Renovation at shrine

It has taken almost a decade but the final piece of a major regeneration programme at the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham - one of the country's most sacred places - is heading towards completion.

It has taken almost a decade but the final piece of a major regeneration programme at the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham - one of the country's most sacred places - is heading towards completion.

Part of the multi-million pound scheme aims to create a much more welcoming environment for visitors and pilgrims and to give them much more information about the shrine, its history and the role it plays in the 21st century.

In more modern times the image of the pilgrim has changed dramatically. As with most travellers they now expect high-quality accommodation and in the new building - to be known as the Milner Wing after one of its most generous benefactors - there are a series of ensuite bedrooms with facilities for people with disabilities and family groups.

For those booking a room on the top floor there will be balconies overlooking the grounds of the Shrine and the rolling fields of the Norfolk countryside beyond.

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Perhaps one of the biggest outward changes will be the welcome centre and, where previously people had to walk along the roadside, they will now enter the building through a colonnade with feature pillars created from hand-made orange-red bricks.

As Father Philip North, the man in charge of the shrine, said: “The Milner Wing is a beautifully designed building which, as well as providing so much for all pilgrims, will enhance the appearance and atmosphere of the grounds of this beautiful and unique place.”

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Father Philip said the idea is to make the whole shrine much more welcoming. “There will be an audio visual area, computer-touch screens and display boards so that pilgrims and visitors will be able to find out all about the Shrine.

“Through these information facilities people will be able to prepare themselves with the story of the Shrine and its history so that it should mean much more to them when they go inside.

“What we are in effect doing is turning this entrance area inside-out, before it was too closed in and, frankly, unwelcoming to some of the 345,000 visitors that Walsingham attracts every year. We have reached our target figure for our building appeal and donations have come in from all over the world, including £100,000 from members of a parish in the US capital Washington DC which has strong links with Walsingham.

“These donations really do show how significant Walsingham is to people all over the world.”

He explained that the new wing is really the final piece of a regeneration programme at the shrine, including a award-winning refectory building going back a decade.

“I am very pleased with way the £3m scheme is coming together, it has exceeded my expectations and we are looking forward to its completion in late summer or early autumn. I can't praise enough the work of the building contractors, J.S Hay, their work is of the highest quality which you have to have in such an important place like the Anglican Shrine. You have to remember that it will be here for hundreds of years,” he said.

Site construction manager Keith Catten said the contract had been a difficult one because of the tight restrictions of the site making access difficult.

Mr Catten is an award-winning builder, who has been involved in the construction industry all his working life since the age of 14. “I now have two years to go before I retire so you could say this is one of my swan-songs,” he said.

“I like working of these prestige projects because it is something I can get my teeth into, it's a complicated project but it is a challenge at the same time. We employ local people on the site and their apprentices and some of these chaps have been in the building trade for twenty years,” said Mr Catten.

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