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Out of the darkness....new light at Bridlington Priory

The Rev Matthew Pollard
The Rev Matthew Pollard

Bridlington Priory has always been a place of peace and tranquility. But it has always been a hive of activity in its 900-year history.

However, at the minute, it is quieter than ever. The church is closed for two months while a huge project takes place to install a new lighting system.

The scaffolding took 10 days to assemble

The scaffolding took 10 days to assemble

Thousands of scaffolding poles have been brought in, metres of cable lie on the floor and last week, the only people inside were two young workmen, with the only noise coming from their radio.

It is quite a surreal scene.

The Rev Matthew Pollard, rector at Bridlington Priory, said: “I was amazed how the scaffolding filled the building. I thought a bit of scaffolding would be nothing but when you come in, it just looks like a forest of scaffolding.

“There is no way we could have held services in here, there are bits of rubble and grit all over the floor.”

Electrician Owen Smith from Yorvik Electrical

Electrician Owen Smith from Yorvik Electrical

Incredibly, it took a team of contractors a week-and-a-half just to erect the scaffolding.

“Wagon-load after wagon-load of scaffolding turned up, day after day,” said Rev Pollard.

Carefully covering the Priory’s precious and nationally-renowned organ with specialist plastic sheeting was a job which took three days alone.

More than 40 volunteers gave up their time to help move items ahead of the work.

Electrician Alex Malton gets to work inside the 900-year-old church

Electrician Alex Malton gets to work inside the 900-year-old church

All the cushions from the pews are piled up in front of the altar and protecting the pulpit was quite a challenge.

While the new lighting system is installed, at a cost of £120,000, all services are being held in the Priory Church Rooms.

“It has been a fantastic team effort to move out and we will need a similar effort to move back in,” said Rev Pollard.

“My first question was whether we could get everybody into the church rooms. But we have had a congregation of 135 in there so far and it has been great fun.

Rev Matthew gets a bird's eye view of the work

Rev Matthew gets a bird's eye view of the work

“There’s a sense of everybody pulling together, a kind of the Blitz spirit and community camaraderie.
“Everybody has to squeeze in and sit close to each other and they have risen to the challenge. We are bringing people together physically and spiritually with this experience.

“We have the choir facing the congregation too, which is nice, and we have had some really good services. It is a bit like the Priory on tour!”

The work has been funded by the Priory, through donations on the plate every Sunday, fundraising events and bequests from over a number of years.

A further £100,000 was spent on stonework outside the building last year, and Rev Pollard said it was the generosity of previous generations which had enabled the current congregation to benefit from the improvements.

He has challenged this generation to match the efforts of their predecessors, so users of the Priory in the future can afford improvements when needed.

He added: “There were a number of problems with the lighting. The bulbs were very, very expensive and inefficient in terms of energy usage.

The church should reopen in March

The church should reopen in March

“They needed replacing frequently and getting access to them was difficult.
“They didn’t give off the quality of light you need in a public building these days.

“Also, they could either be on or off, and the new system will have eight ‘scenes’, which will give us so much more flexibility – there will be a setting for services, one for concerts, one for general daylight hours.”

For the long-term gain, there is some short-term pain, although the novelty of ‘transplanting’ the Priory family from their beloved church into the rooms across the green has not yet worn off.

The rooms still host their regular classes and groups, from Brownies and Cubs to craft sessions and lace-making, during the week, which means it has to be set up for services ever y Saturday and then put back to normal afterwards.

If all goes to plan, the Priory should be back open for business in the first weekend in March.

To mark the return, parishioners are planning to hold an all-night prayer vigil, sleeping in the historic building ahead of it being used as a place of worship once more.

Rev Pollard said: “It’s a lovely idea and we believe we are on schedule for it.”

Finding a convenient time to carry out a project on such a grand scale was never going to be easy.

The church even had to write to the Bishop of Hull, The Right Rev Alison White, for special permission to move services.

January and February was chosen because the Priory’s popular programme of music concerts and organ recitals would not have got under way and the demand for weddings is far less than in the summer months.

However, there is one important annual date in the church’s calendar which has had to be moved.

The Great Gale Service remembers the victims of one of the worst maritime disasters on the Yorkshire Coast.

Each February, members of the Bridlington Lifeboat crew gather to remember their predecessors who died in 1871.

With the Priory closed this year, the opening of the town’s brand new lifeboat station provided an ideal solution.

And so, on Sunday, February 11, the service will be held in the RNLI building on Bridlington’s south promenade, which is home to the new Antony Patrick Jones boat, which arrived in November.

Rev Pollard said: “It works really well. The lifeboat community have been really hospitable and put a great deal of effort into making sure it works, including borrowing seating from the Spa, and we are grateful to them.

“The town made a pledge to remember the people who lost their lives on that night and we must honour that.”