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Page last updated at 11:53 GMT, Wednesday, 21 July 2010 12:53 UK
Restored former Garrison church in Colchester praised
Former Garrison church in Colchester
The church served Colchester Garrison between 1854 and 2007

The restoration of a former army garrison church in Colchester has been hailed by English Heritage.

The Grade II listed building in Military Road was built in the mid-19th century and served the garrison until its closure in 2007.

The building was bought in 2008 by the Russian Orthodox parish of St John the Wonderworker, who have restored it.

It was earmarked by English Heritage as an example of how "our heritage can be salvaged for future generations."

Father Andrew Phillips told BBC Essex the 9000 sq ft building had been in a sorry state when they paid £180,000 for it two years-ago.

"I think locally the army and the town's people and parishioners loved it, and looked after it whenever they could, but we had to spend £120,000 on it to get it up to scratch," he said.

"Fortunately the structure itself is in excellent shape, but it'd just been very neglected."

Getting the church 'up to scratch' involved repairs to the roof, floors, and grounds, extensive carpentry and 40 gallons of paint.

As well as the restoration, work was also required to convert the building to a Russian Orthodox specification, such as the iconostasis (icon screen) which took a year to build.

The whole thing is extraordinary; I come here on Sundays and it still hasn't worked into my head that this building belongs to our church
Father Andrew Philips

"It is the widest iconostasis in England and this church is one of the biggest Orthodox churches - I think slightly larger than the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in London. And it's all in Colchester!" said Father Andrew.

He added that, after 11-years of looking for a home, the coming together of the congregation and the church was mutually beneficial.

"I say it was a God-send for us, but also when we bought the building from Taylor Wimpey, they said 'you are the answer to our prayers,'" he said.

"They're into housing and development, and have no use for a church and all they wanted to do was sell it."

"The whole thing is extraordinary and I come here on Sundays and it still hasn't worked into my head that this building belongs to our church - I still can't believe it."

St John'schurch is hosting an open weekend on Saturday 11 September and also hold guided tours once a month over the summer.




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