Close-knit community takes on church roof raiders

Jane Nattrass, vicar at St Olaves Church, Marygate, York
Jane Nattrass, vicar at St Olaves Church, Marygate, York
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When thieves stole lead from the roof of an ancient York church the congregation was left devastated after rain poured into the building, causing £50,000 damage.

But determined not to be beaten by the crime, church members are now planning to stitch up the criminals by knitting a roof for St Olave’s to raise money for vital repairs.

The Rev Jane Nattrass is asking people to take part in a mass sponsored knit, which will see 20cm (8in) squares created before being sewn together into a patchwork blanket large enough to cover the damaged roof.

It is hoped the imaginative idea, which was suggested by church member Jude Breton, will raise £30,000 for the repairs after the medieval church in Marygate was targeted by thieves three times in the last year.

Ms Nattrass said: “You have no idea how bad the damage is until it rains. It has come through the roof and damaged the chancel and the organ inside the church.

“It is very upsetting because it’s a few hundred pounds worth of lead that creates £50,000 worth of damage and because there are so many metal thefts, the insurers limit the amount you can claim.”

Ms Nattrass said the insurance company had paid out £20,000, but the deficit needed to be covered through fundraising. A concert has already raised £3,000 towards the target.

“We want enough squares to make a roof covering by the autumn,” she added.

“Once we have done that we will take it apart and make blankets which we will send to other countries to people who need them more than we do.

“This might include Africa or Afghanistan, but we will decide where nearer the time.

“We need about 10,000 squares. It’s a lot of knitting but it will be good. We want individuals or groups of people – it doesn’t matter if they are young or old or male or female – to get involved.

“We want people to do whatever they want to do. Some people might want to do it on their own or they might want to form little knitting groups.

“It can be done in different colours and there’s a knitting pattern on the website for those who need one.

“I have knitted the first square so we have only got 9,999 to go. Mine is a cable and moss stitch, but it can be whatever anybody wants and if they want to do something really fancy they can do that.”

Police forces across the region have launched a major crackdown on metal thefts, which is a growing problem, costing the UK economy around £770m per year.

The increase in the price of metals such as lead and copper has been caused by soaring demand around the world.

As well as lead from church roofs, thefts in the region have included manhole covers and war memorials.

Acting chief inspector Sarah Jane Sanderson, from North Yorkshire Police, said: “We fully support the latest campaign to crack down on metal thieves.

“This type of crime causes misery to thousands of businesses and communities and costs the country millions of pounds a year.

“Members of the public act as our eyes and ears and Crimestoppers provides an effective channel for people to report information anonymously if they do not wish to contact the police.”

The latest lead theft at St Olave’s church was reported just last month after criminals targeted the building at 4am, despite an alarm system being in place.

Ms Nattrass said: “It’s extremely annoying the amount of work that has to be done following a metal theft, including finding a suitable replacement for the stolen lead.

“It raises a lot of questions like what do we do to prevent future thefts and how do we go about covering our roofs when metal is so expensive at the moment.

“We are working closely with the police and our security company. Our church is alarmed but the thieves still come.”

Church members are currently deciding how to replace the lead, however Ms Nattrass said the repairs would not affect the appearance of the Grade I listed building.

“There has been a church on the site since 1055. York has a lot of medieval churches and St Olave’s is one of them. Because it is listed we have to work within the guidelines.

“The walls of this ancient church have survived the Civil War, the Second World War and numerous unknown assaults since the 11th century. It can survive this onslaught too.”

To donate to the appeal or to get involved with the Get Knitted project, visit