to a lot of churches. It has given people peace of mind, which we couldn’t afford to do ourselves.”

Thieves “leave havoc in their wake”

More than £250,000 has now been raised for the Roof Alarm Scheme, as the Bishop of Norwich condemned thieves who “leave havoc in their wake”.

The Rt Revd Graham James said: “The landscape of Norfolk would be spiritually flattened if we lost our wealth of medieval churches.

“They are better cared for than ever thanks to volunteers who worship in them regularly, raise money for the fabric and cherish these buildings.

“But they are under threat from lead thieves who damage the fabric, leave havoc in their wake and cause those who care so well for our churches to feel dejected and dispirited.

“This roof alarm scheme is an imaginative and effective way of combating these thieves and giving heart to those who care for our churches so well. “That’s why I’m glad to contribute to the scheme using trust funds available to me.

“I’m grateful to the Police and Crime Commissioner and the other contributors for their imagination and support.”

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Sir Philip Mawer, chairman of Allchurches Trust, said: “Installing an alarm is often a catalyst for wider community action in support of a much-loved church so we’re delighted that the Diocese of Norwich, in launching their campaign, is making it possible for everyone who loves a local church to play their part in protecting it.”

Stuart Bowell, chairman of the Round Tower Churches Society, said: “The Round Tower Churches Society has given a tenth of our society’s funds to this crime-fighting project to prevent thefts and help safeguard the future of our much-loved round tower churches. We recognise that lead thefts have jeopardised our priceless heritage including 14th century wall paintings in churches. Our funds will be available to help churches with round towers. “We’ve supported this campaign to improve church security since the start – with cash backing.”

Donations can be made by visiting norfolkfoundation.com/raise-the-alarm-appeal/

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