Heros and Angels at The Monastery

Recently I was at an event where the The Heritage Alliance Heroes awards were presented. The awards recognise exceptional volunteer effort in the protection, preservation or promotion of heritage.

I was thrilled that this year the award went to co-founder and Chairman of the Monastery of St Francis and Gorton Trust, Paul Griffiths, for his work on the ‘Return of the Saints’ project at The Monastery. 216603_117390645023157_6261076_n

After 16 years in storage and 8 months being restored, the 12 statues of Franciscan saints have been restored to their rightful place in the Monastery’s nave. Designed by Edward Pugin, Gorton Monastery is considered one of his finest masterpieces. It was vacated by the Franciscans in 1989 and, after a false start for a new use, was left prey to significant vandalism and theft. Following a 12 year fundraising campaign by the Trust, a total of £6.5m was raised and it now provides an event venue for conferences, weddings etc. and has contributed £3.2million to the local community.

Paul commented on the award said: “It is a great honour to accept this award on behalf of everyone involved with the Monastery and particularly special to receive it during the year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Franciscans in Gorton. It is over 16 years since we started out with the ambition to save the derelict church and friary and find a sustainable new use for this stunning Edward Welby Pugin building.

The ‘Return of the Saints’ this year was a significant milestone in the project and would have been impossible without the very generous support of so many volunteers and professionals who donated their time and demonstrated so much skill. We are tremendously grateful to everyone who has played a part in this long but ultimately rewarding journey to restore the Monastery and bring the Saints back home, including local historian Janet Wallwork who first spotted the statues were to be sold in a Sotheby’s sale, and local MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman and Manchester City Council for the part they played.  We also must thank the major companies involved who so generously contributed to this heart warming story.

The statues have always been regarded as an integral part of the buildings’ architecture and had been noticeably missing from their plinths. They are part of the fabric not only of the Monastery but of the community as well-part of Manchester’s rich history.   This work concluded another successful chapter in the restoration and reinvention of The Monastery, Manchester’s most unique historical and architectural asset.”

The Awards were presented by Alliance Chairman Loyd Grossman and Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries Ed Vaizey, with the generous sponsorship of Ecclesiastical Insurance.

I first visited The Monastery for a Churches Tourism Association Conference in November 2011. They were mid-preparation for a Halloween themed party for a large national company, and had turned the nave into an amazing mass of green and purple complete with cobwebs and skulls – oh and not forgetting the stage for a band and the dancefloor. The Monastery is proving to be a great commercial success with activities like this, and long may it continue!

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