Fr Peter Needham, 63, has only been at St Helen’s Church, Athersley for one month but already has his heart set on big renovation plans for both the church and the surrounding community. The priest, who was formerly the chaplain at Barnsley Hospital, has decided upon renovations after seeing the current state of the church.
“The church doesn’t look like a church from the outside,” said Fr Needham. “There is this bulky metal fence around it and inside St Helen’s has this very fine Victorian altar piece which is in a state of disrepair. I want to have it restored because it is very unique.
“The concrete on the outside of the church is rotting away which could mean we would lose our windows and doors. I want to bring the church back to its glory days and make it a nice place for people to come and worship and for the community to use.”
The first thing on Fr Needham’s agenda is a memorial for the community; to remember those who have died in the world wars, in the mines, and for anyone who has lost a loved one.
“It’s not a war memorial but a place where people can go to reflect and remember. I want a focal point for the people of Athersley outside the church where we can lay poppies on remembrance day and where mothers can go to remember their children.
“I want it to be a space of remembrance for all people not just for soldiers.”
Thanks to an anonymous donation, plans for the memorial are underway and Fr Needham has plans to integrate Athersley and the church into the memorial.
“The memorial will be a Calvary cross but made out of wood,” he said. “The reason being is that Athersley was a famous woodland before the war and the cross is to represent St Helen who discovered the crucifix of Jesus.
“I love St Helen’s and I think the main problem with Athersley is that the traffic lights are the main focus of the village but I would like to re-centre that and bring some beauty back to Athersley.”
Fr Needham is reaching out for donations for the regeneration of the church and to start making his plans a reality.
“It will cost a lot,” he said. “But I believe it is truly worthwhile and unless you go forward in faith, nothing will happen.”