Breathing new life into the Beonna

Words by:
Wendy Deamer
Featured in:
February 2024

Wendy Deamer charts the restoration of All Saints Church of Beonna in Benington, a Grade I listed medieval building which has become a unique venue and focal point for community life.

In today’s high cost of living world we have become increasingly conscious of price, value and savings. The need to reuse, fix, salvage and repair has become an essential part of life. We are happy to buy secondhand or to revamp rather than discard or replace… look how charity shops are now becoming the most popular places in our high streets, how vintage clothes are sought after – used books, used cars, used toys, used furniture, secondhand bikes… the list of how we now regenerate is endless.

In most cities and towns you will see old abandoned buildings, seemingly forgotten for a variety reasons, too expensive to repair, no longer needed – left as derelict eye-sores because they apparently have no use anymore, so why not apply the fix, salvage and more importantly recycle mind-set to these?

That is exactly what a small community in a village in Lincolnshire has done.

Nestled among trees, standing within its own grounds and surrounded by fields, stood the abandoned, neglected and sadly boarded up medieval All Saints Church of Beonna.

Dating back to 1200, this beautiful yet forlorn and lifeless church had been ignored for years. The last service in the church was held in 2001, when the building was declared unsafe and it closed in 2003.

The All Saints historical treasure was left to fall into further decay and decline until the shrewd and imaginative community of Benington noticed it again and took the decision that, “We can recycle!”

Inspiring idea
The Benington Community Heritage Trust (BCHT) was formed in November 2007 and the first project was the acquisition, restoration and adaptation of the redundant church of All Saints for a new use – and what an inspiring and innovative idea this turned out to be.

The appeals began for fundraising. The BCHT put forward their vision to various organisations, which they felt would realise and appreciate the importance of ‘recycling’ this once impressive building and the potential it could add to a somewhat declining village. They worked hard to show their proposition and objective for the church and how it would bring people back into the area, generating support for the local community, creating activities, groups and social events.

The group needed to share their vision – how catering and training facilities, music, dance and exercise could be offered if the building were to be invested in and restored.

They needed to convince organisations and businesses that with the aspirations and imagination of BCHT the opportunities were endless.

Their plea was endorsed by many and an impressive £2.3million was secured from the combined contribution of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund, The Garfield Weston Foundation, The Medlock Charitable Trust and Lincolnshire County Council, to name just a few.

A contribution from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation also proved crucial when securing this funding and the Diocese of Lincoln not only offered financial support, but also help and advice along the way.

Sympathetic restoration
Once funding had been secured, it was a lengthy process with 12 years of planning, consultation, adaptation, advice, research and dedication.

Works began in 2017, sympathetically restoring this imposing building. The renovation involved major internal and external works requiring sensitive handling, to respect its historic integrity.

Advice and guidance was offered throughout the project from Historic England and the Churches Conservation Trust, so all the work was complementary to the original architecture.

Many of the authentic features were sympathetically incorporated in the renovation and the sense of antiquity was preserved. A lot of the original materials were also used within the build, combining the feeling of old and new together.

The Beonna church now represents a restored, beautifully renovated and totally ‘recycled’ building. It has become an architectural jewel, structurally sound, ensuring longevity for many generations to come and is a prime example of how to breathe new life into what was thought to be an old, no longer needed and sadly deserted building.

Hub of the community
Retaining many of the features of the original 800-year-old building, it has now been introduced to the 21st century.

It is once again the hub of the community, not just local but increasingly appealing to the wider population. The events now offered by the Beonna are numerous and inspiring, fun and entertaining, beneficial and enlightening.

The amazing volunteers work tirelessly to offer an incredible variety of activities, each with a personal touch and approach. Having incorporated its own catering facilities, there is now a café and bar amidst the classical architecture, toilets with the original high-arched and elaborate windows, a kitchen hidden among the stonemasonry and numerous discreet signs of the incoming 21st century intertwined with history.

How would the original Anglo-Saxons react to a tapas night, a quiz night or even a ‘silent disco’, which are now regular events in their one-time church?

With the aid of re-wiring, re-plumbing and re-generating, the Beonna offers a perfect setting for training groups, children’s singing and dance classes, art exhibitions, workshops, cultural events, afternoon teas, and with the amazing natural acoustics generated by the high ceilings and stone walls, a successful choir, now performing in many parts of Lincolnshire. Live groups are also able to perform with an amazing backdrop of lighted stone pillars and curved stone arches.

The Beonna, which also offers a large, free to use car park, is a perfect setting for a wedding and although the BCHT are working hard to obtain permission to perform ceremonies, the building features a beautiful setting for photographs, with couples taking advance of this amazing setting.

With the original font still in place, it is also an exquisite place, although not a religious one, for families to have their children christened if desired.

The medieval West Tower has been lovingly converted to offer a warm and welcoming area for conferences and networking events, with beautiful glass doors for privacy, together with use of the house PA system, plus projector and screen if required – what a transformation.

So this is indeed recycling at its best. Not only has a beautiful historical building been saved, it also now brings money, employment and visitors back to an area that people tended to pass through. They now have an excellent reason to stop.

The Beonna is once again the essential focal point of Benington and as events and activities grow and the venue is used by people from a wider area, the local community will benefit and prosper.

The Beonna is an inspirational story for communities to come together, recycle lost treasures and save our county’s historic buildings from decline and possible closure.

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Calling all UK young artists!Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition Doddington Hall and Gardens, Lincolnshire invites submissions from UK-based sculptors and 3D artists, aged under 30, for an exciting new open exhibition to be held this summer. Doddington is looking for pieces to be exhibited in the historic working Kitchen Garden, which complement the Garden and its surroundings. The Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition will run alongside the main bi-annual Sculpture at Doddington exhibition and is an opportunity to exhibit alongside some of the finest contemporary sculptors selected from across the country and further afield. Prizes: 1st prize – £750, 2nd prize – £250Submission deadline: Sunday April 21st 2024Further details about eligibility, terms and conditions can be found at: apply, please email your submission as a PDF document to ... See MoreSee Less